Dima Amso

Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island, United States

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Publications (36)154.9 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The transition from middle childhood into adolescence is marked by both increasing independence and also extensive change in the daily requirements of familial demands, social pressures, and academic achievement. To manage this increased complexity, children must develop the ability to use abstract rules that guide the choice of behavior across a range of circumstances. Here, we tested children through adults in a task that requires increasing levels of rule abstraction, while separately manipulating competition among alternatives in working memory. We found that age-related differences in rule-guided behavior can be explained in terms of improvement in rule abstraction, which we suggest involves a working memory updating mechanism. Furthermore, family socioeconomic status (SES) predicted change in rule-guided behavior, such that higher SES predicted better performance with development. We discuss these results within a working memory gating framework for abstract rule-guided behavior.
    Cognition 07/2014; 133(1):201-210. · 3.63 Impact Factor
  • Julie Markant, Dima Amso
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    ABSTRACT: Effective attention and memory skills are fundamental to typical development and essential for achievement during the formal education years. It is critical to identify the specific mechanisms linking efficiency of attentional selection of an item and the quality of its memory retention. The present study capitalized on the spatial cueing paradigm to examine the role of selection via suppression in modulating children and adolescents’ memory encoding. By varying a single parameter, the spatial cueing task can elicit either a simple orienting mechanism (i.e., facilitation) or one that involves both target selection and simultaneous suppression of competing information (i.e., IOR). We modified this paradigm to include images of common items in target locations. Participants were not instructed to learn the items and were not told they would be completing a memory test later. Following the cueing task, we imposed a 7-min delay and then asked participants to complete a recognition memory test. Results indicated that selection via suppression promoted recognition memory among 7–17 year-olds. Moreover, individual differences in the extent of suppression during encoding predicted recognition memory accuracy. When basic cueing facilitated orienting to target items during encoding, IQ was the best predictor of recognition memory performance for the attended items. In contrast, engaging suppression (i.e., IOR) during encoding counteracted individual differences in intelligence, effectively improving recognition memory performance among children with lower IQs. This work demonstrates that engaging selection via suppression during learning and encoding improves memory retention and has broad implications for developing effective educational techniques.
    Cognition 05/2014; 131(2):195–204. · 3.63 Impact Factor
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    Dima Amso, Sara Haas, Julie Markant
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    ABSTRACT: This study examined the contribution of visual salience to bottom-up attention orienting to faces in cluttered natural scenes across development. We eye tracked participants 4 months to 24 years of age as they freely viewed 16 natural scenes, all of which had faces in them. In half, the face was also the winner-take-all salient area in the display as determined by the MATLAB SaliencyToolbox. In the other half, a random location was the winner-take-all salient area in the display and the face was visually non-salient. We found that proportion of attended faces, in the first second of scene viewing, improved after the first year. Visually salient faces attracted bottom-up attention orienting more than non-salient faces reliably and robustly only after infancy. Preliminary data indicate that this shift to use of visual salience to guide bottom-up attention orienting after infancy may be a function of stabilization of visual skills. Moreover, sociodemographic factors including number of siblings in the home and family income were agents of developmental change in orienting to faces in cluttered natural scenes in infancy.
    PLoS ONE 01/2014; 9(1):e85701. · 3.53 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Previous work has demonstrated that patterns of social attention hold predictive value for language development in typically developing infants. The goal of this research was to explore how patterns of attention in autistic, language delayed, and typically developing children relate to early word learning and language abilities. We tracked patterns of eye movements to faces and objects while children watched videos of a woman teaching them a series of new words. Subsequent test trials measured participants' recognition of these novel word-object pairings. Results indicated that greater attention to the speaker's mouth was related to higher scores on standardized measures of language development for autistic and typically developing children (but not for language delayed children). This effect was mediated by age for typically developing, but not autistic children. When effects of age were controlled for, attention to the mouth among language delayed participants was negatively correlated with standardized measures of language learning. Attention to the speaker's mouth and eyes while she was teaching the new words was also predictive of faster recognition of those words among autistic children. These results suggest that language delays among children with autism may be driven in part by aberrant social attention, and that the mechanisms underlying these delays may differ from those in language delayed participants without autism.
    Frontiers in Psychology 01/2014; 5:490. · 2.80 Impact Factor
  • Julie Markant, Dima Amso
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    ABSTRACT: Effective attention and memory skills are fundamental to typical development and essential for achievement during the formal education years. It is critical to identify the specific mechanisms linking efficiency of attentional selection of an item and the quality of its memory retention. The present study capitalized on the spatial cueing paradigm to examine the role of selection via suppression in modulating children and adolescents’ memory encoding. By varying a single parameter, the spatial cueing task can elicit either a simple orienting mechanism (i.e., facilitation) or one that involves both target selection and simultaneous suppression of competing information (i.e., IOR). We modified this paradigm to include images of common items in target locations. Participants were not instructed to learn the items and were not told they would be completing a memory test later. Following the cueing task, we imposed a seven-minute delay and then asked participants to complete a recognition memory test. Results indicated that selection via suppression promoted recognition memory among 7-17 year-olds. Moreover, individual differences in the extent of suppression during encoding predicted recognition memory accuracy. When basic cueing facilitated orienting to target items during encoding, IQ was the best predictor of recognition memory performance for the attended items. In contrast, engaging suppression (i.e, IOR) during encoding counteracted individual differences in intelligence, effectively improving recognition memory performance among children with lower IQs. This work demonstrates that engaging selection via suppression during learning and encoding improves memory retention and has broad implications for developing effective educational techniques.
    Cognition 01/2014; · 3.63 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We are pursuing the hypothesis that visual exploration and learning in young infants is achieved by producing gaze-sample sequences that are sequentially predictable. Our recent analysis of infants' gaze patterns during image free-viewing (Schlesinger and Amso, 2013) provides support for this idea. In particular, this work demonstrates that infants' gaze samples are more easily learnable than those produced by adults, as well as those produced by three artificial-observer models. In the current study, we extend these findings to a well-studied object-perception task, by investigating 3-month-olds' gaze patterns as they view a moving, partially occluded object. We first use infants' gaze data from this task to produce a set of corresponding center-of-gaze (COG) sequences. Next, we generate two simulated sets of COG samples, from image-saliency and random-gaze models, respectively. Finally, we generate learnability estimates for the three sets of COG samples by presenting each as a training set to an SRN. There are two key findings. First, as predicted, infants' COG samples from the occluded-object task are learned by a pool of simple recurrent networks faster than the samples produced by the yoked, artificial-observer models. Second, we also find that resetting activity in the recurrent layer increases the network's prediction errors, which further implicates the presence of temporal structure in infants' COG sequences. We conclude by relating our findings to the role of image-saliency and prediction-learning during the development of object perception.
    Frontiers in Psychology 01/2014; 5:441. · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Newborn babies look preferentially at faces and face-like displays, yet over the course of their first year much changes about both the way infants process visual stimuli and how they allocate their attention to the social world. Despite this initial preference for faces in restricted contexts, the amount that infants look at faces increases considerably during the first year. Is this development related to changes in attentional orienting abilities? We explored this possibility by showing 3-, 6-, and 9-month-olds engaging animated and live-action videos of social stimuli and also measuring their visual search performance with both moving and static search displays. Replicating previous findings, looking at faces increased with age; in addition, the amount of looking at faces was strongly related to the youngest infants' performance in visual search. These results suggest that infants' attentional abilities may be an important factor in facilitating their social attention early in development.
    Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 11/2013; 118C:13-26. · 3.12 Impact Factor
  • Julie Markant, Dima Amso
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    ABSTRACT: The present study examined the hypothesis that inhibitory visual selection mechanisms play a vital role in memory by limiting distractor interference during item encoding. In Experiment 1a we used a modified spatial cueing task in which 9-month-old infants encoded multiple category exemplars in the contexts of an attention orienting mechanism involving suppression (i.e. inhibition of return, IOR) versus one that does not (i.e. facilitation). At test, infants in the IOR condition showed both item-specific learning and abstraction of broader category information. In contrast, infants in the facilitation condition did not discriminate across novel and familiar test items. Experiment 1b confirmed that the learning observed in the IOR condition was specific to spatial cueing of attention and was not due to timing differences across the IOR and facilitation conditions. In Experiment 2, we replicated the results of Experiment 1, using a within-subjects design to explicitly examine learning and memory encoding in the context of concurrent suppression. These data show that developing inhibitory selective attention enhances efficacy of memory encoding for subsequent retrieval. Furthermore, these results highlight the importance of considering interactions between developing attention and memory systems.
    Developmental Science 11/2013; 16(6):926-940. · 3.89 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We examined the impact of simultaneous bottom-up visual influences and meaningful social stimuli on attention orienting in young children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Relative to typically-developing age and sex matched participants, children with ASDs were more influenced by bottom-up visual scene information regardless of whether social stimuli and bottom-up scene properties were congruent or competing. This initial reliance on bottom-up strategies correlated with severity of social impairment as well as receptive language impairments. These data provide support for the idea that there is enhanced reliance on bottom-up attention strategies in ASDs, and that this may have a negative impact on social and language development.
    Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders 09/2013; · 3.06 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The behavioral and neurobiological connections between play and the development of critical cognitive functions, such as attention, remain largely unknown. We do not yet know how these connections relate to the formation of specific abilities, such as spatial ability, and to learning in formal environments, such as in the classroom. Insights into these issues would be beneficial not only for understanding play, attention, and learning individually, but also for the development of more efficacious systems for learning and for the treatment of neurodevelopmental disorders. Different operational definitions of play can incorporate or exclude varying types of behavior, emphasize varying developmental time points, and motivate different research questions. Relevant questions to be explored in this area include, How do particular kinds of play relate to the development of particular kinds of abilities later in life? How does play vary across societies and species in the context of evolution? Does play facilitate a shift from reactive to predictive timing, and is its connection to timing unique or particularly significant? This report will outline important research steps that need to be taken in order to address these and other questions about play, human activity, and cognitive functions.
    Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 06/2013; · 4.38 Impact Factor
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    Matthew Schlesinger, Dima Amso
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    ABSTRACT: We propose that free viewing of natural images in human infants can be understood and analyzed as the product of intrinsically-motivated visual exploration. We examined this idea by first generating five sets of center-of-gaze (COG) image samples, which were derived by presenting a series of natural images to groups of both real observers (i.e., 9-month-olds and adults) and artificial observers (i.e., an image-saliency model, an image-entropy model, and a random-gaze model). In order to assess the sequential learnability of the COG samples, we paired each group of samples with a simple recurrent network, which was trained to reproduce the corresponding sequence of COG samples. We then asked whether an intrinsically-motivated artificial agent would learn to identify the most successful network. In Simulation 1, the agent was rewarded for selecting the observer group and network with the lowest prediction errors, while in Simulation 2 the agent was rewarded for selecting the observer group and network with the largest rate of improvement. Our prediction was that if visual exploration in infants is intrinsically-motivated-and more specifically, the goal of exploration is to learn to produce sequentially-predictable gaze patterns-then the agent would show a preference for the COG samples produced by the infants over the other four observer groups. The results from both simulations supported our prediction. We conclude by highlighting the implications of our approach for understanding visual development in infants, and discussing how the model can be elaborated and improved.
    Frontiers in Psychology 01/2013; 4:802. · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We recently proposed a multi-channel, image-filtering model for simulating the development of visual selective attention in young infants (Schlesinger, Amso & Johnson, 2007). The model not only captures the performance of 3-month-olds on a visual search task, but also implicates two cortical regions that may play a role in the development of visual selective attention. In the current simulation study, we used the same model to simulate 3-month-olds' performance on a second measure, the perceptual unity task. Two parameters in the model - corresponding to areas in the occipital and parietal cortices - were systematically varied while the gaze patterns produced by the model were recorded and subsequently analyzed. Three key findings emerged from the simulation study. First, the model successfully replicated the performance of 3-month-olds on the unity perception task. Second, the model also helps to explain the improved performance of 2-month-olds when the size of the occluder in the unity perception task is reduced. Third, in contrast to our previous simulation results, variation in only one of the two cortical regions simulated (i.e. recurrent activity in posterior parietal cortex) resulted in a performance pattern that matched 3-month-olds. These findings provide additional support for our hypothesis that the development of perceptual completion in early infancy is promoted by progressive improvements in visual selective attention and oculomotor skill.
    Developmental Science 11/2012; 15(6):739-52. · 3.89 Impact Factor
  • Lauren L Emberson, Dima Amso
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    ABSTRACT: We used an fMRI/eye-tracking approach to examine the mechanisms involved in learning to segment a novel, occluded object in a scene. Previous research has suggested a role for effective visual sampling and prior experience in the development of mature object perception. However, it remains unclear how the naive system integrates across variable sampled experiences to induce perceptual change. We generated a Target Scene in which a novel occluded Target Object could be perceived as either "disconnected" or "complete." We presented one group of participants with this scene in alternating sequence with variable visual experience: three Paired Scenes consisting of the same Target Object in variable rotations and states of occlusion. A second control group was presented with similar Paired Scenes that did not incorporate the Target Object. We found that, relative to the Control condition, participants in the Training condition were significantly more likely to change their percept from "disconnected" to "connected," as indexed by pretraining and posttraining test performance. In addition, gaze patterns during Target Scene inspection differed as a function of variable object exposure. We found increased looking to the Target Object in the Training compared with the Control condition. This pattern was not restricted to participants who changed their initial "disconnected" object percept. Neuroimaging data suggest an involvement of the hippocampus and BG, as well as visual cortical and fronto-parietal regions, in using ongoing regular experience to enable changes in amodal completion.
    Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 06/2012; 24(10):2030-42. · 4.49 Impact Factor
  • Dima Amso, Juliet Davidow
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    ABSTRACT: The majority of cognitive processes show measurable change over the lifespan. However, some argue that implicit learning from environmental structure is development invariant [e.g., Muelemans et al. [1998] Experimental Child Psychology, 69, 199-221; Reber [1993] Implicit learning and tacit knowledge: An essay on the cognitive unconscious. Oxford University Press], while others have shown that adults learn faster than children [Thomas et al. [2004] Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 16, 1339-1351]. In two experiments, we tested infants through adults using the same saccade latency measure and behavioral learning paradigm. We examined implicit learning when subjects are presented with interleaved regularities acting on one item, as well as the ability to adjust behavior when learned information is violated. In one comparison, the first- (item frequencies) and second- (spatiotemporal item relations) order statistics are in conflict, allowing us to examine flexibility in learning from multiple parameters. Data from Experiment 1 (N = 90, 6- to 30-year olds) showed no developmental differences in either implicit learning from environmental regularity or flexibility of learning from conflicting parameters across our age range. Accuracy data showed that children are especially sensitive to low frequency relative to high frequency items. In Experiment 2, we showed that 7- to 11-month-old infants had a saccade latency profile that was consistent with task structure, that is, they simultaneously learned both item frequencies and spatiotemporal relations, as indicated by data patterns similar to those obtained in Experiment 1. Taken together, these data provide support for developmental invariance in implicit learning from environmental regularities.
    Developmental Psychobiology 06/2012; 54(6):664-73. · 2.60 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Most anxiety and depressive disorders are twice as common in women compared with men, and the sex difference in prevalence typically emerges during adolescence. Hormonal changes across the menstrual cycle and during the postpartum and perimenopausal periods are associated with increased risk for anxiety and depression symptoms. In humans and animals, reduced brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) has been associated with increased expression of affective pathology. Recently, a single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) in the BDNF gene (BDNF Valine66Methionine [Val66Met]), which reduces BDNF bioavailability, has been identified in humans and associated with a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders. Although BDNF expression can be directly influenced by estrogen and progesterone, the potential impact of the BDNF Val66Met SNP on sensitivity to reproductive hormone changes remains an open question. As a predictive model, we used female mice in which the human SNP (BDNF Val66Met) was inserted into the mouse BDNF gene. Using standard behavioral paradigms, we tested the impact of this SNP on age and estrous-cycle-specific expression of anxiety-like behaviors. Mice homozygous for the BDNF Val66Met SNP begin to exhibit increased anxiety-like behaviors over prepubertal and early adult development, show significant fluctuations in anxiety-like behaviors over the estrous cycle, and, as adults, differ from wild-type mice by showing significant fluctuations in anxiety-like behaviors over the estrous cycle-specifically, more anxiety-like behaviors during the estrus phase. These findings have implications regarding the potential role of this SNP in contributing to developmental and reproductive hormone-dependent changes in affective disorders in humans.
    Biological psychiatry 05/2012; 72(6):499-504. · 8.93 Impact Factor
  • Matthew Schlesinger, Dima Amso
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    ABSTRACT: Are infants' initial object representations innately specified? We examine the development of perceptual completion in infants by highlighting two issues. First, perceptual completion is supported by neural mechanisms that rely on experience with the environment. Second, we present behavioral and modeling data that demonstrate how perceptual completion can emerge as a consequence of changes in visual attention and oculomotor skill.
    Behavioral and Brain Sciences 06/2011; 34(3):147-8. · 18.57 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Our previous work provides support for the idea that the development of visual perception in early infancy depends on progressive improvements in oculomotor skill. In particular, we have proposed and tested an eye-movement model that successfully reproduces infants' gaze patterns on two measures of visual attention. However, this result is due to explicit hand-tuning of a key parameter in the model. In the current simulation study, we investigate whether manipulating this parameter (i.e., the duration of spatial competition) enhances visual prediction learning. As expected, we find that prediction learning becomes more accurate as spatial competition in the eye-movement model is increased. This finding suggests that visual prediction learning can provide a meaningful error-feedback signal, which can be used to modulate spatial competition in the eye-movement model.
    01/2011; 2:1-6.
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    ABSTRACT: Mouse models are useful for studying genes involved in behavior, but whether they are relevant to human behavior is unclear. Here, we identified parallel phenotypes in mice and humans resulting from a common single-nucleotide polymorphism in the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene, which is involved in anxiety-related behavior. An inbred genetic knock-in mouse strain expressing the variant BDNF recapitulated the phenotypic effects of the human polymorphism. Both were impaired in extinguishing a conditioned fear response, which was paralleled by atypical frontoamygdala activity in humans. Thus, this variant BDNF allele may play a role in anxiety disorders showing impaired learning of cues that signal safety versus threat and in the efficacy of treatments that rely on extinction mechanisms, such as exposure therapy.
    Science 02/2010; 327(5967):863-6. · 31.20 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: We examined the role of visual exploration strategies in infants' discrimination between facial emotion expressions. Twenty-eight 6- to 11-month olds were habituated to alternating models posing the same expression (happy N = 14/fearful N = 14) as eye gaze data were collected with a corneal reflection eye tracker. Gaze behavior analyses indicated that duration of gaze to the eyes and mouth was similar, consistent with what would be expected based on area subtended by those regions, and negatively correlated. This pattern did not differ as a function of age, sex, or habituation condition. There were no posthabituation performance differences as a function of age group (6- to 8-month- versus 9- to 11-month olds). Only infants habituated to happy faces showed longer looking at the novel emotion (fear) when the model was held constant from habituation to test. We found no reliable correlation between this performance and proportion of gaze directed at any one facial region. Consistent with previous work, the group habituated to fear faces showed no reliable posthabituation novelty preference. Individual differences in gaze behavior shed light on this finding. Greater proportion of gaze directed at the eyes correlated positively with preference for the novel emotion (happy). These data suggest that, as in other object classes, visual exploration strategies are an important agent of change in infants' capacity to learn about emotion expressions.
    Frontiers in Psychology 01/2010; 1:180. · 2.80 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: There has been a dramatic rise in gene x environment studies of human behavior over the past decade that have moved the field beyond simple nature versus nurture debates. These studies offer promise in accounting for more variability in behavioral and biological phenotypes than studies that focus on genetic or experiential factors alone. They also provide clues into mechanisms of modifying genetic risk or resilience in neurodevelopmental disorders. Yet, it is rare that these studies consider how these interactions change over the course of development. In this paper, we describe research that focuses on the impact of a polymorphism in a brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene, known to be involved in learning and development. Specifically we present findings that assess the effects of genotypic and environmental loadings on neuroanatomic and behavioral phenotypes across development. The findings illustrate the use of a genetic mouse model that mimics the human polymorphism, to constrain the interpretation of gene-environment interactions across development in humans.
    Neuroscience 05/2009; 164(1):108-20. · 3.12 Impact Factor

Publication Stats

1k Citations
154.90 Total Impact Points

Institutions

  • 2010–2014
    • Brown University
      • Department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
      Providence, Rhode Island, United States
  • 2013
    • Stanford University
      • Department of Psychology
      Palo Alto, California, United States
  • 2007–2013
    • Southern Illinois University Carbondale
      • Department of Psychology
      Illinois, United States
  • 2012
    • University of Rochester
      • Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences
      Rochester, NY, United States
  • 2005–2010
    • Weill Cornell Medical College
      • Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology
      New York City, New York, United States
    • New York University
      • Department of Psychology
      New York City, NY, United States
  • 2008
    • University of British Columbia - Vancouver
      • Department of Psychiatry
      Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • 2003–2004
    • CUNY Graduate Center
      New York City, New York, United States
  • 2002
    • University of Massachusetts Medical School
      Worcester, Massachusetts, United States
  • 2001
    • University of South Carolina
      Columbia, South Carolina, United States