Juan Manuel Toro

Universitat Pompeu Fabra

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 and 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). Recently, we have grown more interested in music cognition and how similar learning mechanisms might work across modalities. We heve thus done work exploring consonance processing, brain entraintment to metrical structures and harmonic predictions. Through this work, I have experimentally tackled the issue of how mechanisms interact while processing complex auditory stimuli such as speech and music, 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 & Hoeschele M 2017, 'Generalizing prosodic patterns by a non-vocal learning mammal'Animal Cognition, 20, 2, 179 - 185.

- Monte-Ordoño J & Toro JM 2017, 'Different ERP profiles for learning rules over consonants and vowels'Neuropsychologia, 97, 104-111.

- Toro JM & Crespo-Bojorque P 2017. 'Consonance processing in the absence of relevant experience: Evidence from non-human animals'. Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews, 12, 33 - 44.

- Monte-Ordoño J & Toro JM 2017, 'Early positivity signals changes in abstract linguistic pattern', PLoS ONE, 12:e0180727.

Selected research activities

- Best scientific article of the year (Sociedad Española de Psicología Experimental, SEPEX). Finalist.

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

- Associate Editor, Journal of Language Evolution.