Infants Can Use Language to Learn About People’s Intentions

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2012) — Infants are able to detect how speech communicates unobservable intentions, researchers at New York University and McGill University have found in a study that sheds new light on how early in life we can rely on language to acquire knowledge about matters that go beyond first-hand experiences.

Their findings appear in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

“Much of what we know about the world does not come from our own experiences, so we have to obtain this information indirectly — from books, the news media, and conversation,” explained Athena Vouloumanos, an assistant professor at NYU and one of the study’s co-authors. “Our results show infants can acquire knowledge in much the same way — through language, or, specifically, spoken descriptions of phenomena they haven’t — or that can’t be — directly observed.”

The study’s other co-authors were Kristine Onishi, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Canada’s McGill University, and Amanda Pogue, a former research assistant at NYU who is now a graduate student at the University of Waterloo.

Previous scholarship has established that infants seem to understand that speech can be used to categorize and communicate about observable entities such as objects and people. But no study has directly examined whether infants recognize that speech can communicate about unobservable aspects.

In the PNAS study, the researchers sought to determine if one-year-old infants could recognize that speech can communicate about one unobservable phenomenon that is crucial for understanding social interactions: a person’s intentions.

To explore this question, the researchers had adults act out short scenarios for the infants. Some scenes ended predictably (that is, with an ending that is congruent with our understanding of the world) while others ended unpredictably (that is, incongruently).

The researchers employed a commonly used method to measure infants’ detection of incongruent scenes: looking longer at an incongruent scene.

Infants saw an adult actor (the communicator) attempt, but fail, to stack a ring on a funnel because the funnel was just out of reach. Previous research showed that infants would interpret the actor’s failed behavior as signaling the actor’s underlying intention to stack the ring. The experimenters then introduced a second actor (the recipient) who was able to reach all the objects. In the key test scene, the communicator turned to the recipient and uttered either a novel word unknown to infants (“koba”) or coughed.

Although infants always knew the communicator’s intention (through observing her prior failed stacking attempts), the recipient only sometimes had the requisite information to accomplish the communicator’s intended action-specifically, when the communicator vocalized appropriately using speech, but not when she coughed.

If infants understood that speech — but not non-speech — could transfer information about an intention, when the communicator used speech and the recipient responded by stacking the ring on the funnel, infants should treat this as a congruent outcome. Results confirmed this prediction. The infants looked longer when the recipient performed a different action, such as imitating the communicators’ prior failed movements or stacking the ring somewhere other than on the funnel, suggesting they treated these as incongruent, or surprising, outcomes.

Because coughing doesn’t communicate intentions, infants looked equally no matter what the recipient’s response was.

“As adults, when we hear people speaking, we have the intuition that they’re providing information to one another, even when we don’t understand the language being spoken. And it’s the same for infants,” Onishi said. “Even when they don’t understand the meaning of the specific words they hear, they realize that words — like our nonsense word ‘koba’ — can provide information in a way that coughing cannot.”

“What’s significant about this is it tells us that infants have access to another channel of communication that we previously didn’t know they had,” added Vouloumanos.

“Understanding that speech can communicate about things that are unobservable gives infants a way to learn about the world beyond what they’ve experienced. Infants can use this tool to gain insight into other people, helping them develop into capable social beings.”

The study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program and Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.




New York University (2012, July 23). Infants can use language to learn about people’s intentions. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/07/120723151030.htm


Why Does a Vivid Memory ‘Feel So Real?’

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2012) — Neuroscientists have found strong evidence that vivid memory and directly experiencing the real moment can trigger similar brain activation patterns.

The study, led by Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute (RRI), in collaboration with the University of Texas at Dallas, is one of the most ambitious and complex yet for elucidating the brain’s ability to evoke a memory by reactivating the parts of the brain that were engaged during the original perceptual experience. Researchers found that vivid memory and real perceptual experience share “striking” similarities at the neural level, although they are not “pixel-perfect” brain pattern replications.

The study appears online this month in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, ahead of print publication.

“When we mentally replay an episode we’ve experienced, it can feel like we are transported back in time and re-living that moment again,” said Dr. Brad Buchsbaum, lead investigator and scientist with Baycrest’s RRI. “Our study has confirmed that complex, multi-featured memory involves a partial reinstatement of the whole pattern of brain activity that is evoked during initial perception of the experience. This helps to explain why vivid memory can feel so real.”

But vivid memory rarely fools us into believing we are in the real, external world — and that in itself offers a very powerful clue that the two cognitive operations don’t work exactly the same way in the brain, he explained.

In the study, Dr. Buchsbaum’s team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a powerful brain scanning technology that constructs computerized images of brain areas that are active when a person is performing a specific cognitive task. A group of 20 healthy adults (aged 18 to 36) were scanned while they watched 12 video clips, each nine seconds long, sourced from and The clips contained a diversity of content — such as music, faces, human emotion, animals, and outdoor scenery. Participants were instructed to pay close attention to each of the videos (which were repeated 27 times) and informed they would be tested on the content of the videos after the scan.

A subset of nine participants from the original group were then selected to complete intensive and structured memory training over several weeks that required practicing over and over again the mental replaying of videos they had watched from the first session. After the training, this group was scanned again as they mentally replayed each video clip. To trigger their memory for a particular clip, they were trained to associate a particular symbolic cue with each one. Following each mental replay, participants would push a button indicating on a scale of 1 to 4 (1 = poor memory, 4 = excellent memory) how well they thought they had recalled a particular clip.

Dr. Buchsbaum’s team found “clear evidence” that patterns of distributed brain activation during vivid memory mimicked the patterns evoked during sensory perception when the videos were viewed — by a correspondence of 91% after a principal components analysis of all the fMRI imaging data.

The so-called “hot spots,” or largest pattern similarity, occurred in sensory and motor association areas of the cerebral cortex — a region that plays a key role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language and consciousness.

Dr. Buchsbaum suggested the imaging analysis used in his study could potentially add to the current battery of memory assessment tools available to clinicians. Brain activation patterns from fMRI data could offer an objective way of quantifying whether a patient’s self-report of their memory as “being good or vivid” is accurate or not.

The study was funded with grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.


Journal Reference:

  1. Bradley R. Buchsbaum, Sabrina Lemire-Rodger, Candice Fang, Hervé Abdi. The Neural Basis of Vivid Memory Is Patterned on Perception. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 2012; : 1 DOI: 10.1162/jocn_a_00253


Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care (2012, July 23). Why does a vivid memory ‘feel so real?’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/07/120723134745.htm

Improving Cognitive Function With Ginseng-Fortified Milk

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2012) — American ginseng is reported to have neurocognitive effects, and research has shown benefits in aging, central nervous system disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases. The challenges of incorporating ginseng into food are twofold: it has a bitter taste, and food processing can eliminate its healthful benefits. Reporting in the August issue of the Journal of Dairy Science®, a group of scientists has formulated low-lactose functional milk that maintained beneficial levels of American ginseng after processing. An exploratory study found the product was readily accepted by a niche group of consumers.


“Our goal was to develop low-lactose milk that could be consumed by the elderly to improve cognitive function,” reports lead investigator S. Fiszman, PhD, of the Instituto de Agroquimica y Tecnologia de Alimentos (IATA), Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas (CSIC), Patema (Valencia), Spain. “Consumers who were interested in the health benefits of ginseng rated our product quite highly.”

Because older people frequently have trouble digesting milk products, the researchers developed a low-lactose formula. American ginseng was added, and then the milk was sterilized by ultra-high temperature processing (UHT), which prolongs shelf life. Analysis found that sufficient levels of ginseng remained in the milk after treatment to improve cognitive function as reported in the literature.

To reduce the bitter taste of American ginseng, the investigators developed samples with vanilla extract and sucralose, a zero-calorie artificial sweetener. In a preliminary study, 10 tasters with a good ability to discriminate between flavors compared low lactose UHT milk without any additives (the control) to low lactose milk with ginseng extract, vanilla aroma, and sucralose added before UHT treatment. They developed a list of 10 attributes that described the sample: color, sweet odor, milk flavor, vanilla flavor, metallic/root flavor, sweetness, bitterness, aftertaste, astringency, and viscosity. They then rated the intensity of each attribute for five samples; the control; the control with ginseng extract, vanilla aroma, and sucralose added; the control with ginseng extract added; the control with vanilla and ginseng extract; and the low lactose milk with ginseng extract; vanilla aroma; and sucralose added before UHT treatment.

In a second study, 100 participants were asked, on a scale of one to five, how willing they would be to consume a “highly digestible semi-skimmed milk,” and a “highly digestible semi-skimmed milk enriched with ginseng extract that would improve cognitive function.” Then, they tasted and rated, on a scale of one to nine, the overall acceptability of the control milk and the low lactose milk with ginseng extract, vanilla aroma, and sucralose added before UHT treatment.

Both the presence of ginseng and the thermal treatment affected some sensory properties of the milk. The addition of ginseng significantly increased the perceived light brown color in the flavored and unflavored samples, and was highest in the reduced-lactose milk with ingredients added before the UHT treatment. The sweet odor was more intense in flavored samples, but decreased slightly in the samples of milk with ingredients added before UHT treatment. Bitterness was clearly perceived in the samples containing ginseng additives, but was lower in flavored samples, indicating that the vanilla aroma and sucralose masked, to some extent, the bitter taste caused by ginseng extract.

Consumer responses varied greatly, depending on interest in the product. 78% indicated that they would be likely to consume the highly digestible milk, and after tasting the product, 87% of them indicated they would buy the sample. 47% indicated they were not interested in milk enriched with ginseng, and after tasting, they gave it a low acceptability rating. However, for the 32% of consumers who did express an interest in the product, 75% declared they would buy it.

“Drinking 150 to 300 mL of this ginseng-enriched milk would provide the amount indicated to be effective for improving cognitive functions. Combined with the low levels of lactose, this makes the drink an appropriate functional beverage for the elderly,” says Dr. Fiszman. “Among consumers more likely to consume ginseng products, the newly developed milk was well accepted. The addition of more congruent flavors such as chocolate, citrus, or coffee, could be more effective in masking non-milk-related sensory attributes, Other alternatives could be investigated.”

Commenting on the studies, Susan Duncan, PhD, professor, Department of Food Science & Technology, Virginia Tech, noted, “With the combination of intrinsic health benefits in milk and these additional ingredients, milk becomes an easy way to deliver valuable functional ingredients and the functional benefits of milk components. Diversifying the product line for milk and dairy products has a number of benefits, including market and consumer visibility and perception.”


Journal Reference:

  1. A. Tárrega, A. Salvador, M. Meyer, N. Feuillère, A. Ibarra, M. Roller, D. Terroba, C. Madera, J.R. Iglesias, J. Echevarría, S. Fiszman. Active compounds and distinctive sensory features provided by American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L.) extract in a new functional milk beverage. Journal of Dairy Science, 2012; 95 (8): 4246 DOI: 10.3168/jds.2012-5341


Elsevier (2012, July 23). Improving cognitive function with ginseng-fortified milk?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 25, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/07/120723105324.htm

Pre-Season Fitness Makes No Difference to Risk of Injury, but Type of Sport and Gender Does, Study Suggests

ScienceDaily (July 20, 2012) — But the type of sport played and gender did, according to a new study published in BioMed Central’s open access journal Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Technology. This study into varsity athletics found that women had a shorter time to injury than men and that certain sports, such as volleyball, also had a significantly shorter time to injury than others, such as hockey or basketball.

Fitness evaluation and pre-participation are standard practice in university sport. They screen the athletes for health problems and for high-risk behaviors which may affect performance throughout the season. Researchers from the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation and the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta, measured pre-season fitness for six varsity teams.

They used a vertical jump test to estimate instantaneous anaerobic power and lower body strength and a sit and reach test to evaluate lower back and hip flexibility. Another test measured agility (acceleration, deceleration, pivoting and quick footwork). Push-ups were used to measure upper body endurance, and sit-ups determined core strength and flexibility. Shoulder flexibility was also assessed. Both practice and game time were recorded to give to time to injury.

Over two thirds of the sports players in the study suffered injury throughout the season, most commonly muscle or tendon strain in the legs or feet. Although players missed practice time due to their injuries (55% missed at least one practice due to injury) most did not miss any games. In fact about 40% of injuries occurred during preseason practice.

Time to first injury was shorter for the women than the men occurring on average 40% of the way through the season for female athletes, and 66% of the way through the season for males. Time to injury also depended on sport with the injuries occurring sooner in volleyball than any other sport tested. For women, volleyball injury occurred, on average, less than 20% of the way through the season, and 35% for men. Men’s hockey was the safest sport with first injuries only occurring, on average, three quarters of the way through the season.

Analysis of the fitness evaluation showed that time to injury was not affected by the level of pre-season fitness. Michael Kennedy, one of the team who performed this study explained, “The only association we found between preseason fitness and injury was that lower upper body strength, as evaluated by push-ups, was associated with a shorter time to injury — this was despite most of the injuries being associated with the lower body.”

Prof Kennedy continued, “Our study attempted to answer the question whether fitter athletes are more resilient to injury than less fit athletes. We know from our data that differences exist between risk of injury in pre-season training, regular season training and actual games. However most importantly our data clearly show that time to first injury for athletes is more heavily influenced by gender and sport than pre-season fitness.”



Journal Reference:

  1. Michael D Kennedy, Robyn Fischer, Kristine Fairbanks, Lauren Lefaivre, Lauren Vickery, Janelle Molzan, Eric Parent. Can pre-season fitness measures predict time to injury in varsity athletes?: a retrospective case control study. Sports Medicine, Arthroscopy, Rehabilitation, Therapy & Technology, 2012; 4 (1): 26 DOI: 10.1186/1758-2555-4-26


BioMed Central Limited (2012, July 20). Pre-season fitness makes no difference to risk of injury, but type of sport and gender does, study suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/07/120723095142.htmation:


Sport Sciences Looks at Demands of Competitive Surfing

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2012) — Want to train to become a competitive surfer? You’ll need high endurance for paddling with bursts of high-intensity activity and short recovery times, according to a study in the August issue of The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, official research journal of the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA).

The study by Olly R.L. Farley, MS, and colleagues of Auckland University of Technology is one of the first detailed analyses of the physical demands of surfing. The results will help strength and conditioning professionals to design training regimens to help athletes meet the sport-specific demands of competitive surfing.

New Insights into Physical Demands of Surfing The researchers analyzed the physical demands of surfing in 12 nationally ranked surfers in New Zealand during heats in sanctioned events. The surfers were videotaped as they performed competitive heats, while wearing a global positioning system (GPS) unit and heart rate monitor. The data were broken down to measure the time spent in various types of activities, the physical demands of each activity, and the speed and distance traveled.

The results showed that the athletes spent most of their time paddling: 54 percent of the total. The surfers spent 28 percent of the time stationary on their boards, waiting for a wave. Riding waves accounted for eight percent of the time and paddling for waves four percent. (The rest of the time was spent in other, miscellaneous activities.)

However, demands changed rapidly — more than 60 percent of times spent paddling and times spent stationary lasted less than ten seconds. Thus athletes had to respond rapidly to changing conditions while watching the surf and competing for waves.

According to GPS data, the average speed for all surfers was 2.3 miles per hour. However, the average peak speed while riding waves was 20.75 mph, with a top recorded speed of 27.96 mph. Farley notes that these were absolute speeds, subject to wave height, conditions and type of break.

During a 20-minute heat, the surfers covered an average distance of about one mile. “The surfers were actually paddling almost 0.62 miles per heat, up to three heats a day,” Farley points out.

The average heart rate during competitions was 139 beats per minute, with a peak of 190 bpm. Two-thirds of the time was spent with heart rates in the moderate- to high-intensity range. The researchers expected that heart rates would be highest when the athletes were paddling to catch a wave — but found that peak rates occurred right after the surfers finished riding a wave. “One reason for such a result could be the physical demands of riding the wave, coupled with the adrenaline release ensuing from the wave ride and fall,” the researchers write.

Despite huge growth in surfing worldwide, few studies have looked at the physical demands of competitive surfing. The new study is one of the first to use sophisticated performance analysis techniques — including GPS and heart rate monitoring with second-by-second video analysis — to measure the physical demands of surfing during competition.

Based on the results, Farley and colleagues write, “Competitive surfing therefore involves intermittent high-intensity bouts of all out paddling intercalated with relatively short recovery periods and repeated bouts of low-intensity paddling, incorporating intermittent breath holding.” They propose a regimen for training and fitness professionals to follow in designing “surfing-specific conditioning sessions” — emphasizing aerobic conditioning, fast recovery times, and high-intensity heart rate workloads.



Journal Reference:

  1. Oliver R.L. Farley, Nigel K. Harris, Andrew E. Kilding. Physiological Demands of Competitive Surfing. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2012; 26 (7): 1887 DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182392c4b


Wolters Kluwer Health: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins (2012, July 23). Sport sciences looks at demands of competitive surfing. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 24, 2012, from­ /releases/2012/07/120723094818.htm