Tutkimus Yhteystiedot

Kognitiotieteen koulutus
PL 9
00014 Helsingin yliopisto

Overview of research in Cognitive science

Moralities of Intelligent Machines

Funded by the Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation (2016-2019)

We are entering a new era of intelligent machines, but are yet to study human preferences for the moral decisions that these machines are expected to make. If a robot car is driving according to traffic laws, but a human driver makes a mistake, do we expect the robot to break the law in order to save its passengers and drive into a ditch? What if a care robot administers medicine to a patient who then dies - who do people find responsible for the death: the robot, the person who gave the medication to the robot, or possibly the hospital administration that purchased the robots?

Humanity needs to be prepared for moral questions that might arise when something goes wrong. The team plan to use qualitative methods, such as essay-writing inspired by videos to investigate what people think about fatal mistakes done by robots. They’ll also study how the phenomenon known as Uncanny valley influences the perception of robot morality, meaning an effect where people feel creeped out by robots who look and move almost like humans. Another part of research will focus on how human intuition for punishment functions with robots. It is possible that humans will deal with robots the same way they deal with babies or animals, or it could be that robots provoke previously unencountered moral reactions. In the long run, the team is hoping to create a whole new field of inquiry that concentrates on moral psychology of robotics, which could help whole industries working with new decision making robots.

  • Contact: Dr. Michael Laakasuo (PI); Dr. Jussi Palomäki

Workshops in Science: The Many Faces of Relevance

Funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation (2016-2017)

We live in a tremendously complex world. The pace of technological and cultural change increases at an accelerating rate and we are bombarded with an exponentially growing amount of available information. The ability to filter through the irrelevant and focus on the relevant are essential skills to survive and compete in the modern society. Moreover, the ability to assess relevance is one of the factors that underlie the remarkable flexibility and impressive capability of the human mind.

This series of science workshops focuses on the problem of understanding and modeling relevance in a number of contexts. The aim of the workshops is to outline the state of the research in various fields, to gain insights and bring together researchers with common interests. Moreover, the purpose is to open up new empirical and methodological avenues for research of relevance and to clarify its theoretical role in various scientific domains.

The workshops bring together scholars who work on different aspects of relevance in a joint effort not only to understand how relevance can be characterized theoretically, but also to explore how relevance can be studied empirically in a variety of scientific domains, such as in science and technology studies, in cognitive science, in robotics, in information studies and in philosophy.

  • Contact:Dr. Otto Lappi (PI); Dr. Anna-Mari Rusanen (Project coordinator)
  • Project Homepage

MULSIMCO (Multilevel Traffic Simulation with a Cognitive Basis)

Funded by the Finnish Academy (2015-2018)

MULSIMCO is a joint project between the University of Helsinki Traffic Research Unit, and Aalto University Laboratory of Traffic Engineering (PI’s Professor Heikki Summala, PhD, University of Helsinki and Professor Tapio Luttinen, Dr.Sc., Aalto University). The aim of the project is to develop a computational driver model based on the Zero Risk Theory, which has been influential in traffic psychology for 40 years, but, like most psychological theories, has yet to acquire a computational formulation. This model is then used as a more cognitively realistic driver model for microscopic traffic simulation.

Vision & action

The systems underlying visual perception and action are tightly integrated. Vision-action research has generally focused on exploring how visual processes influence motor processes. However, recent studies have demonstrated that motor processes can also automatically influence visual processes. The main objective of our project is to reveal (excitatory and inhibitory) mechanisms behind the top-down influences from motor processes on visual perception and attention – the mechanisms that are not yet understood. For instance, we have recently developed variations of the visual search paradigm showing that recently executed action influences allocation of visual attention towards objects that are congruent with the action. As a consequence, the action that is executed an instant before the onset of the search display impairs perceptual processing of action-congruent objects (e.g., the precision grasp impairs the search of small objects and the power grasp impairs the search of large objects).

  • Contact: Dr. Lari Vainio

Dog Cognition

Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) have become popular models of comparative cognition through their human-like cognitive skills. Dogs are sensitive to human communicative, attentive and emotional cues and they have human-like abilities for visual categorizing and forming representations. In our multidisciplinary research the canine mind is examined from a new perspective with a non-invasive electroencephalogram (EEG) and eye-tracking system. We use visual and auditory paradigms widely used in human research, e.g. mismatch negativity and emotional facial pictures, to explore cognitive processes such as perception, memory and affective states of domestic dogs.

  • Contact: Prof. Christina M. Krause (PI)
  • Collaboration: Dr. Miiamaaria Kujala, Heini Törnqvist (Faculty of Veterinary Science)

Co-registration of Eye Movements and Electrophysiological  Responses

Brain-electric correlates of visual processing (e.g. reading and scene perception) have been traditionally studied with serial presentation of stimuli (word-by-word), a condition that eliminates important aspects of normal visual perception. This has resulted in investigations of cognition in overly simplified settings, which require and measure only minimal participant behavior.

  • Contact: Dr. Jaana Simola

In the TEVSOC Project (Towards ecologically valid studies on cognition; 2010-2011) research project, processing of natural stimuli (e.g., photographs and sentences) is investigated by recording eye movements, EEG (electroencephalogram) and MEG (magnetoencephalogram) concurrently. This technique allows analyses of brain responses time-locked to eye fixations detected on crucial parts of the stimuli, to examine the exact time-course of visual and linguistic processes, and to disentangle these processes from each other.

  • Contact: Dr. Alina Leminen

Computer Enabled Neuroplasticity Treatment

Funded by TEKES (2011-2014)

The aim of the project is to study and develop a novel treatment method for undesired behavioral and brain states (e.g., ADHD, stress). The project is motivated by well-known limitations of medical treatment; although pharmacotherapy is an essential part of any intervention, some patients always fail to respond favorably, adverse effects cause significant problems, and long-term benefits as well as compliance rates remain low. These challenges can be partially solved by Computer Enabled Neuroplasticity Treatment (CENT) which is based on giving the subject instant feedback (neurofeedback) of his/hers brain activity (EEG) in order to alter undesired activation towards more favorable brain states. This might be a promising method of treatment in the future due to its efficiency, lack of adverse effects and, most notably, long-term effectiveness.

  • Contact: Dr. Ben Cowley; prof. emer. Christina M. Krause (PI)

Conceptual Change Modeling in Science

Funded by Finnish Cultural Foundation (2012-2013)

Entering into higher education, students' conceptions undergo a restructuring process. When this reorganization is comprehensive, it is called "conceptual change". When this happens, learning does not result merely in richer or more accurate factual knowledge but the conceptual framework which one uses to organize knowledge, to interpret phenomena and to make sense of the world is replaced by a new one and/or the learning process results in the learner being in possession of new concepts (i.e. concepts which he did not previously possess).

We are interested in the cognitive principles underlying the students' concept formation. The aim is to develop computational models to represent the basic building blocks out of which commonsense preconceptions are formed and the learning mechanism involved in turning them into coherent scientific conceptions.

  • Contact: Dr. Anna-Mari Rusanen (project coordinator); Dr. Otto Lappi; Prof. Ismo Koponen (PI, Dept. of Physics)
  • Project homepage

Working Memory and Mathematics (Kaisa Kanerva, Virpi Kalakoski, Minna Kyttälä)

Working memory is crucial in understanding typical and atypical development of mathematical skills. Working memory refers to the mental work space responsible for concurrent maintenance and processing of task relevant information. Mental arithmetic, for example, involves maintaining number information in working memory and simultaneously processing arithmetic operations to arrive at a solution. The working memory requirements of mathematics are widely studied with non-experimental methods, and results depend partly on the measures used. Experimental methods are needed to confirm the causal relationships between working memory and mathematics, and to better understand the origin of individual differences in mathematical skills, especially in school aged children.

The main purpose of this research project is to develop experimental tasks to study the role of working memory, especially executive functions, in mathematics at the age of 5, 11 and 15. In addition, based on these results, working memory interventions for pre-school children are developed and the effects and transfer effects of training are studied.

  • Contact: Kaisa Kanerva

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