MARCS Insights Series

Tuesdays at 11am

All welcome! To receive the zoom link and be added to the mailing list, please email

June 27th
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Pelle Soderstrom

Speech & Language

The role of tone in Swedish speech segmentation

Spoken language has no blank spaces or commas, yet we effortlessly hear speech as being made up of discrete words. This process – known as speech segmentation – is informed by knowledge of the phonotactics and phonology of our native language. Thus, English listeners know that strong syllables constitute possible word onsets, while Finnish listeners take advantage of vowel features to determine which syllables belong to the same word. New findings show how Swedish listeners consider or inhibit possible words based on the prosodic structure of the language, suggesting a speech segmentation role for lexical prosody which has not been explored previously.

July 11th
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Manuel Varlet

Cognitive Neuroscience

Interbrain synchrony in hyperscanning research: pitfalls and alternativesResearch into the neural processes underlying social interaction relies increasingly on hyperscanning methods that record the brain activity of multiple individuals at the same time. Combining hyperscanning with a range of neuroimaging techniques, previous research has revealed enhanced interbrain synchrony between individuals coordinating, cooperating, and communicating. However, here we provide new evidence that highlights critical problems with interbrain synchrony in hyperscanning research. We show using systematic environmental and task manipulations that interbrain synchrony is mostly driven by the synchrony of neural activity patterns across individuals rather than their informational content, and therefore, provides poor estimation of shared information processes in interpersonal coordination. We propose an alternative methodological approach to interbrain synchrony for hyperscanning research, which addresses these issues and yields a better understanding of the neural processes underlying social interaction.

Aug 8th
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Tijl Grootswagers

Cognitive Neuroscience

Using AI-generated synthetic images to drive object responses in the human brainThe human brain effortlessly categorises objects at different levels of abstraction. An important question for our understanding of visual processing is to what extent this categorisation capacity is underpinned or driven by mid-level visual features (e.g., shapes and texture) that co-vary across different categories (e.g., animals or vehicles). Here we addressed this by training two independent Generative Adversarial Networks to produce two categories of novel synthetic stimuli that match the low- and mid-level visual features of either animate or inanimate real objects. Crucially, where these synthetic stimuli have the low- and mid-level visual properties of real objects, they have no associated high-level category labels. We recorded electro-encephalography and behavioural categorisation responses to the synthetic stimuli along with their real counterparts in a na├»ve participant sample. Results revealed animacy-like neural signatures for the synthetic objects that emerged earlier than neural signatures distinguishing the same stimuli from images of real objects. The temporal dynamics of neural responses suggest that successful animacy categorisation of our novel synthetic images was driven by their mid-level visual features. These findings contribute to a precise picture of how image statistics support successful object recognition.

Sept 5th
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Paola Escudero Neyra

Speech & Language

Nurturing Little Multilingual Minds in Australia and the world: Research program motivation, presentation, evaluation and moreWorldwide most children are born in multilingual households. Even in places where monolingualism is prevalent (e.g., Australia), about a third of children grow up listening and speaking languages other than the societal language. Speaking and passing on heritage or home languages (HLs) is crucial to mental health and wellbeing, academic achievement, social inclusion, cultural diversity, community cohesion, economic success, and networking opportunities. However, most countries do not harvest the significant gains that are to be made from speaking more than one language and from maintaining HLs, mainly because formal education is characterised by a monolingual mindset. After going through why and how I decided to turn my language learning expertise into an applied/translational research program, I will present my solution for the HL maintenance and language learning dilemma in Australia and the world. Little Multilingual Minds (LMM) is a research program that partners with universities, multilingual communities, early childhood centres and primary schools to offer a tailor-made and co-designed language exposure program. The main aim is to encourage and elicit children’s HL and L2 speech in a naturalistic, wholistic, play-based manner. The program we offered our first partner, a bilingual childcare centre in Sydney, aimed at solving the HL attrition problems expressed by parents, educators, and directors. These problems included children’s refusal to speak their HL at home and their rapid shift to speaking only English upon starting primary school. We evaluated the program’s efficacy with psycholinguistic tasks for children’s competence in both languages and with learner profiles and assessments conducted after LMM sessions. Results demonstrate that LMM aligns well with early learning and primary school educational principles and that it successfully offsets monolingualism through maintaining/enhancing children’s HL/L2 proficiency. Finally, I will present future directions for the LMM research program and its potential to become a model for enabling and nurturing multilingualism in early childhood and primary education in Australia and the world.

Sept 26th  
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Antonia Goetz


Shaping Linguistic Input: Quality and Quantity in Parent-Infant InteractionsIn the realm of human communication, the variability and adaptability of speech play crucial roles. Our ability to adjust and modify linguistic features based on contextual cues is an inherent characteristic of language use. Intuitively, we employ diverse speech patterns to fulfill specific communicative purposes, tailoring our language to suit the given context. When we communicate with an infant, we inherently use a particular speech register called infant-directed speech (IDS), which is different from the speech we use when communicating with other adults, called adult-directed speech (ADS). From previous research we know IDS (the quality) supports language development. However, not only the quality of parental input is important to shape infants’ linguistic development but also the quantity of parental input. As social interactions (here the parent-infant interaction) are bidirectional, we explore the extent to which parental input is influenced by prelinguistic infants themselves. Our investigation centres on the relationship between infants' temperament and parental language input.

Oct 10th
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Ruth Brookman


Evaluation of an exercise program incorporating virtual reality technology: A multimodal intervention model for residential aged careThe transition into residential care is frequently associated with a reduction in wellbeing. We evaluated a 26-day international cycling competition (Road Worlds Competition for Seniors) for aged care residents across two locations. Residents (N=32) participated in a mixed-methods intervention study that compared pre-and post-competition wellbeing measures. Findings identified improvements across multiple wellbeing domains, including functional fitness, depression, self-efficacy, and social network sizes. Surveys and interviews demonstrated the intervention’s feasibility and acceptability. Multimodal components such as gamification, virtual reality, social engagement, and reminiscence were valued by residents and staff. Findings highlight a constellation of benefits and inform a model for innovative multidimensional programs in residential aged care. The benefits for residents with varying physical and cognitive abilities support the use of creative strategies that maximise inclusion and engagement for residents.

Oct 31st
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Anna Fiveash

Art & Music Sciences

What can music and speech tell us about prediction in the brain?

Prediction is a fundamental aspect of cognition that allows us to navigate the world by anticipating upcoming events; specifically, what is about to occur, and when it will occur. However, little is known about how what and when predictions are generated and integrated in the brain, and whether the interactions and integration between these dimensions differ depending on the events being processed. Music and speech are ideal stimuli to study these interactions, as they both generate strong predictions for what is coming next, and when in time it is expected to occur. In this talk, I will outline the first experiment from my DECRA project, show the challenges in comparing across music and speech domains, and present some preliminary findings. I will then situate this first experiment within the larger goal of the DECRA project.

Nov 7th
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Greg Cohen


Neuromorphic sensors in space - Why biology-inspired technology is a perfect fit for use in space?At first glance, space may not seem like the most appropriate place to use neuromorphic engineering. There are no known biological organisms that live outside of Earth. In fact, there is not much in the way of known biology that can survive in the space environment, besides the occasional microorganism, like the tardigrade, which seemingly is unbothered by the occasional freeze drying and rehydrating. However, biology has proven time and again that it can expand and adapt to harsh and unconventional environments. One only needs to look at the extremophile bacteria that live in underwater volcanic plumes, or the barophilic organisms that thrive at the very deepest portions of the ocean. Perhaps it is not surprising then, that neuromorphic principles apply extremely well to enabling devices to operate and function in extreme environments, where power is scarce, data is expensive, and fluctuations in conditions are wild and irregular. And perhaps, there is no more extreme environment that is accessible to us than space. This talk will introduce two flagship space-based projects using neuromorphic sensors and will showcase some of the exciting results from these space missions.

Nov 14th
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Apoorva Shivaram


Relational reasoning in preschoolers

Relational ability – the ability to compare situations or ideas and discover common relations – is a key process in higher-order cognition that underlies transfer in learning and creative problem solving. For this reason, it has generated intense interest both among developmentalists and in cross-species comparative studies. The gold standard for evaluating relational ability is the Relational-Match-to-Sample (RMTS) task (Premack, 1983). Current work in cognitive development has produced inconsistent results as to when children are able to pass the RMTS, with Christie and Gentner (2014) finding success at earlier ages than Hochmann et al. (2017) and Kroupin and Carey (2022). In this talk, I attempt to resolve this issue. I first describe two studies conducted in the US that bear out and extend the Christie and Gentner (2014) findings. I then discuss factors that might explain the discrepancy between the findings and preview the work that I plan to do while at MARCS.