Juan Manuel Toro

Universitat Pompeu Fabra (UPF)

Social & Behavioural Sciences

I was born in Bogotá (Colombia) in 1976. I studied Psychology at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia. In 2005, I got a PhD from the Universitat de Barcelona, and moved to work as a postdoc with Jacques Mehler at the Language and Cognitive Development lab at SISSA (Trieste, Italy). Later I was a research fellow under the Ramón y Cajal program. My studies are mainly funded through a grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant). Currently I am an ICREA Research Professor at the Center for Brain and Cognition of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, where I coordinate the Language and Comparative Cognition Group.

Research interests

I am interested in studying why the extraordinary ability of language has only emerged in humans and not in other animals. I tackle this issue using a combination of experimental techniques and populations that include human adults & infants, and non-human animals. Our studies have demonstrated that some of the building blocks of language learning are found in other animals, including the abilitiy to extract information from speech using prosodic and statistical regularities. We have also showed how phonological representations guide of rule learning (providing the ground to explore how linguistic representations constrain general structure extraction mechanisms). Through this work, I have experimentally tackled the issue of how mechanisms interact while processing language, and to what extent they might be present in other species. More generally, this research has tried to unveil what is uniquely human and what is shared with other animals in the field of language processing.

Selected publications

Toro JM 2016, ‘Something Old, Something New: Combining Mechanisms During Language Acquisition’, Current Directions In Psychological Science, 25, 2, 130 – 134.

Toro JM, Nespor M & Gervain J 2016, ‘Frequency-based organization of speech sequences in a nonhuman animal’, Cognition, 146 , 1-7.

– Crespo-Bojorque P & Toro JM 2016, ‘Processing advantages for consonance: A comparison between rats (Rattus Norvegicus) and humans (Homo Sapiens)’, Journal of Comparative Psychology, 130, 97-108.

– Celma-Miralles A, Menezes R & Toro JM 2016, ‘Look at the beat, feel the meter: Top-down effects of meter induction on auditory and visual modalities’, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 108.

– Langus A, Seyed-Allaei S, Uysal E, Pirmoradian S, Marino C, Asaadi S, Eren O, Toro JM, Peña M, Bion R & Nespor M 2016, ‘Listening natively across perceptual domains?’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, 42, 1127-1139.

Selected research activities

– Organizing committee: Beyond language learning workshop. Barcelona, September 29th-30th, 2016.

– Coordinator, Master in Brain and Cognition, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

– Associate editor, Journal of Language Evolution.