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Not Knowing What We Know

Context: Invited talk presented during the Workshop on Memory and Skill, Duke University, Durham, NC, April 2016.

Title: Not knowing what we know: A call for a theory-neutral database for empirical results in psychology.

Abstract: Theorists have proposed various memory distinctions based on duration, capacity, awareness, or the nature of the retrieved content. We argue that debates about whether such systems are functionally and structurally distinct cannot be resolved by empirical evidence and that they have no scientific value, because they do not advance our understanding about the processes involved in various mnemonic tasks. Instead, we argue for a framework based on investigating task-dependent processes. In this framework all mnemonic acts recruit different combinations of processes depending on the nature of the task. However, one major impediment to task-dependent analysis of cognitive processes is the lack of organization of empirical results in psychology. We argue that there are fundamental problems with the way we store and organize empirical knowledge that prevent empirical integration and theoretical advancement. We call for a theory-neutral database for empirical results in psychology that systematically maps task parameters and behavioral outcomes for every published study in the field. Task parameters would include descriptors for the nature of the stimuli, the details of the paradigm and the procedure, etc., based on a systematic hierarchical nomenclature. This would not only allow us to integrate currently available empirical data, but can also drive empirical research by identifying gaps in our knowledge. It might further shift the focus away from hypothesis testing to precise parameter estimation. Such a database can be integrated with the publishing process, where researchers would have to submit task-parameters and summary data, as well as raw data with a standardized format. This would allow for automatic meta-analyses, and large-scale parameter estimation. This empirical integration could lead to advancements in theoretical understanding by stimulating cross-talk between paradigms, standardizing task descriptors, identifying gaps in our current knowledge and providing a systematic set of results for building and testing computational models and cognitive architectures.

Presentation slides: PDF

Take-home message:

  • Theoretical advancement is hindered by the lack of organization of empirical results
  • Too many published empirical studies to integrate verbally
  • Models and architectures are useful, but do not solve the problem
  • We need a theory-neutral database for empirical results that systematically maps task parameters and behavioral outcomes for every published study in the field
  • Structured syntax-based description of task parameters that allows easy comparison, literature reviews, data extraction and automated data-analysis
  • Usefulness
    • Organization and integration of currently available knowledge
    • Automatic meta-analysis and large-scale parameter estimation
    • Identifying gaps in our knowledge
    • Model testing and comparison

Relevant publications:

The Mortar of Cognition

Context: Talk presented as part of the Perception, Action and Learning (PAL) series, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, Feb, 2017

Title: The Mortar of Cognition: Semantic relations play a crucial role in memory, language comprehension and analogical reasoning

Abstract: If entity concepts are the building blocks of cognition, then semantic relations are the mortar that holds them together. Relations provide an organizational structure for semantic knowledge and they grant us the ability to abstract information beyond a single learning episode. Relations are thus the very “fuel and fire of thinking” and are arguably what makes human cognition so special. In this talk I will discuss my recent efforts to understand (a) how semantic relations are represented in long-term memory, (b) how they are retrieved by different instances and exemplars, (c) how they influence associative recognition memory, language comprehension and analogical reasoning. Specifically, I will present findings from a series of experiments on relational and structural priming, as well as experiments that uncovered a novel relational luring effect (RLE) in associative recognition memory. The RLE shows that people are more likely to falsely believe that a novel word pair such as AIRPLANE PILOT has been previously seen, because they have studied a relationally similar pair such as SHIP CAPTAIN. The RLE presents fundamental challenges for models of semantic and episodic memory, and it has important implications for unitization in associative recognition, analogical reasoning and retrieval, as well as constructive memory research.

Presentation slides: PDF

Take-home message:

  • Semantic relations are represented abstractly in LTM
  • The same representation can be retrieved unintentionally by different exemplars
  • This affects associative recognition, lexical processing, language comprehension, etc
  • These abstract representations give rise to relational priming, structural priming and relational luring effects
  • Sometimes this happens unintentionally, without awareness and without involving executive wokring memory resources
  • We can gain a better understanding of memory by studying how its properties relate to its purpose in cognition and behavior

Relevant publications:

  • Popov, V., Hristova, P., & Anders, R. (2017). The Relational Luring Effect: Retrieval of relational information during associative recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication PDF
  • Popov, V. & Hristova, P. (2015). Unintentional and efficient relational priming. Memory & Cognition, 46(6), 866-878. PDF
  • Popov, V. & Hristova, P. (2014). Automatic analogical reasoning underlies structural priming in comprehension of ambiguous sentences. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1192-1197). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. PDF

About

Imagine if we could bridge the gap between minds and computers. Imagine a world where the whole of humanity’s knowledge will no longer be available just at our fingertips, but instead it will be directly available to us in the same intimate and immediate way as we access information stored in our own brains. This will take away the need to spend countless precious years training every young mind to imbibe an ever expanding wealth of facts that quickly go obsolete. Instead, it will bring the focus during those critical years on reasoning, critical thinking, creativity and the acquisition of skills and abilities.

But in order to bring this future to fruition we first need to understand the specific neural code with which semantic information is stored in the brain and the precise mechanisms through which it is retrieved on demand so that later on we can engineer a system that can take advantage of those mechanisms. Whether I will see this future realized during my lifetime is anybody’s best guess, but I have decided to dedicate my work and efforts to help make it a reality.

I am currently a PhD student at Carnegie Mellon University and the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition. I work with Prof. Lynne Reder in exploring the neural and mental mechanisms of memory formation, knowledge representation and retrieval.

I publish under my full name, Vencislav Popov, but Ven is easier to say and remember, and as people have noted, “Oh, Ven, like a venn diagram!”

Check out my blog, Neuromusings (quite sparse for now).

Education

Education

Ph.D., Cognitive Neuroscience, Carnegie Mellon University (2015 – present)
B.A., Psychology, New Bulgarian University (2015)


Honors

2017
Cognitive Science Society Travel Award
Robert J. Glushko and Pamela Samuelson Foundation

2015 – 2016
Presidential Fellowship in the Life Sciences
Richard King Mellon Foundation

2014 – 2015
Full academic scholarship
New Bulgarian University

2014
Scholarship for attending “European Campus of Excellence Summer School”
Stiftung Mercator

2013 – 2015
Fifteen research excellency awards
“Student scholarships”, European Union

2012 – 2015

Academic excellence scholarships
“Student scholarships”, European Union

2012 – 2013
Full academic scholarship
Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridsky

Presentations

Invited talks

2016

Workshop on Memory and Skill, Duke University, Durham, NC, April 2016.

  • Not knowing what we know: A call for a theory-neutral database for empirical results in psychology. More information…


Departmental talks

2017

Perception, Action and Learning (PAL) series, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, Feb, 2017

  • The Mortar of Cognition: Semantic relations play a crucial role in memory, language comprehension and analogical reasoning. More information…


Conference talks

2017

39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, London, UK, July 2017

  • Inferential Pitfalls in Decoding Neural Representations
  • The Relational Luring Effect: False Recognition via Relational Similarity
  • Target-to-distractor similarity can help visual search performance

16th Annual Summer Interdisciplinary Conference (ASIC 2017), Interlaken, Switzerland, July 2017

  • The Relational Luring Effect: Retrieval of Relational Information during Associative Recognition
  • Repetition improves memory by strengthening existing traces: Evidence from paired-associate learning under midazolam

2014

36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Quebec City, Canada, July 2014

  • Automatic analogical reasoning underlies structural priming in comprehension of ambiguous sentences

Memory and Mind: Perspectives from Philosophy and Neuroscience, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany, August 2014

  • Priming of relations: Unintended, unconscious and efficient


Conference posters

2017

39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, London, UK, July 2017

  • Repetition improves memory by strengthening existing traces: Evidence from paired-associate learning under midazolam

2016

Pyschonomic Society’s 57th Annual Meeting, Boston, MA, November 2016

  • Semantic-episodic interactions during memory retrieval

2015

Psychonomic Society’s 56th Annual Meeting, Chicago, IL, November 2015

  • Retrieval of relational information during associative recognition

Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Annual Retreat, Seven Springs, PA, October 2015

  • Retrieval of relational information during associative recognition

13th International Conference on Cognitive Modeling, Groenigen, Germany, June 2015

  • A spreading-activation model of associates retrieval in a free association task

2014

36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Quebec City, Canada, July, 2014

  • The level of processing affects the magnitude of induced retrograde amnesia
  • Unintended and efficient analogies in lexical decision under dual-task conditions

VI Dubrovnik Conference on Cognitive Science, Dubrovnik, Croatia, May 2014

  • Malleability of the basic level effect in categorical induction for biological categories
  • Priming thematic structure during sentence comprehension in the absence of syntactic repetition

2013

35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society, Berlin, Germany, July 2013

  • Fixation on Failure: Failing to Solve a Problem Hinders Subsequent Problem-Solving

Publications

* indicates co-first authors

Journal publications


2017

Shen, Z.*, Popov, V.* (co-first authors), Delahay, A., & Reder, L. (Pending minor revisions). Symbol familiarity affects working memory demands during mathematical problem solving. Memory & Cognition

Popov, V., Hristova, P., & Anders, R. (2017). The Relational Luring Effect: Retrieval of relational information during associative recognition. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146(5), 722-745 PDF

Manelis, A.*, Popov, V.* (co-first authors), Paynter, C., Walsh, M., Wheeler, M., Vogt, K., & Reder, L. (2017). Cortical Networks Involved in Memory for Temporal Order. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience. Advance online publication PDF

2016

Reder, L. M., Liu, X. L., Keinath, A., & Popov, V. (2016). Building knowledge requires bricks, not sand: The critical role of familiar constituents in learning. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23(1), 271-277. PDF

Popov, V., Psederska, E., Peneva, E., Bozgunov, K., Vasilev, G., Nedelchev, D., & Vassileva, J. (2016). Psychometric Characteristics of the Bulgarian Version of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). Psychological Research, 19(2), 25-42 (in Bulgarian) PDF

Nedelchev, D., Popov, V., Psedarska, E., Bozgunov, K., Vasilev, G., Peneva, E., & Vassileva, J. (2016). Psychometric Characteristics of the Bulgarian Version of the Wender Utah Rating Scale (WURS-25) for ADHD. Clinical and Consulting Psychology, 8(2), 3-17 (in Bulgarian)

2015

Popov, V., Bozgunov, K., Vasilev, G., & Vassileva, J. (2015). Psychometric Characteristics of the Bulgarian Version of Levenson’s Self-report Psychopathy Scale. Bulgarian Journal of Psychology, 1-4, 253-278 (in Bulgarian) PDF

Popov, V. & Hristova, P. (2015). Unintentional and efficient relational priming. Memory & Cognition, 46(6), 866-878. PDF

Refereed full conference papers


2017

Popov, V. , Ostarek, M., & Tenison, C. (Forthcoming). Inferential Pitfalls in Decoding Neural representations. To appear In G. Gunzelmann, A. Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp.). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Popov, V. , & Reder, L. (Forthcoming). Target-to-distractor similarity can help visual search performance. To appear In G. Gunzelmann, A. Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp.). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Popov, V. , & Reder, L. (Forthcoming). Repetition improves memory by strengthening existing traces: Evidence from paired-associate learning under midazolam. To appear In G. Gunzelmann, A. Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society PDF (pp.). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

2014

Popov, V. & Hristova, P. (2014). Automatic analogical reasoning underlies structural priming in comprehension of ambiguous sentences. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 1192-1197). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Popov, V. & Petkov, G. (2014). The level of processing affects the magnitude of induced retrograde amnesia. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2787-2792). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Abstracts


2017

Popov, V. , Pavlova, M., & Hristova, P. (Forthcoming). Semantic Relations Vary in the Strength, Typicality and Accessibility of their Representations in Long-Term Memory. Proceedings of the 4th Analogy Conference (pp.). Paris, France

Popov, V. , & Hristova, P. (Forthcoming). The Relational Luring Effect: False Recognition via Relational Similarity. To appear In G. Gunzelmann, A. Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp.). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Nedelchev, D., Popov, V., Psederska, E., Bozgunov, K., Vasilev, G., Peneva, E., & Vassileva, J. (2016). Psychometric characteristics of the Bulgarian version of the Wender Utah Rating Scale for ADHD. 2nd National Congress of Clinical Psychology. Sofia, Bulgaria.

Bozgunov, K., Popov, V., Psedarska, E., Vasilev, G., Nedelchev, D., & Vassileva, J. (2017). Psychometric characteristics of the Bulgarian version of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20). 7th International Congress of Psychologists of Slovenia – Applied Neuropsychology: Between Small and Big Networks. Kranjska Gora, Slovenia.

2016

Popov, V. & Reder, L. (2016). Semantic-episodic interactions during memory retrieval. In Abstracts of the 57th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society. Boston, Massachusetts

Shen, Z., Reder, L., Popov, V., & Delahay, A. (2016). Symbol Familiarity Interacts With Working Memory Demands During Mathematical Problem-Solving. In Abstracts of the 57th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society. Boston, Massachusetts

Vogt, K., Ibinson, J., Tremel, J., Popov, V., Reder, L., & Fiez, J. (2016). Variability in the effect of experimental pain on longterm memory during sedation with dexmedetomidine & midazolam. In Abstracts of the Anestesiology 2016 Annual Meeting. Chicago, IL

Reder, L. M., Liu, X. L., Keinath, A. & Popov, V. (2015). Knowledge construction requires bricks, not sand: The critical role of familiar constituents in learning. International Meeting of the Psychonomic Society . Grenada, Spain

2015

Popov, V., Hristova, P. & Anders, R. (2015). Retrieval of relational information during associative recognition. In Abstracts of the 56th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society. Chicago, IL

Reder, L. M., Liu, X. L., Keinath, A. & Popov, V. (2015). Building knowledge requires bricks, not sand: The critical role of familiar constituents in learning. In Abstracts of the 56th Annual Meeting of the Psychonomic Society . Chicago, IL

Popov, V. (2015). A spreading-activation model of associates retrieval in a discrete free association task. In N. Taatgen, M. van Vugt, J. Borst, & K. Mehlhorn (Eds.), Proceedings of the 13th International Conference on Cognitive Modeling. Groenigen: Rijksuniversiteit Groenigen PDF

2014

Popov, V. & Hristova, P. (2014). Unconscious, unintended and efficient analogies in lexical decision under dual-task conditions. In P. Bello, M. Guarini, M. McShane, & B. Scassellati (Eds.), Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

Popov, V. & Hristova, P. (2014). Priming thematic structure during sentence comprehension in the absence of syntactic repetition. In Abstracts of the VI. Dubrovnik Conference on Cognitive Science. Dubrovnik, Croatia.

Popov, V. (2014). Malleability of the basic level effect in categorical induction for biological categories. In Abstracts of the VI. Dubrovnik Conference on Cognitive Science. Dubrovnik, Croatia.

2013

Popov, V. (2013). Fixation on Failure: Failing to Solve a Problem Hinders Subsequent Problem-Solving Ability. In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (p. 4080). Austin, TX: CSS.

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