In the past decade, the world has combated political misinformation campaigns, ushered in an AI revolution, navigated a pandemic, wrestled with ecological degradation, and worked to solve ongoing racial injustice. As society changes, so too does our understanding of cognition. In the speaker series “Cognition in a Changing World,” the Department of Cognitive Science invites emerging voices in the study of human cognition to discuss new areas of research that will shape our tomorrow.

This series is organized by the undergraduate students of the department.

All talks will be held via zoom. Registration links for each talk can be found below. For more information, email


Friday, February 24th, 12:45-2pm, Eastern Time

Speaker: Vina Goghari, University of Toronto, Clinical Neuroscience of Schizophrenia (CNS) Laboratory

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Bio: Vina M. Goghari, Ph.D., C.Psych. (Professor, Vice-Dean, Research and Program Innovation at the School of Graduate Studies), is a clinical psychologist, whose research brings together multiple methodologies, including neuroimaging, behavioural genetics (i.e., family studies), cognitive and affective experimental psychology, and clinical assessment.

Title: Brain Abnormalities Associated with Disease-Specific and Genetic Risk Factors for Schizophrenia

Abstract: Schizophrenia is a severe, debilitating disorder affecting approximately 340,000 Canadians, approximately 1% of the population. The disorder is associated with symptoms such as false perceptions and beliefs and disturbances in affect and language production. In 2004 the total direct healthcare and non-healthcare cost in Canada was estimated at $2 billion, with an additional productivity loss estimated at $5 billion. This talk will present a program of research into disease-specific and genetic risk factors associated with structural and functional brain abnormalities, including morphology (amount of grey matter), structural connectivity (amount of white matter integrity), and brain functioning (amount of brain activity) in individuals with schizophrenia, their family members, and community controls using magnetic resonance imaging. As healthy relatives share genes with their affected family member, but do not share the disease process, abnormalities present in relatives are likely associated with the genes for schizophrenia. Evidence was found for disease-specific, genetic risk and compensatory brain mechanisms associated with schizophrenia. Isolating the biological and genetic basis of these deficits could ultimately aid in developing novel psychosocial and pharmacological treatments to facilitate improved day-to-day functioning in schizophrenia.

Friday April 7th, 2023, 12:45 – 2pm, Eastern Time

Speaker: Alex Hernandez-Garcia, Mila, the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, Tiohtià:ke / Montréal

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Bio: Alex Hernandez-Garcia is a postdoctoral researcher at Mila, the Quebec Artificial Intelligence Institute, in Tiohtià:ke / Montréal who studies applications of machine learning to fight climate change. His focus is on accelerating scientific discovery with machine learning, including improving the energy efficiency of hydrogen storage, brain-inspired deeplearning and computational neuroscience.

Title: AI against climate change: Accelerating scientific discovery and raising awareness with visualisations

Abstract: The climate crisis is probably the greatest current threat to humans. While there is no single solution to the crisis, science and technology are likely to be able to play an important role in the mitigation of and adaptation to climate change. In this presentation, I will talk about two applications of machine learning and artificial intelligence to tackle the climate crisis from two different angles. In the first part, I will give a gentle introduction to Generative Flow Networks (GFlowNets) and how we are using them with the aim to accelerate scientific discoveries. Second, I will present, an AI-powered website that allows visitors to visualise extreme weather events such as floods on Google Street View photos thanks to a combination of generative models.

Friday April 28th, 2023, 12:45 – 2pm, Eastern Time

Speaker: Nia Johnson

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Bio: Nia Johnson received her BA from Oakwood University. She then went on to obtain her Masters of Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania in 2016 and her Juris Doctor from Boston University School of Law in 2019. Nia is currently the Founder and CEO of the Mazingira Bioethics Group, LLC – a bioethics consulting company that focuses on clinical ethics mediation, minority health, and general bioethics. Previously, she ran and founded The Neighborhood Bioethicist – a bioethics blog geared towards millennials and Black Americans. She has completed internships in academic and community hospitals and has also served as the Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Law and Medicine from 2018 to 2019. Her research interests include causes of mistrust in medicine in the black diaspora, opinion research, and examining bioethics through the black gaze. During the summer of 2020 she worked on multiple projects regarding the impact of COVID-19 and policing on Black American communities. She has been published in the American Journal of Law and Medicine, the Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics, and the Journal of Urban Health.

Title: When Blackness Doesn’t Fade During A Pandemic: Essays on Racial Equity

Abstract: The COVID-19 Pandemic and the calls for racial justice that followed fuelled much discourse on racial health equity. However, these concerns are not new. Many scholars have highlighted how the shortcomings of healthcare and health policy have failed Black Americans. They have called for the field of bioethics to utilize their ideologies and tools to contribute to the discourse on racial equity. This presentation will engage with original, empirical research on health equity during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also discuss its implications for bioethics and racial justice. Lastly, it will present opportunities for the field to have greater involvement in promoting health equity.



Friday, September 16, 2022, 12:45-2 pm Eastern Time

Speaker: Fernanda Pérez Gay Juárez, Neurophilosophy Lab, McGill University

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Bio: Fernanda Pérez-Gay Juárez is a medical doctor, cognitive neuroscientist and science communicator born in Mexico City in 1988. She obtained her MD degree in UNAM, Mexico in 2013 and her PhD in Neuroscience from McGill University in 2018, studying Category Learning and Learned Categorical perception. Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow and Course Lecturer at McGill University, where she studies different aspects of social cognition and teaches the “Introduction to Neuroscience” and “Categorization, Communication and Consciousness” courses. One of her lines of research during the pandemic explored the link between mental health symptoms, mistrust in institutions and social-threat related beliefs (conspiracy theories and fear of contagion). She is also studying neurocognitive mechanisms of Theory of Mind (ToM) using neuromodulation paradigms and leads a project about the link between Social Categorization and ToM, assessing whether this effect can be modified through fiction reading. As a science communicator, she has given conferences to the general public in various settings, published more than 40 science journalism articles in Canadian and Mexican media and I wrote, directed and hosted a video series that explores some of the links between art and neuroscience.

Title: Psychosocial consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic: Links between trust, social-threat related beliefs and mental health.

Abstract: Among the list of psychosocial stressors brought by the COVID-19 pandemic brought are fear of contagion, grief due to separation from loved ones and COVID-19 related deaths of friends and relatives, the relational restrictions and social isolation brought by public health measures, tensions among families in lockdown together, increased uncertainty, feelings of helplessness, loss of freedom, financial loss or adverse economic effects and an overall increased perception of social threat. On one hand, numerous studies have reported an increase in mental health symptomatology both in particular countries and in international samples. On the other hand, there is also abundant evidence about COVID-related conspiracy beliefs, their links to mistrust in institutions and their impact on compliance with public health measures. In this talk, I will present data obtained from a convenience sample of 1,500 respondents from Mexico, US and Canada showing some links between mental health symptomatology, mistrust in institutions and social-threat related beliefs (irrational fear of contagion and conspiratorial ideation) in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the interaction between psychosocial stressors, individual proneness to mental health disorders and irrational beliefs.

Friday, October 14, 2022, 12:45-2 pm Eastern Time

Speaker: Rebecca Lee, Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado Boulder

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photo of rebecca leeBio: Rebecca Lee is a doctoral student in Linguistics at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she is also completing certificates in Cognitive Science and Culture, Language, and Social Practice. She received her B.A. in Cognitive Science from UC Berkeley in 2013, and her MA in Linguistics from CU Boulder in 2020. Her work combines perspectives from cognitive semantics, construction grammar, and sociocultural linguistics. Specifically, she studies the mental representation of lexical and constructional polysemy, and social variation in the use of polysemous words in different communities of practice. Relatedly, she also examines how the syntax-semantics interface can be leveraged to study social and political ideologies, and is interested in interrogating the relationship between semantic and social meaning. Rebecca has presented her research at a variety of conferences, such as those organized by the American Anthropological Association, the UK Cognitive Linguistics Association, and The Association for Researching and Applying Metaphor, and her work will soon be published in the Proceedings of the Fifty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the Chicago Linguistics Society. Rebecca also has a passion for teaching, and has recently developed a Figurative Language course at CU Boulder.

Title: ‘The people calling others Racist are the True Racists’: Ideology and semantic variation of racist on twitter

Abstract: In this talk, I integrate cognitive sociolinguistic corpus approaches to semantic variation (Glynn 2014) with cognitive discourse analytic and linguistic anthropological approaches to ideology (Hart 2014, Hill 2008), uncovering differences in construal of the word racist by two ideologically opposed groups of tweeters. This work differs from traditional studies of polysemy, in that different uses of racist are not necessarily conceptually autonomous senses in one person’s mind, but presuppose oppositional perspectives on race and society between different groups of people. In two corpus studies, I examine tweets from two groups of tweeters, those who self-identify with “blacklivesmatter” vs those who identify with “MAGA,” investigating the distributional patterns associated with different uses of racist by these groups. Building on insights from linguistic anthropology about competing conceptualizations of racism in US society, specifically the “folk theory” of white racism vs critical perspectives on racism (Hill 2008, Hodges 2016), I uncover areas where these conceptualizations are apparent in variation at the syntax-semantics interface. BLM and MAGA tweeters often modify different kinds of entities with the word racist and use different grammatical constructions with the word whose semantic frames presuppose ideologically conflicting beliefs about racism. This emphasis on ideological distinction expands upon traditional notions of polysemy, by demonstrating that some variation in meaning is perspectival and intersubjective, evident in contested usage.


Friday, November 11, 2022, 12:45-2 pm Eastern Time

Speaker: Sacha Altay, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford

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Bio: Sacha Altay holds a PhD in Experimental Psychology and currently works on misinformation and (mis)trust as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Oxford.

Title: Misinformation on Misinformation

Abstract: Alarmist narratives about online misinformation continue to gain traction despite evidence that its prevalence and impact are overstated. Drawing on research examining the use of big data in social science and reception studies, we identify six misconceptions about misinformation and explore the conceptual and methodological challenges they raise. The first set of

misconceptions concerns theprevalence and circulation of misinformation. First, scientists focus on social media because it is methodologically convenient, but misinformation is not just a social media problem. Second, the internet is not rife with misinformation or news, but with memes and entertaining content. Third, falsehoods do not spread faster than the truth; how we define (mis)information influences our results and their practical implications. The second set of misconceptions concerns the impact and the reception of misinformation. Fourth, people do not believe everything they see on the internet: sheer volume of engagement should not be conflated with belief. Fifth, people are more likely to be uninformed than misinformed; surveys overestimate misperceptions and say little about the causal influence of misinformation. Sixth, the influence of misinformation on people’s behavior is overblown as misinformation often ‘preaches to the choir’. To appropriately understand and fight misinformation, future research needs to address these challenges.

Friday, December 2, 2022, 12:45-2 pm Eastern Time

Speaker: Jeremy Grant, Department of Clinical & Health Psychology at the University of Florida

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Bio: Jeremy Grant, Ph.D., is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Clinical & Health Psychology at the University of Florida. His research focuses on modifiable risk factors of cognitive decline (cognitive reserve/resilience, aerobic exercise, metabolic syndrome) and promoting healthy cognitive aging among individuals with neurodegenerative disorders, particularly among historically marginalized groups. He obtained his B.S. in Biology from Andrews University in 2013, followed by an M.Sc. in Neuroscience at Carleton University in 2016. He completed his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at Wayne State University in 2022, where his research examined psychosocial predictors of health outcomes among individuals with multiple sclerosis. As a clinician, he specializes in conducting neuropsychological assessments for individuals with various neurological disorders and providing multicomponent interventions for older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

Title: Proxies of Cognitive Reserve in Multiple Sclerosis

Abstract: The theory of cognitive reserve is often invoked to explain why some people with multiple sclerosis (MS) exhibit better cognitive performance than expected for their level of disease progression. The most commonly used proxy of cognitive reserve is years of education; however, few studies have examined how cognitively enriching activities outside of formal education contribute to cognitive reserve. Furthermore, education quality often provides a better estimate of cognitive reserve than education quantity, particularly among systematically marginalized groups in the United States. This study examined three proxies of reserve—years of education, education quality, and cognitive enrichment—and the extent to which their relationship with cognitive performance differs based on race in a sample of 82 adults with multiple sclerosis. The findings indicate that cognitive reserve can indeed be built through multiple routes, but with a threshold. Among individuals with high education quality, engaging in cognitively enriching activities may not provide any additional protection from cognitive decline. However, among individuals with low education quality, cognitive enrichment can be a vital source of reserve, capable of providing a similar level of protection as observed among individuals with high education quality. Furthermore, the protective effects of cognitive reserve differed by race. Among the Black participants, cognitive enrichment and education quality moderated the relationship between disease progression and cognitive performance. However, among the White participants, cognitive enrichment did not provide additional protection beyond the buffering effect of education quality.