What other species can teach us about how infants learn to speak

Review written by Sarah McFann (CBE, G6)

One thing that sets humans apart from our closest evolutionary relatives, Old World apes and monkeys, is that much of human brain development occurs outside the womb. This means that, relative to our evolutionary neighbors, humans are born altricial—a term describing animals that are born helpless and dependent upon parental care. Because our immature brains are presented with real-world stimuli as they develop, humans have the chance to be molded by external cues like language.

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Attention, Awareness, and the Right TPJ

Review written by Amy Ciceu (2024)

Have you ever found yourself in deep thought in a public setting only to come to your senses and arrive at the uncomfortable realization that you’re making eye contact with another person? Such is the dilemma that faces us when we lose control of our awareness. Awareness—a module of behavior that allows us to be conscious of stimuli in our environment—is fundamentally distinct from but similar to attention—the process of selectively focusing the mind on certain stimuli at the expense of others. In an insightful new study led by graduate student Andrew Wilterson of the Graziano Lab at Princeton University, researchers used stimulus-prediction tasks and MRI imaging to investigate the interrelated nature of awareness and attention in the human brain. 

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Newborn mice form memories of their mothers that last a lifetime

Review written by Amy Ciceu (2024) & Adelaide Minerva (PNI, G2)

As youngsters, we develop memories of and connections to our parents, who nurture us throughout not only our childhoods but also much of our lives. These memories and relationships play vital roles in teaching us how to navigate the world. Do other animals form similar memories? A recent study published by the Gould Lab in Princeton’s departments of Psychology and Neuroscience discovered that mouse pups form memories of their maternal caregivers within days of birth and that these memories endure as the pups age into adulthood. 

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The moment-to-moment pitch dynamics of child-directed speech shape toddlers’ attention and learning

Review written by Liza Mankovskaya (SLA, G7)

Have you ever wondered why we tend to talk to children in a different way than we speak to adults? You might think there isn’t much to it. After all, kids are cute, so adults melt, and hence - “baby talk.” Yet, this difference serves a very important purpose. Several decades of studies have shown that children, from young infants to toddlers, prefer this kind of speech; most importantly, when exposed to speech directed to them in this way, children are more engaged and learn more. But why? We can first consider the differences between speech to children, and speech between adults. One of the most recognizable ways in which caregivers tend to speak to children--child-directed-speech (CDS)--is characterized by significant variation in pitch and intonation. Compared to CDS, “adult” voice and intonations are much more monotonous, so children have a harder time concentrating. Thus, researchers believe that the overall higher level of engagement engendered by CDS promotes learning in children. What is less known, however, is how children process and learn from specific patterns of stress and intonation of CDS on the level of individual words. Recently, Princeton researchers Mira Nencheva, Elise Piazza, and Professor Casey Lew-Williams in the department of Psychology took on exactly this question. They identified specific ways in which caregivers’ pitch changed throughout a word (pitch contours) of CDS in English and analyzed how engaged  two-year-old children were during these different pitch contours and how well they learned novel words that followed these contours. Their findings provide a sub-second frame for understanding the mechanisms and features of CDS that make it optimal for children as they listen to CDS in real time. 

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#MeToo? Perceptions of sexual harassment depend on the victim’s femininity

Review written by Leon Mait (PSY, G2)

In October 2017, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a call for women who had been sexually harassed to reply to her post saying “Me too”, aiming to give the public a sense of how pervasive the experience of sexual harassment is. This ignited the Me Too movement as we know it. However, ten years earlier, social activist Tarana Burke had already started using the phrase on her Myspace page to promote empowerment among women of color who had been sexually abused. Milano did later credit Burke with coining the phrase, but the fact that it took a White woman to bring national attention to a social movement spearheaded by a Black woman is telling.

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Using virtual reality to demonstrate the environmental reinstatement effect

Written by Paula Brooks (PNI, G4)

Walking through your old high school might release a flood of memories that were locked away for years, perhaps even a decade (or more)! Walking through the cafeteria might remind you of the time you almost scared the timid new girl when you boldly walked up to her to invite her to join your friend group for lunch. Or maybe, going past the gym might bring back the memory of when you face planted in front of the entire class while attempting to do the high jump. (Full disclosure: Both of these things happened to me.)

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The development of visual-spatial biases in children

Written by Munisa Said (PSY, 2022) & Crystal Lee (PSY, GS2)

How good are you at finding Waldo? Whether you’re good or bad at it, finding Waldo is not a trivial task. To do so, you must be able to direct your attention to a specific location in a scene, process a massive amount of noisy input, and, finally, make sense of it. Tasks that you perform in your everyday life like reading, driving, cooking--and yes, finding Waldo--all depend on your ability to direct your visuo-spatial attention, the attentional mechanism that allows you to select information from a specific location in space for processing, as well as filter out irrelevant information from other locations. 

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Adult neurogenesis' role in social memory function

Review written by Renee Waters (PSY, G2)

Have you ever wondered how you can recognize a familiar friend in a busy environment? Or maybe how you remember a person you’ve seen just once? Social memory is the ability to recognize familiar others and is an essential function across species, not only for safety but also to maintain stable structures in complex and dynamic social networks. Social memory is involved in hierarchy formation, and defense, as well as mate, offspring, and interspecies recognition. A region of the brain called the hippocampus has long been pinpointed for its role in learning and memory generally; however, great strides have been taken recently to understand its role in social memory more specifically. 

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Stories of immigrant achievement could combat xenophobia

Review written by Leon Mait (PSY, G2)

This country has a complicated relationship with its immigrants. On the one hand, we pride ourselves on theoretically being the “land of opportunity,” a “melting pot” where people from all backgrounds can come to try their hand at socioeconomic success. On the other hand, we often vilify the actual individuals attempting to come to this country, likening them to criminals, viruses, pests, and resource thieves. 

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Surprising events create event boundaries in memories

Review written by Paula Brooks (PNI)

Imagine that you are binge-watching Netflix. In spite of the algorithm’s calculations, you are getting bored by the show that was suggested and you are thinking about stopping before the end of the season. However, to your great surprise, a new character enters halfway through the season and you are hooked. The plot has gotten more interesting and the acting has suddenly improved. What just happened?

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