At the recently concluded Annual Conference of Cognitive Science that was conducted virtually, not only were there a sizeable number of acceptances of research work by IIITH students but also four of them were selected for live presentations. Read more below.
The domain of Cognitive Science in India got a boost when the Government recognised its interdisciplinary nature and importance in the Indian context with the launch of the Cognitive Science Research Initiative (CSRI) in 2008 during the 11th Five Year Plan. First, in order to bring this growing community under a single umbrella, the Association for Cognitive Science (ACS) was formed in 2013. Since 2014, the ACS has been regularly organising the Annual Conference of Cognitive Science (ACCS). This year, the conference which was organised by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) Bangalore, was held completely online and saw students from the International Institute of Information Technology Hyderabad (IIITH) presenting their research papers virtually.
Adaptability And Well-being
With the ongoing pandemic, it makes perfect sense for the discipline of Cognitive Science to train its lens on aspects of the lockdown, social distancing, fear of social isolation and human interaction that can affect people’s psychological health. While a number of studies have either already been conducted on the same or are currently underway, they have been limited in explaining Covid-19’s relation to individual coping mechanisms. Rishabh Singhal, primary author of the study titled ‘Coping Strategies Determine Pandemic Distress and Propensity to Depression’ speaks of an individual’s psychological flexibility as one such coping strategy. In his study, he analysed the relationship between psychological flexibility and the chances of developing depression while taking into account certain environmental factors. He and his team discovered that psychological inflexibility is moderately correlated with chances of developing depression along with associated feelings of worthlessness, self-dislike and suicidal thoughts.
Emotional Encoding Via Head Movements
Virtual Reality is turning out to be the emerging medium for researchers to experimentally study neuropsychology and cognition. Final year MS By Research student Minaxi Goel, under the guidance of Prof. Priyanka Srivastava presented a study on understanding emotions through VR-head movement technology. The abstract titled ‘Affective Experience Correlates With Head Movement In Virtual Reality’ aimed to develop methods that can detect susceptibility to mood disorders like depression through the analysis of head-movement data across emotional states. “This will not only aid the healthcare community with early intervention but also will help in delaying the very first episode of depression,” says Minaxi.
Convenience + Security
While setting passwords, people typically try to strike a balance between one that is easy to recall while being secure at the same time. Previous studies have indicated that though the use of phrases as passwords or passphrases is more secure, they are not perceived as strong or secure only because they are easier to remember. In a study titled “Is Convenient Secure? Exploring the Impact of Metacognitive Beliefs In Password Selection”, BTech 3rd year student, Mukund Choudhary along with other team members attempted to explore other factors that are at play in the unconscious decision-making process of setting passphrases. “Our study showed that it could be linguistic aspects of syntax and semantics which is behind the perceived security of a passphrase,” he says.
Identifying People From Their Brains
No two people are alike. Not even identical twins. Each brain structure is unique like a signature. Rohan Gandhi, a Masters by Research student under Dr. Vinoo Alluri presented a study on “Identifying Individuals using Instantaneous Phase Synchrony as a Dynamic Functional Connectivity Measure”. In the study, the team used the dynamic functional connectivity computed on fMRI data to identify the unique brain signatures in individuals with the help of a machine learning-based classification approach. “In addition to this, we also zeroed in on certain brain regions that were unique and which might be pertinent in identifying the individuals”, explains Rohan.
For Rishabh Singhal whose research interests include the brain’s function and the manner in which it serves the human body, presenting the paper virtually was both novel and “enthralling” all at once. “Sharing my team’s work in front of people drawn from different walks of life who I couldn’t see made it all the more unique. The organizing team did an excellent job of managing the event’s logistics but I would have preferred the offline mode which provides the benefits of socializing and communication,” he says.
Minaxi Goel says she is fascinated by emotions, social cognition, the study of ‘true-self’ and dreams. She remarks, “Some of the questions that excite me are how emotions can be induced in robots and how dreams can be controlled to make our lives more productive, helping us connect with our inner-selves.” Minaxi believes that research conferences provide scientific communities with a platform to share and exchange ideas. “It is with different perspectives for a single problem that advances in any field can be made. Personally, I got good reviews that helped me look at my work from new angles. Since this conference was held online, it made connecting with people from outside the nation possible such as Dr. Ayelet Landau and Dr. Thomas Metzinger despite the pandemic!” she gushes.
Mukund Choudhary is quite the linguistic nerd. “I like to study anything linguistic,” he confesses. It all started when he was drawn to linguistic puzzles in the Panini Linguistics Olympiad and eventually led him to IIITH where he opted for the Dual Degree program in Computational Linguistics. He says that he is currently trying to figure out how to generate nonwords in Indian languages for psycholinguistic uses, such as creating a test in an Aphasia Battery. For Mukund, the ACCS experience was unique in that it was his very first research conference. “We had no idea what to include, exclude, how (in)formal the tone would be and so on, but it all worked out in the end. We were a bit more relaxed since it was online. Lying on the younger end of the spectrum of presenters was a relief and yet isolating at the same time. For me, the most memorable presentation would be the one on the Kiki-Bouba effect – a very linguistic topic,” he grins.
Love for research, particularly in Neuroscience and Machine Learning saw Rohan Gandhi convert his MTech admission into a Masters by Research programme. With his thesis being completed just a month ago, he says he will have more time to indulge in non-academic pursuits such as playing music, travelling and reading books. “I had a good experience presenting at this virtual conference, although I would still prefer a face-to-face conference any day where I can actually ‘connect’ with the panel. Presenting while screen sharing does not allow you to gauge people’s responses and you don’t know who is questioning you on your research,” he says.
Apart from the live presentations mentioned earlier, there were other research abstract acceptances from the IIITH stable for poster presentations such as ‘Investigating Differences in the Default Mode Network in Empathy-related Stimuli vs Resting State by a Time-frequency Analysis Method’ by students Shubhangi Gautam and Krishna Gurugubelli under the guidance of Drs. Anil Vuppala and Kavita Vemuri, and ‘Motor Chunking In Internally Guided Sequence Learning’ by students Krisn Bera and Anuj Shukla under Prof. Bapiraju’s supervision.