Carnegie Mellon's Carnegie symposium addresses cognition, category development

May 13, 2002

How does an infant or child learn that an object is categorized as a dog? How does that child learn how to group golden retrievers, poodles, and bulldogs into this category, but not cats or rabbits? Some of psychology's most innovative minds in the field of child development and cognition will gather at Carnegie Mellon University for the 32nd Carnegie Symposium on Cognition June 7-9 to explore the topics of categorization.

"Building object categories in developmental time" is the theme of the symposium sponsored and hosted by Carnegie Mellon's Department of Psychology and supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Carnegie Mellon assistant psychology professors Lisa Gershkoff-Stowe and David Rakison are organizing this year's event.

Gershkoff-Stowe and Rakison selected this year's theme based on the recent proliferation of research that has emerged regarding child categorization from various disciplines, including psychology, linguistics, computer science, cognitive science, and brain science.

The symposium will bring together a diverse group of internationally known cognitive science and child development experts from institutions all over the United States and Europe, as well as from the Carnegie Mellon psychology department. All participants were selected to represent the most contemporary views of developmental cognitive science.

Linda Smith, professor of psychology and cognitive science at Indiana University-Bloomington and a participant in this year's symposium, said, "The Carnegie Symposium is one of the most influential and prestigious symposium of its kind. It brings together both big names and new young stars, which is often an eclectic group seeming to work on diverse topics, and brings them together for several days of intense discussion." Smith pointed out the value of such a variety of attendees and participants at the symposium because it creates a new synergy that advances everyone's work.

The varying backgrounds and perspectives of these researchers will result in a blend of approaches to category formation, or the process of how infants and children learn to categorize objects and their properties.

The aim of the symposium is to both recognize progress in the field, as well as to call attention to present deficits in order to spur new research ideas. In addition, Gershkoff-Stowe said, "One goal of the symposium is to foster cross talk in different but related fields."

Each day of the conference will bear a specific theme and will consist of lectures and closing discussions.

The speakers on June 7 will provide a framework for the weekend by discussing fundamental processes underlying the formation of category knowledge. Lecture topics will address: how children learn to discriminate between faces and objects, how infant perception leads to knowledge, language and the formation of object individuation during infancy, how perceptual processes and knowledge access lead to infant categorization, and the role of perception in the ability to distinguish between animate and inanimate objects.

On June 8, the lectures will investigate the role of language in children's burgeoning categories. Lecture topics will include: applying equivalence among objects, converting categorization to meaningful action words, language and thought in early development, determining the features of recognition, and explaining theory-based categorization.

On June 9, the symposium will conclude by addressing how category systems are constructed. The final lecture topics will be: locating the ends and beginnings of science in cognitive development, exploring applications of processing semantics to conceptual development, and applying abstraction to perceptual symbols.

Specific information about the event and the speakers can be found on the symposium website:

The symposium is free and open to the public. All sessions will be held in A51 of Baker Hall, on the Carnegie Mellon campus. For information about registering, contact Rochelle Sherman in the Psychology Department, (412) 268-3151.

Carnegie Mellon University

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