Friday, January 29, 2016

University of Connecticut Job Posting Title: Head Research Technician, Human Electrophysiology

University of Connecticut Job Posting Title: Head Research Technician, Human Electrophysiology (Research Assistant 3 or Research Associate 1)

The Institute for the Brain and Cognitive Sciences (IBACS) at the University of Connecticut invites applications for a full-time position of Research Assistant 3/Research Associate 1 (Head Research Technician) to help oversee operations of two shared electrophysiology facilities in Storrs, CT, affiliated with IBACS. The incumbent will work under the supervision of faculty investigators to oversee the care, maintenance, and operation of shared equipment and facilities. Duties will also include development and implementation of safety protocols, training students and faculty to use EEG equipment and to analyze EEG experiments, and supervision of other technicians.

The incumbent will also work with personnel at the Brain Imaging Research Center to facilitate collaborations involving EEG, eye tracking, TMS, and fMRI for multi-modal imaging projects. There may also be opportunities for the incumbent to engage in collaborative research. Current research foci include audition, speech, syntax, language disorders, and music.

Minimum Qualifications: Research-oriented M.A./M.S. or Ph.D. in a field of cognitive science (e.g., cognitive science, linguistics, neuroscience, psychology, speech, language & hearing sciences); extensive experience in the use and care of EEG equipment; expertise in EEG data analysis (ERP/TF); and excellent communication and interpersonal skills.

Preferred Qualifications: Experience with related techniques (e.g., TMS, TDCS, fMRI, eye tracking); experience with experimental control software (e.g., E-Prime, Psychopy); experience with statistical software (e.g., R, Matlab, Numpy/SciPy); programming experience (e.g., MATLAB, Python); experience with both Windows and *nix operating systems; and previous lab management experience.

Appointment Terms:  This is a full-time, 11 month, annually renewable position.  Rank and salary will be commensurate with qualifications and experience.  This position also includes a full benefits package.

To Apply: Please go to this link at Academic Jobs Online and submit the following: cover letter and curriculum vitae. Additionally, please follow the instructions in Academic Jobs Online to direct three reference writers to submit letters of professional reference on your behalf. Screening of applications will begin immediately. For questions regarding this position, prospective applicants should email Prof. James Magnuson (Associate Director, IBACS) at Employment of the successful candidate is contingent upon the successful completion of a pre-employment criminal background check. (Search # 2016345)

This job posting is scheduled to be removed at 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on February 14, 2016.

All employees are subject to adherence to the State Code of Ethics which may be found at

The University of Connecticut is committed to building and supporting a multicultural and diverse community of students, faculty and staff. The diversity of students, faculty and staff continues to increase, as does the number of honors students, valedictorians and salutatorians who consistently make UConn their top choice. More than 100 research centers and institutes serve the University’s teaching, research, diversity, and outreach missions, leading to UConn’s ranking as one of the nation’s top research universities. UConn’s faculty and staff are the critical link to fostering and expanding our vibrant, multicultural and diverse University community. As an Affirmative Action/Equal Employment Opportunity employer, UConn encourages applications from women, veterans, people with disabilities and members of traditionally underrepresented populations.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

3 postdoctoral positions at NYU Shanghai

We are pleased to announce that three postdoctoral positions in system, computational and cognitive neuroscience will be available at New York University Shanghai

The positions will be in Shanghai and are expected to start March 1, 2016, each for a two-year term, with the possibility to extend. Focuses of cognitive neuroscience position include but not limited to neural bases of speech and language, decision making and memory. Qualified applicants are expected to hold a Ph.D. in Psychology, Neurolinguistics, Neuroscience, and other relevant quantitative disciplines.

Successful candidates will receive globally competitive compensations, and have the opportunities to spend time at other NYU portal campuses (Abu Dhabi and New York). Applications will be reviewed until the positions are filled. To be considered, applicants must submit a CV, and the names and contact information of three references. Please follow the link to apply:

If you have any questions, please e-mail

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Max Planck Institute: position for Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Department

The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main is offering a position for a Ph.D. candidate in the Neuroscience Department.

The Ph.D. student will be working with Dr. Ed Vessel (Poeppel Department).

The Ph.D student will work on projects seeking to understand the neural basis of aesthetic experiences, with a primary focus on understanding visual aesthetic experiences (artwork, architecture, landscapes, etc.) using fMRI. Non-visual domains (e.g. music, literature, or dance) and other methods (EEG, MEG, TMS) may also be explored. The ideal applicant for this position holds an MA, has an excellent record in his/her respective discipline, and possesses some of the following skills:

• Excellent scientific communication skills (including writing),
• quantitative and programming ability (linear algebra, signal processing, classification, neural networks, dynamical systems, or model fitting etc.),
• ability to work with Matlab, shell scripts, and other programming languages (Python, C, Java) to implement processing streams and perform complex analyses,
• familiarity with fMRI analyses (e.g. general linear models, multi-voxel classification, functional connectivity and surface-based methods),
• good understanding of statistics,
• image and/or sound processing skills using Matlab and other programs (Photoshop, Illustrator, Audacity, etc.),
• ability to work collaboratively with a newly established research team,
• excellent command of English.

The position is awarded for a period of three years with a possible extension of up to one year. The anticipated starting date is spring 2016. Salaries are determined following the salary scale TVOD 13 (Bund). Ph.D. positions are 50% positions.

The Max Planck Society is committed to hiring more disabled persons. We encourage applications from disabled persons. The Max Planck Society would like to increase the proportion of women in those fields in which they are underrepresented. Women are therefore expressly encouraged to apply.

Applications (including CV, a letter of intent and two reading samples) and two letters of recommendation should be sent in pdf-format by December 31, 2015, to:

Max-Planck-Institut für empirische Ästhetik -Personalstelle- Grüneburgweg 14 D-60322 Frankfurt

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Call for Papers: Translating Research to Practice in the Language Sciences

Special Issue of Translational Issues in Psychological Science (TPS)

Submissions accepted from January 15 - March 1, 2016

We are encouraging submissions for consideration in a special issue titled “Translating
Research to Practice in the Language Sciences” in the innovative journal titled Translational
Issues in Psychological Science, co-sponsored by the American Psychological Association
(APA) and the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS).

“Translating Research to Practice in the Language Sciences” is due out in in March of 2017.
For this issue, the Editors will consider manuscripts across a broad area of language science
research concerning such topics as:

• Cognitive and neural consequences of bilingualism
• Enhancing second language learning
• Raising bilingual children
• Global perspectives on language science
• Language and aging
• Advances in the neuroscience of language
• Language development and atypical trajectories
• Translating language science to the classroom
• Literacy across the lifespan and language context
• Other important and timely topics in language science research

Manuscripts submitted to TPS should be co-authored by at least one psychologist in training
(graduate student, postdoctoral fellow), should be written concisely for a broad audience, and
focus on the practical implications of the research presented in the manuscript. For more
information about the journal, including detailed instructions to authors, visit the TPS website

The deadline for submissions is March 1, 2016. Please feel free to forward this correspondence

to interested colleagues and the psychologists in training with whom you work.

Mary Beth Kenkel, PhD, Editor-in-Chief 
Daniel J. Weiss, PhD, Special Issue Editor

American Psychological Association
750 First Street NE, Washington, DC 20002
Phone: (202) 336-5667 Fax: (202) 336-5549

Monday, November 23, 2015

Multiple Positions in Human Neuroimaging -- UC Riverside

The University of California, Riverside, invites applications for five positions in human neuroimaging at the Assistant & Associate level. Successful candidates will become core faculty in the newly established Human Neuroimaging Center that includes a new Prisma 3T Siemens scanner. We seek applicants with a strong track record of research publications and funding (or funding potential) in basic science and methods of human neuroimaging with one position in each of the following areas: Human Cognitive Neuroscience (speech/language, learning/memory, attention, perceptual systems),  Human Developmental Neuroscience (cognitive development, emotion regulation, lifespan, psychopathology),  Human Social Neuroscience (social cognition, affect, relationships, personality),  MR Physics/Engineering (MRI sequences and reconstruction, DTI, SWI, hardware, MR spectroscopy), and Neuroimaging Data Processing/Analysis (fMRI data processing and analysis, neuroimaging data mining and imaging genetics, MRI computational neuroscience),
Applicants should be committed to excellence in undergraduate and graduate education. UCR is a world-class research university with an exceptionally diverse undergraduate student body. Its mission is explicitly linked to providing routes to educational success for underrepresented and first-generation college students. A commitment to this mission is a preferred qualification. Salary will be commensurate with education and experience. Review of completed applications begins January 4, 2016 and continues until a position is filled, with appointments beginning June 30, 2016.

Interested candidates should send a cover letter describing research and teaching interest, their curriculum vitae, reprints and preprints, and should arrange to have three letters of recommendation provided. Application to senior rank positions must have a Ph.D in a related field, and apply at this link: Applicants for junior ranked positions must have a Ph.D. by time of appointment and should apply at this link: Advancement through the faculty ranks at the University of California is through a series of structured, merit-based evaluations, occurring every 2-3 years, each of which includes substantial peer input. Questions about the position should be directed to Professor John Andersen, Chair, Human Neuroimaging Search Committee, at

The University of California at Riverside (UCR) is embarking on a major new hiring initiative that will add 300 tenured and tenure-track positions in 33 cross-disciplinary areas selected through a peer-reviewed competition. Over the next three years, we will hire multiple faculty members in each area and invest in research infrastructure to support their work. This initiative will build critical mass in vital and emerging fields of scholarship, foster truly cross-disciplinary work and further diversify the faculty at one of America’s most diverse research universities. We encourage applications from scholars committed to excellence and seeking to help redefine the research university for the next generation. For information regarding UCR’s hiring initiative go to

The University of California is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, disability, protected veteran status, or any other characteristic protected by law.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Mirror neurons do not have the right response properties to support action understanding

Ten years ago the action understanding interpretation of monkey mirror neurons was the only game in town.  There really was no other viable account so even if there were problems with the theory (e.g., 8 in particular), it was the best we had.  Now there are alternative explanations.  Cecelia Heyes has argued that they reflect learned sensorimotor associations (that don't support understanding), recent writings of Michael Arbib and separately James Kilner have argued that they fundamentally serve a motor control function but which are used fruitfully to augment perceptual function via predictive coding, and I have argued for something of a hybrid between Heyes and Arbib/Kilner: MNs reflect learned sensorimotor associations that are critical for motor control (action selection specifically) and may modulate perception a tiny bit under rather rare circumstances.

This is great progress because it means we are now in position to evaluate the various theories against existing data and just see which one does a better job of explaining the facts.

I have argued extensively that the action understanding theory does not hold up well to lesion data. Disruption of the mirror system by stroke, sodium amytal, degenerative disease, or developmental disease does not impair action understanding in the way that the Parma story should predict.  Add to this an impressive, new, large N study on gesture comprehension, and the evidence against the action understanding theory in humans is overwhelming.

But what about monkey mirror neurons? They still look like they are coding some sort of action understanding, right?  Not if you actually look at the data rather than reading the headlines.

I discussed this issue in my debate with Gallese.  You can watch the whole thing here, but to put the argument into a condensed form, I reiterate it below.

First, what got everyone so excited about mirror neurons in the first place is that some of them showed a fairly strict congruence in their response preference for executed and observed actions: cells that responded to, say, whole hand grasping in execution and observation.  There are other, more broadly congruent mirror neurons too, but these took a theoretical back seat in the 1990s.  But there was a problem: strictly congruent mirror neurons aren't that useful for understanding because they can't recognize that grasping with a whole hand grip and grasping with a pincher grip are both instances of grasping.  They are simply too specific.  So the bulk of the theoretical work with monkey mirror neurons has shifted to broadly congruent mirror neurons, which in fact, are more common anyway (see below).  Here's some quotes from this paper by the Parma group to prove that I'm not making this stuff up:

How is understanding achieved?
“The similarity between the motor representation generated in observation and that generated during motor behavior allows the observer to understand others’ actions, without the necessity for inferential processing.”
What counts as similar?
“neurons in F5 code the goal of the motor act [grasping, holding, tearing], regardless of how it is achieved.”  
“The defining characteristic of F5 mirror neurons is that they fire in response to the presentation of a motor act, which is congruent with the one coded motorically by the same neuron.”
Which types of mirror neurons are critical? 
“the vast majority of F5 mirror neurons, termed broadly congruent respond to different motor acts, provided that they serve the same goal (Gallese et al. 1996).
“Thus, like the visual system, where, as postulated by Shepard (1984), resonating elements (neurons or neuronal assemblies) respond maximally to a set of stimuli, but are also able to respond to similar stimuli when they are incomplete or corrupt, a set of mirror neurons (broadly congruent) appears to resonate to all visual stimuli that have sufficient critical features to describe the goal of a given motor act.”

So what do the data show?  Most of the relevant data come from the first major mirror neuron study in which a range of actions was examined.  After that initial study research on monkey mirror neurons has focused almost exclusively on one type of action: grasping.  (We should probably worry about that.)  So let's look at that first and more thorough study.  

Here is the distribution of cell types:

1. Strictly congruent: 31.5%

Same goal (e.g., grasping), same motor act (e.g., precision grip)
Can’t capture the similarity in goal between grasping with precision grip vs. whole hand grip as pointed out above.

2. Broadly congruent: 60.9%
  • Type 1 (12.5%): execution response=“highly specific” (e.g., grasping w/precision grip); observation response more general (precision or whole hand)

Captures the similarity between precision and whole hand grasping, but “interprets” them as one or the other specific type of grasping and doesn’t capture the similarity between grasping with hand & mouth, for example.  Therefore these have a similar problem to the strictly congruent MNs.
  • Type 2 (82%): execution response=one goal (e.g., grasping); observation response > 1 goal (e.g., grasping or manipulating)

Falsely collapses different goals onto a single goal, i.e., confuses manipulating and grasping.
  • Type 3 (5%): execution response=grasping; observation response=grasping with hand, grasping with mouth

Responds to goals! This is a useful subtype for action understanding. But only 3 cells out of 92 mirror neurons & only one goal represented (grasping). If you want to maintain an action understanding theory, this is what you have to hang your hat on. 

 3. Non-congruent (7.6%)
No obvious relation between execution and observation preferences. Not useful for understanding.

There are more problems, which may apply to the 3/92 cells that have the right response properties for understanding, making their suitability for understanding questionable.  Mirror neurons are sensitive to all sorts of features that have nothing to do with action understanding.  Here's a list:

And indeed the Parma group has acknowledged this and claimed that mirror neuron system "contributes to choosing appropriate behavioral responses to those actions" (Caggiano et al. 2009)

Notice that all of these response properties make sense if this system is simply coding relations between a range of actions and a range of possible action responses.  For example Type 2 congruent mirror neurons (by far the most common) take multiple possible observed actions and map them onto a single executed response.  This is useful for motor selection if a single motor response is appropriate to multiple cue types but not useful for understanding.  For another example, the value of the grasped object should modulate response selection (do I want to grasp that object?) but should not play a role in action understanding. 

The evidence is overwhelming:

1. Monkey mirror neurons have response properties that do not fit the action understanding theory and instead fit an action selection account.

2. Human data from stroke and other neurological conditions clearly demonstrate a dissociation between action execution and action understanding ability in a range of domains (speech, praxis, sign language, emotional face recognition).  

If this isn't convincing, what evidence do we need to reject the action understanding account?  Or is it an unfalsifiable theory?   

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What does embodied simulation add to understanding?

Observing someone else being touched seems to activate one's own somatosensory cortex (e.g., this report).  It is has been claimed that this effect contributes to action understanding via embodied simulation. Some view this as an example of the "mirror mechanism" by which we understand others by mirroring their experience in our own bodies (or something like that).

First note that this touch-based "mirror mechanism" is quite different from so-called motor mirroring. The motor claim is non-trivial: perceptual understanding is not achieved by perceptual systems alone, but must (or can benefit from) involvement of the motor system.

What about perceptual mirroring?  At the most abstract level, the claim is this: perceptual understanding is based on perceptual processes.  Not so insightful is it?  Perhaps it's even vacuous. But maybe this is too harsh an analysis.  One could presumably understand the concept of someone being touched on the arm without involving an actual somatosensory representation.  So maybe it is non-trivial, insightful even, that we do activate our touch cortex when observing touch.  In fact, for the sake of argument, let's grant that the empirical observation is true and that it does contribute to our understanding.

What might it add to understanding?  Or put differently, how much does that somatosensory "simulation" add to our understanding of an observed touch?  Consider the following narrative scenarios.

Scenario #1: After he expressed his affection during the romantic dinner, the man reached out and touched the girl gently on the arm.

Scenario #2: After subduing his victim during the home invasion, the man reached out and touched the girl gently on the arm.

How much our understanding of the meaning of that touch action is encoded in the somatosensory experience?  Almost none of it.  The "meaning" of the action is determined for the most part by the context as it interacts with the observed action. The touch wouldn't even have to actually happen, or it could occur on a different body part (all very different experiences from a somato standpoint!), and it wouldn't alter our understanding of the event.  Yes, it's true that simulating the actual touch might add something, i.e., having a sense of what the actual gentle touch felt like on the arm, but what drives real understanding is the interpretation of that touch in its context, not the somatopically specific touch sensation itself.

Conceptualized in these terms, to say that somatosensory simulation contributes to understanding of others' touch experiences is like saying that "acoustic simulation" of the voiceless labiodental fricative in the experience of hearing "fuck you" contributes to the understanding of that phrase.  Yes, I suppose the /f/ plays a role, but how it combines with "uck you" and more importantly who said it to whom and under what circumstances is where the meat of the understanding will be found.

It's interesting and worthwhile to understand all the cognitive and neural bits and pieces that contribute to understanding.  Lowish-level embodied "simulation," whether motor or sensory, may have a role to play.  But it is important to understand these effects in the broader context.  Don't for a second think that we've cracked the cognitive code for understanding just because M1 or S1 activates when we see someone do something.