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Faculty of Human Sciences / CCD Lecture

Macquarie University, Sydney, 21st July 2016


  • Australian Hearing Hub, Level 3, Room 3.610.


  • 2:30pm - 4:00pm


  • Professor Michael McCloskey
    Department of Cognitive Science
    Johns Hopkins University, USA


Professor Michael McCloskeyMy research focuses primarily on cognitive deficits in children and adults with brain damage or learning disabilities, including deficits in visual perception, reading, spelling, and memory. The goals are to gain insight into normal mental representations and processes and how these are instantiated in the brain, as well as to advance our understanding of cognitive deficits and how they may be treated. For example, my colleagues and I have uncovered a new form of reading impairment, in which visual awareness for letters and digits is selectively disrupted. In this deficit visual perception is normal except that the individual sees letters and/or digits only as blurs or jumbles of lines. We have identified two cases: RFS, a 61-year-old man with a progressive neurological disease, and MTS, a 12-year-old girl who suffered a stroke at age 10. In studying these individuals we are using behavioral, electrophysiological, and functional neuroimaging methods to address questions concerning the cognitive and neural representations underlying visual awareness and reading. We are also exploring, with considerable success, remediations for the reading impairments.

In addition to cognitive neuropsychological research, I explore visual-spatial cognition and lexical processing through empirical studies of normal individuals, computational modeling, and functional neuroimaging.

Finally, I am interested in foundational issues in cognitive science, including the rationale for adopting a representational/computational conception of the mind, the relationship between cognitive science and neuroscience, the fundamental distinctions between connectionist and symbolic frameworks, and the role of simulation in cognitive science (e.g., McCloskey, 1991).

Talk Title

How do you write an A? Why do you write it like that?


In writing by hand, abstract representations of characters must be converted into sequences of writing strokes. For any given character (e.g., upper-case print A) the strokes could be produced in various directions and orders. Some variation in stroke patterns is observed, but most possible patterns never occur (e.g., for A: right-side diagonal, then horizontal stroke, then left-side diagonal). Researchers have proposed principles underlying stroke patterns, but the principles often conflict, and are frequently violated. What, then, determines how characters are written? Applying Optimality Theory (OT), a computational framework developed by Prince and Smolenksy in the context of phonology, I propose that stroke patterns are governed by violable, rank-ordered constraints (e.g., Start at the Left, No Upward Strokes). Stroke patterns violating only low-ranking constraints are favored over those violating higher-ranking constraints. I present results concerning prescribed and actual stroke patterns in English and Hebrew writing, arguing that the OT framework sheds light on stroke patterns that do and do not occur, and on variation across individuals and writing systems. I also suggest that the framework may contribute to understanding of stroke errors in children and dysgraphic individuals, and may have implications for the teaching of writing.


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