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Department of Psychology

Our Research Interests

We focus on a number of developmental aspects of social perception and cognition, including: (1) The perception of human action;(2) The perception of biological motion; (3) Understanding others through joint attention, eye gaze and (4) Social factors in health during early childhood and (5) Methodology. We use a number of techniques in order to investigate these issues, including EEG/ERP and behavioural paradigms.

Human Action

Understanding others' action sequences is fundamental for perceiving complex aspects of human movement, such as detecting goal directed behavior and intentional actions. Perceiving these aspects of human behaviour is necessary for abilities that are essential for human cultural skills, such as imitation and language learning. The neural basis of action processing as seen in the adult brain raises some fascinating questions for developmental psychologists.

Biological Motion

How does the identification of conspecifics change within the first postnatal year? Identifying others of the same species is a foundational skill that is required for further increments in social-cognitive abilities. One fundamental topic in the developmental sciences must therefore be how human infants, with limited experience, nonetheless discriminate various forms of motion. It is an area ripe for the examination of the role of experience in such cognitive skills.

Eye Gaze and Joint Attention

This research focuses on the parameters of infant social cognition in terms of understanding the social function of eye gaze. As infants move past the neonate stage, social capacities increase phenomenally. We are investigating the social detection and use of eye gaze and possible use of the direction of the gaze as an attentional cue. We are particularly interested in how eye gaze scaffolds to potentially more complex aspects of social cognition, such as joint attention.

Social Factors in Health during Early Childhood

Our interest in this area is in bridging the gap between social and cognitive psychology and health psychology. For example, infants from 6 to 12 weeks often suffer extreme colic pain. The effect of colic on parent-child interactions is a highly understudied area of developmental psychology.

Methodology 

As psychologists, we often use very precise and complex devices to assess elements of human behaviour or brain activity.  As a developmental psychologist, it has become increasingly clear to me that many of the techniques that we use are co-opted from adult research, despite the fact that this has implications which have not been fully considered. A recent theme of my publications has been to explore elements of the methods that are regularly used and to understand how infant populations have specific characteristics that impact on obtained results.