Markus Ostarek

Publications

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8
  • Mantegna, F., Hintz, F., Ostarek, M., Alday, P. M., & Huettig, F. (2019). Distinguishing integration and prediction accounts of ERP N400 modulations in language processing through experimental design. Neuropsychologia, 134: 107199. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2019.107199.

    Abstract

    Prediction of upcoming input is thought to be a main characteristic of language processing (e.g. Altmann & Mirkovic, 2009; Dell & Chang, 2014; Federmeier, 2007; Ferreira & Chantavarin, 2018; Pickering & Gambi, 2018; Hale, 2001; Hickok, 2012; Huettig 2015; Kuperberg & Jaeger, 2016; Levy, 2008; Norris, McQueen, & Cutler, 2016; Pickering & Garrod, 2013; Van Petten & Luka, 2012). One of the main pillars of experimental support for this notion comes from studies that have attempted to measure electrophysiological markers of prediction when participants read or listened to sentences ending in highly predictable words. The N400, a negative-going and centro-parietally distributed component of the ERP occurring approximately 400ms after (target) word onset, has been frequently interpreted as indexing prediction of the word (or the semantic representations and/or the phonological form of the predicted word, see Kutas & Federmeier, 2011; Nieuwland, 2019; Van Petten & Luka, 2012; for review). A major difficulty for interpreting N400 effects in language processing however is that it has been difficult to establish whether N400 target word modulations conclusively reflect prediction rather than (at least partly) ease of integration. In the present exploratory study, we attempted to distinguish lexical prediction (i.e. ‘top-down’ activation) from lexical integration (i.e. ‘bottom-up’ activation) accounts of ERP N400 modulations in language processing.
  • Ostarek, M., Joosen, D., Ishag, A., De Nijs, M., & Huettig, F. (2019). Are visual processes causally involved in “perceptual simulation” effects in the sentence-picture verification task? Cognition, 182, 84-94. doi:10.1016/j.cognition.2018.08.017.

    Abstract

    Many studies have shown that sentences implying an object to have a certain shape produce a robust reaction time advantage for shape-matching pictures in the sentence-picture verification task. Typically, this finding has been interpreted as evidence for perceptual simulation, i.e., that access to implicit shape information involves the activation of modality-specific visual processes. It follows from this proposal that disrupting visual processing during sentence comprehension should interfere with perceptual simulation and obliterate the match effect. Here we directly test this hypothesis. Participants listened to sentences while seeing either visual noise that was previously shown to strongly interfere with basic visual processing or a blank screen. Experiments 1 and 2 replicated the match effect but crucially visual noise did not modulate it. When an interference technique was used that targeted high-level semantic processing (Experiment 3) however the match effect vanished. Visual noise specifically targeting high-level visual processes (Experiment 4) only had a minimal effect on the match effect. We conclude that the shape match effect in the sentence-picture verification paradigm is unlikely to rely on perceptual simulation.
  • Ostarek, M., & Huettig, F. (2019). Six challenges for embodiment research. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 28(6), 593-599. doi:10.1177/0963721419866441.

    Abstract

    20 years after Barsalou's seminal perceptual symbols paper (Barsalou, 1999), embodied cognition, the notion that cognition involves simulations of sensory, motor, or affective states, has moved in status from an outlandish proposal advanced by a fringe movement in psychology to a mainstream position adopted by large numbers of researchers in the psychological and cognitive (neuro)sciences. While it has generated highly productive work in the cognitive sciences as a whole, it had a particularly strong impact on research into language comprehension. The view of a mental lexicon based on symbolic word representations, which are arbitrarily linked to sensory aspects of their referents, for example, was generally accepted since the cognitive revolution in the 1950s. This has radically changed. Given the current status of embodiment as a main theory of cognition, it is somewhat surprising that a close look at the state of the affairs in the literature reveals that the debate about the nature of the processes involved in language comprehension is far from settled and key questions remain unanswered. We present several suggestions for a productive way forward.
  • Ostarek, M., Van Paridon, J., & Montero-Melis, G. (2019). Sighted people’s language is not helpful for blind individuals’ acquisition of typical animal colors. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(44), 21972-21973. doi:10.1073/pnas.1912302116.
  • Ostarek, M., & Huettig, F. (2017). A task-dependent causal role for low-level visual processes in spoken word comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 43(8), 1215-1224. doi:10.1037/xlm0000375.

    Abstract

    It is well established that the comprehension of spoken words referring to object concepts relies on high-level visual areas in the ventral stream that build increasingly abstract representations. It is much less clear whether basic low-level visual representations are also involved. Here we asked in what task situations low-level visual representations contribute functionally to concrete word comprehension using an interference paradigm. We interfered with basic visual processing while participants performed a concreteness task (Experiment 1), a lexical decision task (Experiment 2), and a word class judgment task (Experiment 3). We found that visual noise interfered more with concrete vs. abstract word processing, but only when the task required visual information to be accessed. This suggests that basic visual processes can be causally involved in language comprehension, but that their recruitment is not automatic and rather depends on the type of information that is required in a given task situation.

    Additional information

    XLM-2016-2822_supp.docx
  • Ostarek, M., & Vigliocco, G. (2017). Reading sky and seeing a cloud: On the relevance of events for perceptual simulation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 43(4), 579-590. doi:10.1037/xlm0000318.

    Abstract

    Previous research has shown that processing words with an up/down association (e.g., bird, foot) can influence the subsequent identification of visual targets in congruent location (at the top/bottom of the screen). However, as facilitation and interference were found under similar conditions, the nature of the underlying mechanisms remained unclear. We propose that word comprehension relies on the perceptual simulation of a prototypical event involving the entity denoted by a word in order to provide a general account of the different findings. In three experiments, participants had to discriminate between two target pictures appearing at the top or the bottom of the screen by pressing the left vs. right button. Immediately before the targets appeared, they saw an up/down word belonging to the target’s event, an up/down word unrelated to the target, or a spatially neutral control word. Prime words belonging to target event facilitated identification of targets at 250ms SOA (experiment 1), but only when presented in the vertical location where they are typically seen, indicating that targets were integrated in the simulations activated by the prime words. Moreover, at the same SOA, there was a robust facilitation effect for targets appearing in their typical location regardless of the prime type. However, when words were presented for 100ms (experiment 2) or 800ms (experiment 3), only a location non-specific priming effect was found, suggesting that the visual system was not activated. Implications for theories of semantic processing are discussed.
  • Ostarek, M., & Huettig, F. (2017). Spoken words can make the invisible visible – Testing the involvement of low-level visual representations in spoken word processing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 43, 499-508. doi:10.1037/xhp0000313.

    Abstract

    The notion that processing spoken (object) words involves activation of category-specific representations in visual cortex is a key prediction of modality-specific theories of representation that contrasts with theories assuming dedicated conceptual representational systems abstracted away from sensorimotor systems. In the present study, we investigated whether participants can detect otherwise invisible pictures of objects when they are presented with the corresponding spoken word shortly before the picture appears. Our results showed facilitated detection for congruent ("bottle" -> picture of a bottle) vs. incongruent ("bottle" -> picture of a banana) trials. A second experiment investigated the time-course of the effect by manipulating the timing of picture presentation relative to word onset and revealed that it arises as soon as 200-400ms after word onset and decays at 600ms after word onset. Together, these data strongly suggest that spoken words can rapidly activate low-level category-specific visual representations that affect the mere detection of a stimulus, i.e. what we see. More generally our findings fit best with the notion that spoken words activate modality-specific visual representations that are low-level enough to provide information related to a given token and at the same time abstract enough to be relevant not only for previously seen tokens but also for generalizing to novel exemplars one has never seen before.
  • Popov, V., Ostarek, M., & Tenison, C. (2017). Inferential Pitfalls in Decoding Neural Representations. In G. Gunzelmann, A. Howes, T. Tenbrink, & E. Davelaar (Eds.), Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (CogSci 2017) (pp. 961-966). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society.

    Abstract

    A key challenge for cognitive neuroscience is to decipher the representational schemes of the brain. A recent class of decoding algorithms for fMRI data, stimulus-feature-based encoding models, is becoming increasingly popular for inferring the dimensions of neural representational spaces from stimulus-feature spaces. We argue that such inferences are not always valid, because decoding can occur even if the neural representational space and the stimulus-feature space use different representational schemes. This can happen when there is a systematic mapping between them. In a simulation, we successfully decoded the binary representation of numbers from their decimal features. Since binary and decimal number systems use different representations, we cannot conclude that the binary representation encodes decimal features. The same argument applies to the decoding of neural patterns from stimulus-feature spaces and we urge caution in inferring the nature of the neural code from such methods. We discuss ways to overcome these inferential limitations.

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