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Event Knowledge and Semantic Processing

Date: Friday February 14, 2020

Time: 11:30 am to 1:00 pm

Location: ABB 166

Guest Speaker: Dr. Ken McRae

Bio: Dr. Ken McRae is a Professor of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario where he also serves as the Associate Dean Research for the Faculty of Social Sciences. His doctoral dissertation focused on people’s memory for the meaning of words, conducting experiments with adult human participants to test ideas based on neural networks. Dr. McRae expanded his postdoctoral research to study how people understand sentences. Over the years, Dr. McRae’s research continues to focus on word meaning and how people figure out the meaning of sentences. His lab incorporates neural imaging experiments (ERP and some fMRI), in addition to experiments with normal adults (including word processing, sentence reading, and eyetracking experiments), and neural network modeling. Dr. McRae is also involved in research on patient populations, most notably concerning individuals with Parkinson’s Disease.

People constantly use concepts and word meaning to recognize entities and objects in their environment, to anticipate how entities will behave and interact with one another, to know how objects should be used, and to understand language. Over the years, there have been a number of theories regarding how concepts are organized and structured in semantic memory. For example, various theories stress that concepts (or lexical items) are linked by undifferentiated associations. Other theories stress hierarchical categorical (taxonomic) structure, whereas others focus on conceptual similarity spaces. In this talk, Dr. McRae will present evidence that people’s knowledge of real-world events and situations is an important factor underlying the structure and (contextually-determined) usage of concepts in semantic memory. Dr. McRae will present experiments spanning word, picture, and sentence processing. Evidence for the importance of event-based knowledge will cover a number of types of concepts, including verbs, nouns denoting living and nonliving things, and abstract concepts. Dr. McRae concludes that semantic memory is structured in the mind so that the computation and use of knowledge of real-world events and situations is both rapid and fundamental. In other words, event knowledge is an important force that shapes the dynamics of real-time, context-sensitive, semantic computations.