Departament de Tecnologies de la Informació i les Comunicacions
Language and Comparative Cognition

I am currently an ICREA Research Professor at the Center for Brain and Cognition. I studied Psychology at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, and then moved to the Universitat de Barcelona for a Ph.D. After graduating, I spent three years as a postdoc with Jacques Mehler at the LCD lab at SISSA. My research is focused on how humans acquire and process language and music. Besides studying this issue with adults and infants, I also approach it from a comparative perspective, doing studies with animals. For example, some time ago, we showed that rats can extract prosodic information present in speech in a similar way human infants do (a study that recently was named as one of the five best Ig Nobel prize-winning scientific papers). More recently, we demonstrated that animals outperform humans in a rule learning task, very likely because non-human species lack linguistic representations that constrain pattern extraction in human adults and infants.

To have a better idea of our current work, this article presents a general summary:

Toro, J.M. (2016) Something old, something new: Combining mechanisms during language acquisition. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25, 130-134.

These two articles also present a general overview of our approach to language and music processing:

Mueller, J., ten Cate, C. & Toro, J.M. (2020) A comparative perspective on the role of acoustic cues in detecting language structure. Topics in Cognitive Science, 12, 859-874.

Toro, J.M. & Crespo-Bojorque, P. (2017) Consonance processing in the absence of relevant experience: Evidence from non-human animals. Comparative Cognition & Behavior Reviews, 12, 10.3819/CCBR.2017.120004.


Some selected publications on...

Language processing:

Toro, J.M. & Crespo-Bojorque, P. (2021). Arc-shaped pitch contours facilitate item recognition in non-human animals. Cognition, in press.

Toro, J.M., Nespor, M., & Gervain, J. (2016). Frequency-based organization of speech sequences in a non-human animal. Cognition, 146, 1-7.

de la Mora, D., & Toro, J.M. (2013). Rule learning over consonants and vowels in a non-human animal.Cognition, 126, 307-312.

Toro, J.M. Nespor, M., Mehler, J., & Bonatti, L. (2008).  Finding words and rules in a speech stream: functional differences between vowels and consonants. Psychological Science, 19, 137-144.

Pons, F., & Toro, J.M. (2010). Structural generalizations over consonants and vowels in 11-month-old infants. Cognition, 116, 361-367.

Toro, J.M., Sinnett, S., & Soto-Faraco, S.  (2005).  Speech segmentation by statistical learning depends on attention. Cognition, 97, B25-B34.

Toro, J.M., & Trobalón, J.B.  (2005).  Statistical computations over a speech stream in a rodent. Perception & Psychophysics. 67, 867-875.

Toro, J.M., Trobalón, J.B., Sebastián-Gallés, N.  (2003).  The use of prosodic cues in language discrimination tasks by rats. Animal Cognition, 6, 131-136.

Music cognition:

Celma-Miralles, A. & Toro, J.M. (2020). Non-human animals detect the rhythmic structure of a familiar tune. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 27, 694-699.

Pagès-Portabella, C. & Toro, J.M. (2020). Dissonant endings of chord progressions elicit a larger ERAN than ambiguous endings in musicians. Psychophysiology, 57, e13476.

Crespo-Bojorque, P. & Toro, J.M. (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, J.M. (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. 


If you want to check some citation metrics, please visit my Google Scholar profile. Alternatively, this is my ResearcherID


Our research is funded through competitive national and international grants from both the public and private sectors. They include the European Research Council (ERC; Starting grant), Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación, Bial Foundation and AGAUR. Researchers working at the LCC group have been supported by personnel grants including the Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowships, and the FI and FPI predoctoral grants. 


Our studies have received some honors and awards, including:

Premio Extraordinario de Doctorado. Universitat de Barcelona.

Ig Nobel on Linguistics.

Cambio magazine  "50 personajes de Colombia".

Mención de Honor (Categoría de Ciencias Físicas, Exactas y Naturales), Fundación Alejandro Angel Escobar.


Besides the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, I have also had the opportunity to work on other great labs:

Language, Cognition and Development Lab. SISSA/ISAS (Trieste, Italy), with Jacques Mehler.

Primate Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, U.S.A), with Marc Hauser.

Center for Language Sciences.  University of Rochester (Rochester, NY, U.S.A), with Richard Aslin.

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience.  University College of London (London, UK), with Uta Frith.