Blair C. Armstrong

 Assistant Professor
 Department of Psychology & Center for French & Linguistics
 University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC)

 Honourary Staff Scientist
 Group Leader, Computational Cognitive Neuroscience
 Basque Center on Cognition, Brain, and Language (BCBL)

 Contact (e-mail preferred):


 Telephone: (1)-416-287-7146

 Office: HW-419
 Department of Psychology (or) Centre for French & Linguistics
 1265 Military Trail
 Toronto, Ontario, Canada
 M1C 1A4

Research Interests - Education - Publications - Published Software - Other Tools -
Teaching - Advising - Service  - In the News

Research Interests

My primary research interests relate to the cognitive and neural representations, processes, and learning mechanisms underlying word comprehension and semantic memory.  This work largely concerns developing theories of how ambiguous words are comprehended, the source of the similarities and differences between written and spoken word comprehension, how learning mechanisms lead to the emergence of cross-linguistic differences in lexical processing, and how newly-learned words are integrated into the lexical system.  Complementing this work, I pursue research into how decision and response systems engage the word comprehension and perceptual systems in different tasks.  My work focuses on developing explicit mechanistic accounts of these cognitive systems.  This work is informed by tightly coordinated computational modeling using biologically-plausible connectionist networks and by empirical investigations using a range of behavioral and electrophysiological techniques.  I am also interested in how computational algorithms can improve experimental methodologies such as stimulus selection, speech onset detection, and data analysis.

CV Highlights


2012 PhD, Psychology, Psychology Department, Carnegie Mellon University

Dissertation: The Temporal Dynamics of Word Comprehension and Response Selection: Computational and Behavioral Studies

Advisor: Dr. David Plaut   
Committee: Dr. Marlene Behrmann, Dr. Brian MacWhinney, Dr. Natasha Tokowicz

2012 Graduate Training Certificate, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC), Carnegie Mellon University

2010 MS, Psychology, Psychology Department, Carnegie Mellon University

Advisor: Dr. David Plaut
Committee: Dr. Marlene Behrmann, Dr. Brian MacWhinney

2007 MA, Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto

Dissertation: Comprehending Ambiguous Words: Computational and Empirical Investigations

Advisor: Dr. David Plaut
Co-advisor: Dr. Steve Joordens

2006 HBSc, Conferred with High Distinction, Psychology Specialist Program, University of Toronto Scarborough

Psychology Honours Thesis:   
Title: Accounting for Category-specific Semantic Deficits: A Computational Implementation of Conceptual Topography Theory
Advisor:  Dr. George Cree

Neuroscience Honours Thesis:
Title: The Golden Ratio: A Search for the Mathematical and Neural Basis of Beauty
Advisors: Dr. Gerald Cupchik and Dr. Ted Petit


In Press or Published Peer-reviewed Articles:

Armstrong, B. C.
, Frost, R., & Christiansen, M. H. (in press).  The Long Road of Statistical Learning Research: Past, Present, and Future.  Special issue on New Frontiers for Statistical Learning in the Cognitive Sciences [Eds. Armstrong, Frost, & Christiansen], Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences

Armstrong, B. C.
, & Plaut, D. C. (2016).  Disparate semantic ambiguity effects from semantic processing dynamics rather than qualitative task differences.  Language, Cognition, and Neuroscience. 27 pages.

Armstrong, B. C.,
Zugarramurdi, C., Alvaro, C., Valle Lisboa, J., & Plaut, D. C. (2015).  Relative meaning frequencies for 578 homonyms in two Spanish dialects: A cross-linguistic extension of the English eDom normsBehavior Research Methods.  12 pages.

Armstrong, B. C.
, Ruiz-Blondet, M., Khalifian, N., Jin, Zanpeng, J., Kurtz, K. J., Laszlo, S. (2015). Brainprint: Assessing the uniqueness, collectability, and permanence of a novel method for ERP biometrics.  Neurocomputing, 166, 59-66.  **Subsequently selected for inclusion in the 2015 Virtual Special Issue Celebrating the Breadth of Biometrics Research 2015, which highlights select articles published across a number of Elsevier journals. **

Frost, R., Armstrong, B. C., Seigelman, N., Christiansen, M. H.  (2015).  Domain generality versus modality specificity: The paradox of statistical learning.  Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 19(3), 117-125.  Invited peer-reviewed contribution. 

Lerner, I., Armstrong, B. C., & Frost, R.  (2014).  What can we learn from learning models about sensitivity to letter-order in visual word recognition?  Journal of Memory and Language, 77, 40-58.

Laszlo, S., & Armstrong, B. C. (2014).  Applying the dynamics of post-synaptic potentials to individual units in simulation of temporally extended ERP reading data.  Brain & Language, 132, 22-27.  

Carreiras, M., Armstrong, B. C., Perea, M., & Frost, R. (2014).  The What, When, Where, and How of Visual Word Recognition.   Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(2), 90-98.  Invited peer-reviewed contribution.   ** The article received the 2014 Best Neuroscience Publication Award from the Spanish Society of Experimental Psychology (SEPEX) **

Armstrong, B.C., Tokowicz, N., & Plaut, D.C. (2012).  eDom: Norming software and relative meaning frequency norms for 544 homonyms.  Behavioral Research Methods, 44(4), 1015-1027.

Armstrong, B.C., Watson, C.E., & Plaut, D.C. (2012).  SOS! An algorithm and software for the Stochastic Optimization of Stimuli.  Behavior Research Methods, 44(3),  675-705.

Armstrong, B.C., LeBoutillier, J.C., & Petit, T.L. (2012).  Ultrastructural synaptic changes associated with Neurofibromatosis Type 1: Quantitative analysis of hippocampal region CA1 in a Nf1+/- mouse model. Synapse, 66(3), 246-255.

Connor, S., Williams P. T., Armstrong, B., Petit, T. L., Ivanco, T. L., Weeks, A. C. (2006). Long-term potentiation is associated with changes in synaptic ultrastructure in the rat neocortex. Synapse, 59(6), 378-382.

Peer-reviewed Conference Papers (* = presenter):

Ruiz-Blondet, M.*, Khalifian, N., Armstrong, B. C., Jin, Zanpeng, J., Kurtz, K. J., Laszlo, S. (2014). Brainprint: Identifying unique features of neural activity with machine learning.   Proceedings of the 36th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 827-832). Mahwah, NH: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.  

Armstrong, B. C.*, & Plaut, D. C. (2013).  Simulating overall and trial-by-trial effects in response selection with a biologically-plausible connectionist network.  In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 139-144). Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. 

Laszlo, S., & Armstrong, B. C.* (2013).  Applying the dynamics of post-synaptic potentials to individual units in simulation of temporally extended ERP reading data.  In M. Knauff, M. Pauen, N. Sebanz, & I. Wachsmuth (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2826-2831).  Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. 

Armstrong, B. C.* & Plaut, D. C. (2011). Inducing homonymy effects via stimulus quality and (not) nonword difficulty: Implications for models of semantic ambiguity and word recognition. In L. Carlson, C. Holscher, & T. Shipley (Eds.), Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2223-2228).  Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. 

Armstrong, B. C.*, Joordens, S., & Plaut, D. C. (2009). Yoked criteria shifts in decision system adaptation: Computational and behavioral investigations.  In N.A. Taatgen & H. van Rijn (Eds.), Proceedings of the 31st Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 2130-2135).  Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. 

MacInnes, W. J.*, Armstrong, B. C., Pare, D., Cree, G. S., & Joordens, S. (2009). Everyone’s a critic: Memory models and uses for an artificial Turing judge.   In B. Goertzel, M. Hutter, & P. Hitzler (Eds.) Proceedings of the Second Conference on Artificial General Intelligence (pp. 132-137).  Paris, France: Atlantic Press.   ** Second runner up for Kurzweil Best Artificial General Intelligence Paper at AGI 2009 **

Armstrong, B. C.*
, & Plaut, D. C. (2008).  Settling dynamics in distributed networks explain task differences in semantic ambiguity effects: Computational and behavioral evidence.  In B. C. Love, K. McRae, & V. M. Sloutsky (Eds.) Proceedings of the 30th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society (pp. 273-278).  Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society. 

Book Chapters:

Cree, G. S., & Armstrong, B. (2012). Computational models of semantic memory.  In Spivey, M., McRae, K. & Joanisse, M. (Eds.), Cambridge Handbook of Psycholinguistics (pp. 259-282).  New York: Cambridge University Press.

Watson, C. E., Armstrong, B. C., & Plaut, D. C. (2012). Connectionist modeling of neuropsychological deficits in semantics, language, and reading.  In M. Faust (Ed.), The Handbook of the Neuropsychology of Language (pp. 103-124). New York: Wiley-Blackwell. 

Doctoral Dissertation:

Armstrong, B. C. (2012).  The Temporal Dynamics of Word Comprehension and Response Selection: Computational and Behavioral Studies.  Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Psychology Department, Carnegie Mellon University.  


  • A software package for the Stochastic Optimization of Stimuli (developed with Christine Watson and David Plaut)
  • Related article published in Behavior Research Methods
  • Software and additional information available online at

  • An automated tool for collecting Relative Meaning Frequency ratings for homonyms (i.e., electronic Dominance ratings) based on dictionary (and participant-supplemented) definitions (developed with Natasha Tokowicz and David Plaut; an extension to different Spanish dialects was developed with Camila Zugarramurdi, Álvaro Cabana, Juan Valle Lisboa, and David Plaut)
  • Related articles and norms for American English and for two dialects of Spanish published in Behavior Research Methods
  • Software and norms available online at or

  • An automated tool for detecting speech onset, developed with Frédéric Roux and Manuel Carreiras 
  • Related manuscript under review in Behavior Research Methods
  • This tool detects speech onset in a sound recording automatically, with near optimal precision as compared to multiple human ratings of speech onset based on a waveform and a spectrogram.  
  • Standalone and online version of the software pending


Courses Taught:

University of Toronto Scarborough (2017--):
2017--PLIC55: Psycholinguistics
2017--PSYC59: Cognitive Neuroscience of Language

BCBL (2012-2016):
2015Scientific Basics, Section II: Scientific Writing [coordinated with Dr. C. Martin (Section I: Presentations) & Dr. J. Andres Hernandez (Section III: Basic Programming)].
2012-2016Quantitative Methods, Section III: Regression [coordinated with Martijn Baart (Section I: Basic Statistical Concepts) and Arthur Samuel (Section II: Analysis of Variance)]


Rocío A. López-Zunini2016--Computational and EEG investigations of age-related changes in visual and auditory word recognition (co-supervisor: Dr. A Samuel)

Name Degree Date Title
Joyse Medeiros PhD
Exp. 2017
Pedro MargollesMaster
Exp. 2016On-line Orthographic and Phonological Interactions during an Audiovisual Matching Task (co-supervisor: Dr. M. Baart)
Jane Aristia Master
Sept. 2015 Adaptive Decision Making: Evidence from Feedback
Elma Barreiro Abad Master
Sept. 2014 Auditory and Visual Word Comprehension:
A Comparative Study using a Lexical Decision Task
(co-supervisor: Dr. A. Samuel)


  • Guest Editor on New Frontiers for Statistical Learning in the Cognitive Sciences (B. C. Armstrong, R. Frost, M. H. Christiansen [Eds.], in press), Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences

  • Program Committee Member, Fifth Implicit Learning Seminar (2016), Lancaster, UK
  • Co-Organizer & Scientific Committee Member, Interdisciplinary Advances in Statistical Learning Conference, San Sebastian (2015, 2017), Spain
  • Program Committee Member, 2016 Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society
  • Program Committee Member, 2015 Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society

Ad hoc reviewer for:

Cognitive Science
Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review
Cognitive Psychology
Journal of Memory & Language
Journal of Cognition and Development
Experimental Psychology
Language, Cognition and Neuroscience
Bilingualism: Language & Cognition
Visual Cognition
Applied Psycholinguistics
Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Proceedings of the Cognitive Science Society Annual Meetings
Frontiers in Psychology
Journal of Open Psychology Data
Selected Proceedings of the EuroAsianPacific Joint Conference on Cognitive Science [EAPCogSci]

Selected Proceedings of the Second Language Research Forum [SLRF]
Selected Proceedings of the Workshop on Infant Language Development [WILD]

In the News

Brainprint: Identifying Individuals Based on the Neural Correlates of Reading Processes

A series of news articles focused on my collaborative work with Professor Sarah Laszlo's research group at SUNY Binghamton, in which we studied how different classification methods can be used to uniquely identify individuals based on ERPs collected during reading.  A sample of these articles follows:

Ambiguous Word Comprehension

A press release by GUK (April, 2014) focused on my work in computational cognitive neuroscience and ambiguous word comprehension.

LINK (in Spanish):

Archived Copy

An artificial Judge for the Turing Test / Corpus-based Lexical-semantic knowledge

An article in h+ Magazine (March, 2009) featured work that  I co-authored and that was related to the development of an Artificial Critic for Humanness based on word co-occurrence statistics (MacInnes, Armstrong, et al. 2009; 2nd runner up for the Kurzweil prize at the 2009 Artificial General Intelligence Conference).  


Archived Copy

Blair Armstrong, 2011-