Alex B. Fine

NIH Post-doctoral fellow
Department of Psychology
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
e-mail: abfine "at" "jeemail dot com"
Office: Psychology 838

Research overview

My research seeks to understand how humans are able to think and act in the face of variability in the environment. Cognition and perception involve making inferences about the world on the basis of noisy and variable sensory data. A growing body of work suggests that humans overcome variability by adapting to the statistics of novel environments. Understanding adaptation has been the focus of a great deal of research in perception and motor planning. In my research, I examine adaptation in human language processing as a way to ask fundamental questions about what it means to know and use language, and about adaptation and learning broadly construed.

Human language is highly variable in the sense that talkers and authors use different sounds, words, and syntactic constructions depending on facts about the talker (e.g., age, geographic origin) as well as the conversational setting (e.g., whether we are speaking informally at a bar or formally in an academic job interview). Variability in human language is widely documented; however, the way in which humans are able to understand language in spite of this variability has been studied relatively little, especially in higher-level language processing (e.g., processing syntactic and semantic information). In my research, I ask how humans understand spoken and written language with such apparent ease despite the variability, noise, and ambiguity that pervade the linguistic signal, focusing on syntactic processing.

Right now I am collaborating with Sarah Brown-Schmidt, Gary Dell, Thomas Farmer, Florian Jaeger, Lizz Karuza, and Duane Watson


I graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Linguistics in 2006. Not convinced that I had acquired enough experience poking humans with cold instruments, I got a job as a research technician for two years in Helen Tager-Flusberg's lab at Boston University. After that I spent five years doing a joint-PhD in Brain and Cognitive Sciences and Linguistics at the University of Rochester, where I worked primarily with Florian Jaeger, as well as with Jeff Runner.

After graduating from Rochester, I moved to Champaign, IL, where I'm currently a post-doc in the Psychology Department at the University of Illinois, working with Sarah Brown-Schmidt, Gary Dell, and Duane Watson.


Click here for my CV


(R scripts that generated the analyses and figures in these papers, as well as experimental materials, are available upon request)

Fine, A. B. and Jaeger, T. F. (under review). The role of verb repetition in cumulative syntactic priming in comprehension.

Pajak, B., Fine, A. B., Kleinschmidt, D., and Jaeger, T. F. (under revision). Learning additional languages as hierarchical probabilistic inference: insights from L1 processing. Click here to read a recent blog post about this work.

Fine, A. B., Frank, A., Jaeger, T. F., and Van Durme, B. (2014). Biases in predicting the human language model. In Proceedings of the 52nd Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics. PDF

Karuza, E. A., Farmer, T. A., Fine, A. B., Smith, F. X., and Jaeger, T. F. (2014). On-line measures of prediction in a self-paced statistical learning task. In Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Farmer, T. A., Fine, A. B., Yan, S., Cheimariou, S., and Jaeger, T. F. (2014). Error-driven adaptation of higher-level expectations during reading. In Proceedings of the 36th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. PDF
Fine, A. B., Jaeger, T. F., Farmer, T. A, and Qian, T. (2013). Rapid expectation adaptation during syntactic comprehension. PLoS ONE. Online version (free download)

Fine, A.B. and Jaeger, T.F. (2013). Syntactic priming in language comprehension allows linguistic expectations to converge on the statistics of the input. In Proceedings of the 35th Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Fine, A.B. and Jaeger, T.F. (2013). Evidence for error-based implicit learning in adult language processing. Cognitive Science . PDF

Kleinschmidt, D. F., Fine, A. B., and Jaeger, T. F. (2012). A belief-updating model of adaptation and cue combination in syntactic comprehension. In Proceedings of the 34th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Farmer, T., Fine, A. B., and Jaeger, T. F. (2011). Implicit context-specific learning leads to rapid shifts in syntactic expectations. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society. PDF

Fine, A.B., Qian, T., Jaeger, T.F., and Jacobs, R. (2010). Syntactic Adaptation in Language Comprehension. In Proceedings of ACL Workshop on Cognitive Modeling and Computational Linguistics. PDF

Some recent teaching

R and Mixed effects models for psycholinguists (UIUC, Spring 2014)

Cognitive Foundations (Rochester, Fall 2012)   Proseminar on cognitive psychology tailored to clinical psychology PhD students.

Independent study on adaptation in music and language (Rochester, Spring 2012)   Course covered various readings in implicit and statistical learning in music and language processing (co-taught with Florian Jaeger and Dave Kleinschmidt).

Data analysis: General linear applications II (TA, Rochester, Spring 2012)   Graduate-level introduction to ANOVA and linear regression (instructor: Harry Reis)

Statistical analysis and experimental design (TA, Rochester, Fall 2010)   Introduction to experimental design and data analysis for undergraduate cognitive science majors (instructor: Dave Knill).


I like dogs and heavy metal.