Darko Odic

Prospective Graduate Students / Postdocs

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Associate Professor

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I am available and interested in collaborations (e.g. clusters, grants).
I am interested in and conduct interdisciplinary research.
I am interested in working with undergraduate students on research projects.

Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Mechanisms underlying the interface between number words and perceptual magnitudes (2023)

The human mind represents information in many domains and formats. Perceptual representations of number, space, and time integrate into a holistic conscious experience, while abstract representations (e.g., morality, justice, meaning, etc.) shape our collaborative and individual behaviours. To accomplish this, perceptual and non-perceptual representations must interface, allowing us to use abstractions to describe our perception, and using perceptual experience to help us choose specific instances of potentially infinite categories. What mechanism supports the interface between perceptual experiences, especially those which are universally shared across human and non-human animals alike, and language, a distinctly human psychological phenomenon? To explore this puzzle, I focus on one case study in particular: the link between number words and perceptual magnitudes (e.g., number, space, time). Across 5 studies and distinct developmental groups (e.g., children, adults), I examine (1) what supports the acquisition of the logical, generative interface that underlies this link (Chapter 2), (2) how this interface can be extended once it’s acquired (Chapter 3) and (3) what the representational format is that allows number words to be linked to perceptual magnitudes in the first place (Chapter 4 & Chapter 5).This dissertation provides several insights into how the human mind integrates perceptual and non-perceptual formats. I demonstrate that once this interface is achieved between number words and one perceptual magnitude (i.e., number) early in development, it can be logically and flexibly extended across perceptual experiences, including to different units (e.g., labelling a set of 3 dots as “one”; Chapter 3) and magnitudes (e.g., length: judging that a line is “eight” units long; Chapter 2). Then, by exploring differences in how this interface is implemented across numeric vs. non-numeric magnitudes (Chapter 4), I get at the very format of perceptual representations, themselves (Chapter 5).Understanding how this interface is achieved is not only important for getting at the broader relationship between language and perception but is even more important from the perspective of development. Children have access to perceptual magnitude representations from birth but slowly acquire culturally-specific tools for reasoning about these magnitudes in abstract ways (e.g., number words, measurement units, mathematics, etc.).

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Developing a sense of certainty (2021)

In a noisy world filled with confusion, humans need a toolkit of skills to help discern fact from fiction. In this dissertation, I explore one such tool and its development in childhood: metacognitive reasoning about confidence. In 7 studies, I investigate how children reason about the strength of subjective information, uncovering the properties of childhood metacognition and using its development as a tool to learn about metacognition more broadly.Fueling this research are two families of theoretical accounts: one which conceptualizes confidence as a direct readout of decision noise (Direct accounts), and one where confidence is a combination of information from multiple sources (Inferential accounts). These two accounts make divergent predictions about two properties of metacognition: (1) how tightly bound confidence is to the underlying decisions it evaluates, and (2) how broadly is confidence represented in the mind. I investigate these questions using a developmental lens for testing between these theories.These studies present a force-choice method of measuring children’s sensitivity to confidence by asking how closely they can tell apart two states of confidence. This method of assessing confidence allows me to narrow in on the properties of metacognition that develop independently of children’s overconfidence biases and developing linguistic knowledge. In Chapter 2, I use this measure to look for developmental change associated with confidence judgments when controlling for decision noise, finding age-related change consistent with the Inferential accounts. In Chapter 3, I test whether children reason about confidence using encapsulated systems or a broader metacognitive system, and probe whether these judgments share a unit of representation, finding evidence for both within the domain of perceptual judgments as predicted again by Inferential accounts. In Chapter 4, I investigate whether confidence is processed so broadly as to include reasoning about others’ abilities, but do not find strong evidence of this, suggesting a limit on the generality of confidence processing.All together, this dissertation shows that far from being subject to the whims of others, children possess a sense of confidence that combines multiple sources in information to create broadly-usable assessments of truth in the world.

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The nature, development and implications of the 'curse of Knowledge' in childhood (2021)

Our ability to reason about the perspectives of others is associated with many positive life outcomes (e.g., better interpersonal relationships). Unfortunately, when reasoning about the perspectives of others, we are often biased by our own knowledge (i.e., the curse of knowledge). The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that limits our ability to reason about less- knowledgeable perspectives. It leads to overestimations of what others know and clouds our judgements about their beliefs. Critically, this bias is prevalent across various contexts, and it affects our social reasoning across the lifespan. Previous research demonstrated the effects of the bias on children’s social reasoning, however there are several critical theoretical questions that remain unanswered. For instance, is the bias universal among children? I find support for the universality of the bias, in Chapter 2, by showing that even children of a nomadic pastoralist tribe, the Turkana, show the bias. Furthermore, in Chapter 3, I examine how age-related changes in the bias can affect young children’s performance on a widely used measure of Theory of Mind—a false belief task. I examine this question in two experiments; one showing that younger children are more accurate at reasoning about other perspectives when the curse of knowledge is minimized. The other experiment showing that children’s inferences are biased by their knowledge but that minimizing the bias does not improve performance. I discuss potential reasons for the discrepancy between experiments. Finally, I examine two accounts on the mechanisms underlying the curse of knowledge. In Chapter 4, I provide evidence that fluency misattribution (i.e., the tendency to attribute the fluency in processing a stimulus to an inaccurate source) is necessary for the bias to occur. Chapter 5 summarizes my findings, discusses their implications, and highlights avenues for future research.

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Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

Investigating a low number prior in number perception (2023)

Work in psychology and neuroscience has revealed that human newborns, young children, and many non-human animals are born with the ability to perceive number through the Approximate Number System (ANS), a specialized system for representing number (Xu & Spelke, 2000; Halberda & Feigenson, 2008; Feigenson et al., 2004; Howard et al., 2019). The ANS produces imprecise numeric representations that tend to underestimate the number of objects in a scene or display. This may appear disadvantageous, but if an observer is in a world where objects are more likely to occur in smaller numbers (e.g., 10 cookies, 6 chairs, etc.) compared to larger numbers (e.g., 1,000 bees), then a number system biased towards underestimating the number of objects might be a by-product of the human mind optimally handling the statistics of the real world (Piantadosi, 2016). Here, I utilized a Bayesian inference framework to investigate whether number perception is biased towards lower numbers (i.e., demonstrates a low number prior) given our experiences and expectations (Piantadosi 2016; Testolin et al., 2020). Additionally, I investigated whether this prior gets stronger with age. I presented a wide age range of human participants (e.g., 5-years-old to adults) with a number discrimination task where participants reported which of two sides contains more objects (e.g., “The left side has more dots”). Perceptual noise (e.g., reduced contrast) was embedded in numeric arrays to investigate whether participants were biased by their experiences and expectations for lower numbers when determining which side had more objects. Results revealed the presence of a low number prior, and that the prior does not get stronger with age in the range tested. Taken together, the current research demonstrates that the ANS is likely biased towards lower numbers because of a low number prior. The current research is the first to experimentally test for a low number prior in a wide age range of human participants.

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“That’s not right!” : error detection as a potential mediator between the number sense and formal math in children (2023)

As humans, we use math every day in our lives, both precisely – like calculating the result of an equation – and imprecisely – like estimating the time needed for a task. Our ability to think about math precisely – “formal math” – is underpinned by years of learning and practice, and shows large cultural variability. But our imprecise sense of number – our Approximate Number System (ANS) – is innate, perceptual, and universal. Despite their differences, formal math and the ANS have been shown to correlate throughout childhood. Here, I investigate one potential mechanism of this relationship: error detection. This refers to our capacity to notice mistakes in solutions for math equations. In Experiment 1 (N = 58), we develop a novel task for measuring individual and developmental differences in formal math error detection in children 5 – 8 years of age. Replicating work in adults, we find a robust relationship between error detection and the ANS. In Experiment 2 (N = 76), we then also measure formal math differences in children with a standardized test, hoping to find out if error detection is a mediator of the correlation between formal math and the ANS. Contrary to our predictions, results from Experiment 2 revealed no correlation between the ANS and formal math. I explore various reasons to this lack of correlation and suggest future directions to this line of research.

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The relationship between children's metacognitive judgments of knowledge and verbal disfluency (2022)

When we [uhh] have everyday conversations, our speech is [um] littered with [like] spontaneous pauses and interjections known as “verbal disfluencies”. In adults, verbal disfluencies are associated with a speaker’s certainty or knowledge level in both speech production and speech comprehension. That is, adults rate both their own and others’ confidence lower when they produce more verbal disfluency. Little work has explored whether and when children’s verbal disfluency correlates with their own internal sense of confidence. Given that young children struggle with explicit ratings of their own confidence, these implicit cues may provide researchers a window into children’s metacognitive awareness. This study examines the association between verbal disfluency and confidence in 5–8-year-olds’ (N=60) naturally produced speech. Children answered fact-based questions about animals and performed numerical comparisons. Then, they rated their confidence about these answers in a forced-choice metacognitive judgment paradigm. We examine the association between verbal disfluency and the accuracy of children’s responses, as well as these explicit ratings of metacognitive confidence, showing that even our youngest children reliably produce more verbal disfluencies when they answer incorrectly, and when they feel less confident. Moreover, children’s verbal disfluencies predicted the accuracy of their response over and above their explicit ratings of confidence, suggesting that future work should consider examining verbal disfluency as a measure of children’s metacognition.

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Exploring the interface between number words and perceptual magnitudes (2018)

As humans, we reason about quantity in at least two distinct ways—through our intuitive, approximate perception of quantity and through precise number words. With sufficient development, these two systems interface and interact, allowing us to make quick judgments with crude precision (e.g., how many items are in our shopping basket). To date, two theories have been proposed to explain the underlying mechanism of this interface between perception and language. Under the first—the associative mapping theory—children create item-specific associations between particular number words (e.g., “ten”) and the perceptual representations that they most frequently experience. While under the second—the structure mapping theory—children map number words to their perceptual representations by realizing the inherent similarity in the representational structure of the two systems (e.g., both are linear dimensions where higher values represent more/greater amounts). Existing literature has almost exclusively focused on understanding how children create this interface in one domain of quantity (i.e., number), leaving the critical question of how children map number words to other, non-numeric domains of quantity (e.g., length, area) entirely open. This thesis explores when and how children map number words to a broader spectrum of quantities by examining their estimation abilities in number, length, and area. We find that while the perception of number, length, and area are largely independent of each other, estimation accuracy and variability are tightly linked and show a similar age of maturity, supporting the structure mapping account. These results are discussed in the broader context of how language and perception interact and change with development.

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