On Thursday, May 23, at 16.00, Juan Manuel Toro (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) will give a talk on "When language is bad for you: Animals outperform humans in a
rule learning task".
research with human adults and infants suggests it is difficult to learn simple
rules over consonants, but not over vowels. Nevertheless, the source of this
difficulty is unknown. In a series of studies, we tested rats’ capacity to
generalize rules implemented over vowels and consonants. In Experiment 1, rats
were trained to discriminate CVCVCV nonsense words in which vowels followed an
AAB structure in half of the words and an ABC structure in the other half,
whereas consonants were combined randomly. In Experiment 2, rules were
implemented over the consonants and vowels varied at random. In the test phase
of both experiments eight new test words were presented. Following the
presentation of each AAB or ABC word lever-pressing responses were registered
and food was delivered. We found that rats could learn the rules and generalize
them to new tokens over both vowels and consonants. Using exactly the same
materials, humans only learned the rule over the vowels. Our results support
the hypothesis that linguistic representations constrain the operation of rule
learning mechanisms. Lacking such representations, animals easily learn rules
that are difficult for humans.
The meeting place will be the Sala de Professors, 5th floor, Edifici Josep Carner, UB. Feel free to spread the word to anyone interested!