Institute of cognitive sciences and technologies (ISTC)


The Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies (ISTC) is six year old. In this Institute the former Institute of Psychology, the former Institute of Phonetics and Dialectology in Padova and some groups from Biomedical Technologies in Rome, from LADSEB in Padova and from the Solid State Electronics group in Rome converge.
1. Mission The mission of ISTC is so defined by its deed of partnership:

the Institute is involved in research, enhancement, technological transfer and training activities in the following scientific areas and as far as the following themes are concerned:
Cognitive, communicative and linguistic processes: acquisition, elaboration, deficit, multimodality, communication technologies.
Theory, analysis and technology of spoken language and of linguistic variability.
Cognitive development, learning and socialization in children and non-human primates.
· Artificial intelligence, artificial life, artificial societies.
· Cognitive technologies, neural networks, autonomous robotics.
Social cognition: behaviour, motivations, cultural transmission and cultural processes.
· Decision-making and cooperation technologies.
Quality of the environment, health and society: prevention, education, integration, handicap, technological planning.

2. Transformation of the scientific structure
The present structure - which is being transformed - is rather simple and fluid (only one section).
In fact ISTC is going through a deep transformation:
· to comply with its new institutional mission; - to integrate groups from different institutions and traditions;
to meet the requirements both of the reform of CNR, which is still under way, and of the new set-up;
to be able to stake our efforts on new initiatives and to avoid to cling to past successes.

Locations. The Institute is situated in Rome, San Martino della Battaglia, 44. As a matter of fact it is divided into four different branches with managerial-administrative and relational tasks:
Roma1 - Via San Martino della Battaglia, 44
Roma2 - at Bio-Parco - Via Aldrovandi 16 -18.
Rome3 - at the State Institute of the Deaf of Rome - Via Nomentana 56
Rome4 - at Ospedale Fatebenefratelli in Rome.

The Padova branch:
Via martiri della Libertà 2
The Trento branch:
Via alla Cascata, 56/c

Groups, laboratories, aggregating and positioning initiatives.

At this stage we aim at the characterization of groups, projects, laboratories capable either of aggregating actual interactions and internal research areas or of occupying an external strategic niche (in national, European and international contexts) at a highly competitive level.
The following groups were set up:
ALife and Evolutionary Robotics Lab - Artificial Life and Robotics Laboratory (Head: Stefano Nolfi). Their interest areas include: neural networks, evolutionary algorhythms, autonomous robotics, collective robotics, social simulation, the interaction between evolution, development and learning and teaching applications of simulations.
Developmental Language Disorders and Risk Factors Laboratory - (Head: Maria Cristina Caselli). Research on the relationships between cognitive and linguistic development in children with different pathologies and/or developmental retardation.; criteria and instruments for the assessment of the early linguistic development and for an early individuation of children at risk.
Reading Processes and Lexicon Laboratory (Head: Cristina Burani), which aims at the acquisition of experimental "convergent" evidences on lexical and morphological reading processes of the Italian language and at the study of its development and adult processes, as well as developmental and acquired disturbances.
LABSS - Laboratory of Agent-Based Social Simulation (Head: Rosaria Conte) - which aims at the use of simulation methodology in order to model cognitive and interactional processes, and emergent macro-social processes.
LOA - Applied Ontologies Laboratory (Head: Nicola Guarino). This is a part of Padova Section, which is located in Trento within the co-operation project between CNR and the Province of Trento. Also the Rome3 research group on ontologies participates in this project.
Psychology of Interpersonal Relationships (Head: Rita D'Amico): research group on: a) interconnections between emotional, cognitive and cultural aspects within the context of couple, parental and educational relationships; b) discriminatory processes against such categories of people as women, children and the disabled in different social contexts.
Sign Language Lab - "Sign Language" Laboratory (Head: Elena Pizzuto). Research on the Italian Sign language, and, more in general, on deaf people's communication and language, in a comparative interlinguistic perspective.
SMCL - Speech and Multimodal Communication Laboratory - experimental research on: the articulatory, acoustic and perceptual characteristics of spoken language; the auditory-visual micro-bimodality; the auditory-visual macro-bimodality (e.g. co-verbal gestural expressiveness, "visual prosody", the auditory-visual bimodal transmission of emotions); - the acoustic-auditory and unimodal analysis, synthesis and recognition of spoken language(e.g. implementation of Speaking Faces and Virtual Agents).
Human Development and Society (Head: Tullia Musatti) Research group for the study of children's cognitive and socialization processes in family contexts and in child care services; study of the formation of a childhood culture in the early childhood; the designing of an assessment instrument of the quality of child care services.
T3 - Trust, Theory & Technology (Head: Rino Falcone). Research group on the socio-cognitive theory of trust and its applications in e-commerce, virtual organization, marketing, human-computer and human-robot interaction, MAS, etc.
Gesture and Language Development Lab - (Head: Olga Capirci). Research on the role of gesture in communicative and language development in children with typical and atypical profiles and exposed to different linguistic inputs.
Laboratory of Children's Participation Psychology (Head: Francesco Tonucci). It promotes the international Project "The Children's City". The Project was developed in a network of Italian, Spanish and Argentinian towns and cities. Rome is the leading city in this network.
The following are consolidated groups:
Unit of Cognitive Primatology and Primate Center (Head: Elisabetta Visalberghi). Comparative psychology and primatology research dealing with humans and primates' behaviour and cognitive processes in order to understand the development of adaptive processes in the different species. The Unit has a Primate Center (Head: Maria Cristina Riviello), hosted by the Bioparco, where about 30 capuchin monkeys (Cebys apella) are hosted.
PST - The Planning and Scheduling Team (Head: Amedeo Cesta) focuses its research interests on automated and interactive solution techniques for planning and scheduling problems.The general research context is the design and implementation of intelligent integrated architectures. The consolidated competences in constraint-based reasoning allowed the group to synthesize advanced problem solving systems for decision support in diversified application domain such as space missions (particularly significant have been results obtained within projects for the European Space Agency) and in projects on cognitive assistance for older people.
Other traditionally present areas, which have also been very active for some years, are elaborating their new set-up:Health Psychology, which studies physical and psychological well-being as far as prevention, treatment and rehabilitation are concerned. It includes research on residential well-being, the quality of interpersonal relationships, genetic "counselling", quality in childhood care and in educational services, and the study of elderly patients' memory disorders and on the neurophysiological mechanisms implied in adults' selective attention and visual information.
Cognitive processes and new technology. They study the complex and manifold interactions between cognitive processes and new technologies so as to develop prototypes that incorporate non-arbitrary construction and functioning principles and that are based on principles which are empirically and theoretically justified by research. They also aim to develop effective means and instruments to transfer such technologies to the real world in rational and optimal applications.
Teaching/learning processes, which studies learning processes and the development of new technologies in educational contexts.
These manifold and dynamic initiatives (which have been solicited by the Direction in this first phase) are somewhat centrifugal: they are competitive, restructuring and are outwardly projected. Necessarily they will be selected on the basis of their significance and re-aggregated in macro-lines (for example, we are envisaging a "Neuropsychology of language and deafness" Line or Unit, encompassing different groups, projects and laboratories) and/or Sections in the final set-up of ISTC in parallel with the definition of the structures of CNR.
Evaluation Research Group. They have been active for some years in the field of evaluation and have adopted a psychosocial approach. This group of researchers - biologists, philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists - are involved in the development of evaluation projects in collaboration with local authorities and Ministries.
3. Research Policy
In the last few years we have strengthened the areas where we were traditionally present, especially those areas where ISTC has an excellence or cutting-edge position (i.e. comparative psychology and primatology; the LIS sign language; psycho-and neuro-linguistics and language development; artificial life, neural networks, evolutionary robotics; experimental phonetics; dialectology; artificial intelligence and "agent" systems); but we also explored possible virtuous interactions between the converging groups (see our initiative, called InterSection workshops), and new and promising scientific, technological and social niches. We have been evaluating the cognitive and relational capital of ISTC and its re-positioning by restructuring and controlling internal and external scientific interactions. This operation was remarkably slow and difficult on account of the uncertainties related to the institutional and administrative framework, the starting off of new regulations, the serious inadequacy of financial resources, the loss of qualified staff, the impossibility to recruit young forces.
As is apparent from single projects, we strengthened:
the interdisciplinary approach, ranging from biological to technological and social perspectives;
the methodological pluralism (observational and field methodologies, experimental, simulative and formal methodologies);
the pluralism of approaches in the present debate on cognitivism and a comparison between neural and symbolic, representational and dynamic approaches, etc.

Contacts have been established between the various groups and sections so as to stimulate possible common research and initiatives. Collaborations are already under way:
between Padova and Roma groups (on linguistic rehabilitation, emotions and their expression and simulation);
between Padova (former LADSEB) and Rome on applied ontologies and social notions;
between PST engineers and social psychologists (RoboCare project on robot assistance for for older people and home patients:
between Agents cognitivist groups and Artificial Life neuralist groups in Computer Social Simulation.

4. Quality and evaluation

We aimed to qualify the product according to various dimensions: - a high number of qualified and relevant publications (on JCR) (though it is important to emphasize that many of the interest areas of ISTC, as they are extremely innovative and cutting edge, refer to recently established journals that still have to be included into citation indexes); - other international and national publications; - the recognition of prestigious and influential scientific roles (invited speakers, board members, chairs, editors, reviewers, supervisors, doctorate boards, etc.); - the success of our international and national projects and initiatives; - the proposal of new research or intervention methodologies, platforms, prototypes, etc. - the production of databases, training and research materials, exhibitions, conferences, courses, etc. - operational results with a strong impact on society at large, services, schools, public administration, the national health service, firms as regards our transfer, counselling and training projects. Scientific quality was evaluated (as we traditionally do) on the basis of those criteria that are adopted by the international community in which we are competitive: international publications, impact factor, role and recognitions, attractiveness, evaluations by external experts. Resources for ordinary research and recognitions (setting up of new structures, external visibility, etc.) have been selectively assigned on the basis of merit.
5. External grants and transfer
ISTC obtained significant external grants (about 60% of the total funds):
Europe, international agreements, MIUR, Italian Space Agency, EE.LL, Public Administrations, and other agencies. We promoted the activities, which, despite their being closely related to basic research carried out by ISTC, could have a possible impact and be transferred, as well as high training activities, promotion, counselling, scientific popularization. Within this context we can mention highly significant projects and results as regards role, recognition and funds. Just to cite a few of them:
Child care services (nurseries, nursery schools) in collaboration with EELL (provinces, regions, Rome municipalities), training activities, planning, supervising, quality assessment (e.g. project and conference "Child care services and support to parenthood in Rome", June 2002 Rome, in · collaboration with the 5th Municipality).
Genetic counselling: our Institute has played a leading role in establishing and structuring psychological counselling in genetic guidance centres in close collaboration with geneticists(see the conference we organized: Juridical and Psychological Implications of Human Genetics -
Sede del Garante, Monte Citorio, March 2002).
The Deaf: see our long-time collaboration with the State Institute of the Deaf of Rome, associations of deaf people, studies on their culture, training activities, exhibitions, training materials, conferences, etc.
The Children's City: an important project on children's leading role in public administrations and aiming to replan the structure of a city in accordance with their needs and evaluations. Collaboration with ANCI and with many Italian and foreign towns and cities. In particular, a long-term project with the Municipality of Rome.
· Italian Space Agency - notable projects with the PST group.
Project on Education against Violence (i.e. the conference: Schools and multi-ethnic society)
"Multicultural societies: economic, social, health, and institutional implications" Agenzia 2000 CNR Coordinated Project; specific topic:
"Cognitive and communicative aspects of multicultural interactions in Italy: immigrant children between family and educational structures". 3 operational Units: ISTC/CNR; University of Milan "La Bicocca", University of Perugia.
Scientific education: a project in collaboration with schools, MIUR, EELL, the Zoological Museum, etc. (e.g. the conference we organized on "Images of the animal", October 2002).
Observatory for the evaluation and quality of regional services. It has two main goals: to promote the culture of evaluation, which is considered a transforming process of reality; to foster the development of a complex idea of quality, which is constructed through the experience of sharing different participants' points of views, values, and interests, as well as the confrontation and negotiation of conflicts.
Transfer and service activities have been related to:
the development and the application of interactive, multimedial and virtual reality systems in the fields of education, popularization of scientific culture and cultural heritage;
the development and the application of artificial intelligence systems for problem solving, planning, cooperation and decision making;
· the organization of child care services and teachers' training;
- organization of structures and initiatives for EELL regarding children's
activities and participation in city life;
· initiatives regarding residential environment and urban environment;
elaboration and utilization, through projects with ASL and EELL, of criteria and instruments for the assessment of early language development and for the early individuation of children at risk;
elaboration and utilization, through projects with EELL, of criteria and instruments for the assessment of child care services;
· counselling on assessment and rehabilitation in language disturbances;
· data and lines of research policy and its evaluation.
the development of approaches and the experimentation of instruments and methodologies for a participated evaluation of social and health services.
6. The Padova Section

The Padova Section. Its library has more than 3.500 monographs and about 150 periodicals. It is accessible via the Internet ( Each year this section publishes on a CD-Rom format the "Notebooks of the Institute of Phonetics and Dialectology", which present the researchers and their collaborators' work.
The following themes are addressed in their research:
· Theoretical, experimental and instrumental (articulatory, acoustic, and perceptive) studies of segmental and
suprasegmental units of spoken language in normal and pathological subjects; - Theoretical and experimental studies of phonetic and phonological aspects of prelinguistic and linguistic development in normal and pathological subjects;
Models of production and perception of unimodal and bimodal utterances in normal and pathological subjects;
· Automatic analysis, synthesis and recognition;
Instruments for the assessment and rehabilitation of pathologies in oral and written communication as well as in singing;
Collections of linguistic materials, surveys on Italian dialects of Romance origin and on linguistic minorities from different places of
origin, especially on Cimbrian languages and Italo-Albanian dialects; - Elaboration of collected data and publication of regional and
interregional linguistic monographs;
· Analysis of the phones of Italian dialects.

7. "Raffaello Misiti" Cognitive Sciences and Technologies Library
In 2002 the library of the ISTC was named after Raffaello Misiti. On that occasion we aimed to promote both its image and its function as well as to boost its activities related to its external users, mainly cognitive sciences scholars and graduate students, and students of psychology, linguistics, artificial intelligence, etc. We also promoted cultural activities under the name of the library itself. Within this perspective we organized a number of seminars on "Science and Society", in collaboration with the Institute of Neurobiology and Molecular Medicine of CNR.
This year a conference entitled " Research as a strategic vision" was organized in memory of Raffaello Misiti.
8. Technical-administrative support activities

The technical-administrative support activities, which have been carried out in these years, have been manifold and more complex than in the past. The heavy administrative burden derived not only from the great number of extraordinary projects and the variety of financing sources, both internal and external, but also from the new tasks that are related to decentralization and that the Institute has to perform.
The organization of support activities was deeply revised and restructured, both in the procedures and tasks, as well as in the aggregations and roles. The direction made use of time contracts and work groups as regards scientific, transfer and image issues, the administrative and managerial reform, and the technical support.