Psychology Research Seminar Series

The School of Psychology hosts an exciting international range of visiting speakers from universities across the world, giving students and staff the opportunity to find out about the latest advances. Details of each talk can be viewed in the abstracts below.

Seminars take place on most Wednesday afternoons between September and March, from 16:00 until 17:00, with tea, coffee, and biscuits available from 15:30. A question and answer session will follow immediately after the talk.

These seminars are not open to the general public, but are for staff and students of the University of Plymouth and associated institutions. 

Autumn Semester 2018 - PSQ Stonehouse Theatre, 16:00

21 November 2018 Judy Reed Edworthy University of Plymouth Shut the beep up! A new safety standard for medical devices

  • We’ve known for a very long time that typical clinical device audible alarms, as embodied in a global medical device standard IEC 60601-1-8, are poor along many dimensions and are largely unfit for use. However, changing the content of an international standard is a very slow process with many costly and time-consuming phases and pitfalls along the way. Thus those unfit alarms have remained in the standard long after they were known to be poor. It took the lucky coincidence of the prospect of a revision of the standard due late 2019, a REF deadline of 2020 and some lucrative consultancy contracts to fuel the process of updating the standard. The update includes conducting the underpinning research, development, and committee work (largely in the US) which I have been carrying out since 2015. In this talk I describe some of these studies and will talk about the progress of this new standard, and its potential to improve clinical safety.

28 November 2018 Mark Briffa University of Plymouth Animal personality as a cause and consequence of aggressive behaviour

  • Consistent variation in behaviour between individuals of the same species has been described in a diverse array of animals. These include examples of mammals, birds, fish, crabs and simple gelatinous creatures that lack a central nervous system.  Usually described as animal personality, this type of variation is interesting for two reasons. First, if behaviour is a potentially labile trait, what constraints on behavioural plasticity prevent all individuals from expressing the full range of behaviours seen across the population as a whole? Second, if natural selection is expected optimise behaviour, why do we even see this range of behavioural phenotypes, rather than a single adaptive average way of behaving? We have approached these questions in the context of animal contest behaviour, where individuals fight one another for ownership of a valuable resource. Our experiments on fighting hermit crabs and sea anemones provide insights into what might constrain the expression of behaviour and how recent experience of aggression could explain some of the variation in behaviour that we see across individuals. In turn, accounting for personality variation can also help us to gain a better understanding of the evolution of aggression itself. In this talk, I will discuss what ‘personality’ means to a behavioural ecologist interested in crabs and sea anemones, and will touch on the statistical approaches that provide a framework for investigating animal personality. Then I will show how these animals fight other individuals of the same species, and how consistent differences in behaviour can drive the unequal distribution of critical resources.
5 December 2018 Sue Denham University of Plymouth Auditory scene analysis: support and challenges for predictive coding 

  • Perception seems so simple. I look out of the window to see houses, trees, people walking past, the sky above, the grass below. I hear birds in the trees, cars going past, the distant sound of an alarm. The world is full of objects that make their presence known to me through my senses – what could be more simple? Yet the efficacy of perceptual experience hides a host of questions for which we do not yet have the answers. Information reaching our senses is generally incomplete, ambiguous, distributed in space and time and not neatly sorted according to its source, so a key function of our perceptual systems is to discover the likely causes of our sensations. Perception as inference or hypothesis testing, formalised in the predictive coding theory, offers an attractive framework for exploring these issues. From this perspective, regularities or patterns provide perceptual systems with some traction, allowing the formation of expectations and a basis for decomposing the world into discrete objects. But in the dynamic world which we inhabit, object representations must be similarly dynamic, and need to form and dissolve, dominate and yield, in a way that facilitates veridical perception. In this talk I will discuss auditory scene analysis in the context of predictive coding using experimental data, exemplar models, and the phenomenon of perceptual multistability.

12 December 2018 Colin Davis University of Bristol 

Cracking the code with the help of subliminal priming and big data

  • A key outstanding problem in the field of visual word recognition is the quest to crack the orthographic code underlying reading. This theoretical focus has led to the emergence of multiple competing models of the orthographic code. A powerful tool for testing these models is a type of subliminal priming called masked form priming. In this talk I’ll offer a new account of how this type of priming works. I’ll then discuss data from large-scale priming experiments conducted across many universities (including Plymouth!). Testing thousands of participants allows us to achieve a high level of precision, and thereby to adjudicate between models better than ever before. These data motivate a new model of orthographic coding that can explain 99% of the variance in a large set of priming estimates. This model may have interesting implications for the relationship between reading and memory for serial order.


Previous seminars in Autumn Semester 2018

14 November 2018  Lennart Verhagen University of Oxford  On the future of neurostimulation and neuroimaging

  • Neuroimaging and neurostimulation tools have reshaped the landscape of psychology research. Despite, or perhaps because of, their tremendous popularity the development of core fMRI, EEG, MEG, TMS, and tCS functionality has all but halted. Instead, the advances of tomorrow seem to be made on a myriad of far-out fronts. In this talk I would like to present a small and humble selection of recent advances in these fields: 1) multi-band multi-echo fMRI acquisition, 2) unified cross-species MRI analysis, and 3) a novel tool to achieve non-invasive deep brain neuromodulation with high precision: transcranial focused ultrasound. Following the main talk, I would like to invite a discussion on the future of neurostimulation and neuroimaging, focussing both on technological advances and on opportunities created by changing culture, including open-science and machine-learning approaches.


7 November 2018 Tom Beesley University of Lancaster  Attentional mechanisms of human associative learning

  • Attentional processing is at the heart of human learning, since there exists a very clear reciprocal relationship: as we start to learn about the world, our attention is biased in interesting ways, and these attentional biases affect how we learn in the future. In this talk I will describe recent work exploring the role of uncertainty in guiding attention and learning. These data suggest an important distinction should be made between "expected" and "unexpected" uncertainty. When we expect a certain level of uncertainty, we appear to be less vigilant to changes in our environment, and hence learning occurs more slowly. In contrast, the sudden onset of uncertainty appears to engage both attention and learning. I will discuss how these effects might be handled by classic models of associative learning


31 October 2018 Ellie Lloyd University of Plymouth Terms of engagement as a pre-context for person centred care: theory building from qualitative data

  • This seminar will explore the role of social interaction in notions of person centredness, drawing on the primary analysis of data from an evaluation of the Integrated Personal Commissioning programme in the southwest of England. We will also explore the process of generating Realist (Baskar, 2008) and other programme theories from qualitative data. The IPC programme is part of a movement in the NHS towards promotion of person-centred care. It aims to break with paternalistic, biomedical tradition by engaging in a guided narrative and collaborative planning process with people with long term conditions to consider ‘what matters to you rather than what is the matter with you’ and to identify what they want to achieve in social and psychological, as well as physical, wellbeing. A health budget may be allocated to achieve their goals.  In this study, participants did not always find it easy to express their aspirations and identify how the programme could best support them, finding ‘empowerment’ unfamiliar in this context. They engaged in discourses of candidacy and ethics and since they were familiar with a national narrative of scarcity, suspected ulterior motives of the service. One of the unanticipated outcomes of the process was the formation of social networks among the participants, who were identified by a health selection process as people who ‘fall through the gaps’ of care, such that the participant group itself became an unintended resource of the programme. The findings balance a model of ‘person’ centredness that focuses on the uniqueness of the individual, with a relational perspective that considers the person within a social context, which also includes the health professional. (Naldemirci, 2016).


24 October 2018 Elsa Fouragnan University of Plymouth  Testing the causal role of cortical networks underlying decision-making

  • The neural basis of decision-making has recently become one of the central topics in systems and cognitive neuroscience. In this talk, I will discuss our recent progress in understanding the neural correlates of value-based decision making in humans and non-human primates. I will illustrate that a multimodal approach which brings together computational modelling, neuroimaging and neurostimulation can be used to identify distributed networks associated with decision making while at the same time provide causal and mechanistic evidence for the functional contribution of the brain regions comprising these networks.
17 October 2018 Charles Abraham University of Melbourne Behaviour Change Interventions: Design and Evaluation, Deconstruction and Implementation

  • The talk will assess how behaviour change intervention is impacting on health, health care and health policy. It will consider how we might develop behaviour change research so as to optimise applied impact. Co-creation of interventions will be highlighted in order to ensure acceptability, sustainability and effectiveness in practice. The talk will illustrate how better use can be made of available scientific evidence in relation to information provision, persuasive communication and behavioural regulation, drawing on the Information Motivation Behavioural Skills Model. It will be argued that an experimental approach to identifying modifiable regulatory process and selecting change techniques is foundational to effective behaviour change design. This will be considered in light of the reflective impulsive model of behavioural regulation. The importance of process evaluation of interventions will be emphasised and the use of meta-analyses to retrospectively identify modifiable processes and intervention features associated with effectiveness will be discussed. Finally NUDGEs will be briefly discussed.

10 October 2018 - Dr Nicole Robinson Queensland University of Technology Humanoid robotics in healthcare in Australia

  • Nicole Robinson is a Research Fellow for the Australian Centre of Robotic Vision on the Humanoid Robotics project: An R&D project supported by the Queensland Government. Nicole will discuss the current state of humanoid healthcare robotics in health clinics and hospital services in Australia, including recent developments in humanoid social robotics that can be applied to new healthcare treatments and interventions.

03 October 2018 - Dr. Maggie Brennan University of Plymouth - “We can’t arrest our way out of this”. Challenges, Requirements and “what works” in the management and prevention of online child sexual offending behaviour.

  • Research on online sex offending has documented dramatic rises in the scale and impact of Child Sexual Exploitation Material (CSEM), and related sexual offences. The combined challenges of offence volume and complexity has made prosecution and case management increasingly difficult. Moreover, a lack of emphasis on the integration of empirically-based good practice in the management and prevention of online sex offending has created major practical challenges for the police, courts, probation, mental health and other services responsible for risk management and treatment provision decisions. In 2014, the International Association for the Treatment of Sexual Offenders supported the establishment of the International Working Group on Best Practice in the Management of Online Sexual Offending (IWG_OSO). Led by Dr Maggie Brennan (University of Plymouth), Prof. Derek Perkins (West London Mental Health Trust and Royal Holloway, London) and Dr Hannah Merdian (University of Lincoln), the group engaged in a in a wide-ranging review of international research, practice and policy on the management and prevention of online child sexual offending. Focus was given to current challenges in online sex offending, associated professional needs, and good management and prevention practice. The IWG_OSO has now completed the first phase of its work, which includes the above-described review and the results of an international Delphi consultation exercise. This involved offender management, mental health and therapy services, policy makers, law enforcement and researchers, from an initial cohort of over two thousand participants. In this session, we will review the major findings and recommendations of the first report of the IWG_OSO, with attention to specific challenges, requirements and good practice across offender management and prevention spheres. Using relevant case examples, we will discuss current challenges and possible management and prevention solutions advised by the IWG_OSO stakeholders in relation to risk assessment and treatment interventions, policing, prevention methods and research – as well as reviewing persistent barriers to change.





Seminars in Spring Semester 2018

25 April 2018 – Dr Huw Williams University of Exeter The – usually – hidden brain injury: a target for violence prevention?

  • Neurodisabilities (NDs) have been known to be present in people in custody. The links between NDs and crime are not well understood. Crime is, of course, multi-determined with a host of risk factors. However, we have identified how Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) is a key factor in violent crime. It is linked to earlier, more violent and persistent, offending. Importantly, it can be managed. More than half of people in prisons have had brain injury. Many with significant injury (2 in 10).  Brain Injury leads people to being impulsive, poor at problem solving, and with poor social communication skills – with increased chances of mental health and drug misuse. TBI is a key factor in the development of "Personality" factors linked to offending - particularly from childhood and young adulthood.  We have shown that TBI in young people in custody (average age 16) is linked to suicidality. Various bodies in UK (YJB & MoJ, NICE, Justice Committees of Scottish and London Parliaments), New Zealand (Youth Justice), France (Ministry of Health) and USA (Juvenile systems New York) have implemented new initiatives to take account of TBI. To improve rehabilitation of offenders, and reduce crime in society. Initiatives include: screening for TBI; TBI Link-workers in prisons and enhanced formulation for vulnerable young people (YJB Wales). By addressing TBI and NDs it is likely that interventions may be improved."

2 May 2018 – Professor Harold Bekkering University of Nijmegen  Exteroceptive and proprioceptive contributions to the prediction of other's actions

  • It is argued that the primary function of the brain is too minimize prediction errors about how the world will look like next. Other agents are affecting the world massively. In series of experiments we investigated the contribution of exteroceptive and proprioceptive experiences  on how well we can predict other's actions to shed some new light on the underlying brain circuits and early cognitive development of action prediction mechanisms.

9 May 2018 – Dr Roger Newport University of Loughborough Unexpected Body Representations

  • The representation of the body in the brain (how our body feels to us) is built on sensory information and prior expectations, the experience of which is only accessible to each individual. Understanding how sensory information modifies (or fails to modify) prior expectations  and vice versa – may be the key to understanding a range of body representation disorders in which the body perceived by the individual is very different from reality. Unexpected body representations that challenge prior expectations and/or modify sensory perception are relatively easy to induce in most healthy individuals, but can these techniques be utilised in clinical populations to help those with distorted body representations?

16 May 2018 – Professor Nicola Bruno University of Parma Understanding Selfies: Theory, taxonomy and data

  • We live in the age of selfies, but selfies have received relatively little attention within the social cognitive sciences. Based on early work on proxemic behavior [proxemics refers to the amount of space that people set between themselves and others] and on partial results already in the literature,  I will propose a theoretical framework for understanding selfies as a novel form of nonverbal communication. This framework proves useful to define a non-arbitrary taxonomy of the selfie genre and to spell out empirical predictions about selfie-related proxemic indices, compositional features of selfie images that can be related to communicative intentions for self-presentation by the selfie takers. I will conclude presenting empirical tests of some of these predictions using different types of selfie databases. A comprehensive understanding of selfies may have implications for theoretical accounts of nonverbal communication, for social policies, and for some technological applications.
21 March 2018 – Professor Steve Strand University of Oxford English as an Additional Language and educational achievement in England.

  • In England there are now over 1.25 million pupils aged 5–16 recorded as having English as an Additional Language (EAL), representing over 1-in-6 (18 per cent) of all pupils. Drawing on a major report he produced for the Educational Endowment Foundation (EEF), Steve will present an analysis of the England National Pupil Database (NPD) and summarise issues regarding trends, demographics and educational achievement of these young people at age 5, 7, 11 and 16. Both cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses will be presented, controlling for a range of confounding variables. Broadly speaking pupils with EAL start school with lower achievement than their mono-lingual English speaking peers, but there is no maths gap at age 11 and a negligible gap in overall achievement at age 16. The presentation will tease out the particular groups and combinations of factors associated with the risk of low educational achievement and consider implications for schools, Local Authorities and national Government, including how they collect and use a wide range of data to identify, fund and address educational needs.


14 March 2018 – Dr Harriet Tenenbaum University of Surrey Children's Reasoning about Economic Inequality

  • Two studies investigated aspects of children's reasoning about economic inequality. In the first study, children completed a Brief Implicit Association Task (BIAT) about social class. Child (aged 7, 9, and 11 years) were also read six vignettes in which an adult protagonist determined outcomes for children from either a lower- or an upper-class background. Although 9- and 11-year-old children demonstrated implicit bias, 7-year-old children did not. It was not until 9 years of age, however, children were able to incorporate information about the likelihood of discrimination into account when deciding whether a class-related behaviour was unfair. In the second study, Participants (8, 11, 14, and 20 years) were asked to judge and reason about the acceptability of social exclusion from novel groups by children and head teachers and were assigned to one of three conditions, in which novel groups varied based on unequal economic status, location, or no reason. When judging a head teacher as a perpetrator, 8-year-olds assigned to the unequal economic status condition rated exclusion as worse than those assigned to the other conditions. In contrast, 14-year-olds assigned to the unequal economic condition rated exclusion as more acceptable than those assigned to the other conditions. 11-, and 14-, and 20-year-olds used reasoning to suggest that they accepted exclusion based on economic inequality. The studies converge in suggesting that with age, people accept economic inequality and do not perceive it as unfair.


7 March 2018 – Dr. Diego S. Maranan University of the Philippines Open University Haplós: Using and contributing to the cognitive sciences by designing vibrating clothing

  • Impactful, interdisciplinary collaboration – in which the sciences, arts, and humanities contribute and benefit equally – is difficult to achieve. In this talk, new media artist Diego Maranan discusses how theories and approaches from the cognitive sciences were brought to bear on a collaborative, interdisciplinary, arts-based research in wearable technology, which in turn led to novel findings and new research directions in the cognitive and social sciences, as well as potential commercial applications. Drawing from somaesthetic philosophy, somatic practices, and technology design, Diego's research culminated in Haplós – a novel, wearable, programmable, remotely controlled technology using vibrating motors that can increase body awareness. In collaboration with members of the Cravings Lab at the University of Plymouth, Haplós was also used in a controlled experiment to investigate how vibrotactile stimuli could influence food cravings. Haplós was also used in RE/ME, a collaborative project exploring how to manipulate the perception of one's body size and shape, and which was recently awarded a grant to enable further development at a technology incubator in the Silicon Valley. Other potential applications of Haplós and tentative recommendations for how to successfully drive art-science collaborations will be discussed.

28 February 2018 – Dr Andrew Logan Bradford University Identifying Impairments of Face Perception with a Novel Clinical Test

  • Faces are amongst the most complex stimuli that the visual system processes. To quantify face discrimination sensitivity, we use synthetic faces which combine simplicity with sufficient realism to permit individual identification. We have developed a new clinical test of face perception which is fast (three to four minutes), repeatable (test-re-test r2=0.795) and can capture normal variability. The Caledonian face test uses an adaptive procedure to measure face discrimination thresholds; the minimum difference required between individual identities for reliable discrimination. A case report of a patient with suspected developmental prosopagnosia indicated that the test is highly sensitive to impairments of face perception (Z-score of -7; c.f. Z-score of -2 for existing face tests). An investigation of the effect of healthy ageing on face discrimination ability revealed that sensitivity to full faces continuously declined by approximately 13 per cent per decade, after 50 years of age. While older adults performed poorer in every aspect of face perception, there was no effect of age for shape discrimination in an otherwise identical test protocol.  This suggests that face discrimination may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of healthy ageing. Current work aims to quantify the effect of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – a leading cause of visual impairment in the UK on face discrimination ability. On average, AMD reduces sensitivity to full faces by a factor of approximately 1.75X.  Our data suggest that AMD does not impair discrimination of all face features equally, but disproportionately reduces sensitivity to those which facilitate aspects of non-verbal communication (e.g. facial expressions).


21 February 2018 – Professor Aldo Badiani University of Sussex Your brain on drugs: Not the same everywhere

  • Addictive drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or alcohol are often thought to be the same in their ability to produce ‘pleasure’ by activating the ‘reward’ circuitry of the brain. In this lecture, I will show that different classes of drugs produce unique neurobiological effects and distinctive internal states, which in turn are exquisitely sensitive to the environment surrounding drug use.


14 February 2018 – Professor Howard Bowman Universities of Birmingham and Kent at Canterbury The Theory and Practice of Breakthrough Percepts, with Application to Deception Detection on the Fringe of Awareness

  • The brain searches the environment for salient stimuli. We argue that this process is, at least in part, subliminal, with stimuli that are salient breaking into awareness. We investigate this breakthrough process with Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP), in which stimuli are presented rapidly (perhaps 12 per second) at the same spatial location. The Fringe-P3 method combines RSVP with EEG to provide a concealed knowledge test, which we have demonstrated has high sensitivity and specificity. Importantly, we have also shown that the Fringe-P3 method is resistant to the standard counter-measures that have confounded other deception detectors. This is due to the rapid mode of presentation, which renders participants unable to identify the control / irrelevant stimulus. Taking inspiration from these counter-measures experiments, we have further shown that in RSVP, evidence does not accumulate across repetitions of a stimulus, unless it breaks through into awareness. This provides supporting evidence for a prediction of the Simultaneous Type / Serial Token model that the representation of episodic information is a conscious process.


2017 Autumn Semester

6 December 2017 – Dr Mark Haselgrove, University of Nottingham Making and breaking a cognitive map

  • Human and non-human animals can use information provided by the geometry of the environment to navigate towards hidden goals. Despite a relative paucity of evidence, environmental geometry has been suggested to constitute a key component of global, allocentric representations of space – The cognitive map (e.g. Gallistel, 1990). Other research, however, has emphasised the role of more local, and egocentric, representations of environmental geometry for navigation (e.g. Pearce, 2009). In this lecture I will present evidence for the use of both of these frames of representation during spatial navigation in virtual environments in human participants. In particular we examined whether navigation based on these two representational frames is susceptible to interference from other spatial information (e.g. landmarks). Our results indicate that both cognitive maps and more local, egocentric, representations of space are susceptible to interference effects such as overshadowing, blocking or the ID-ED effect.

29 November 2017 – Dr Séverin Lemaignan School of Computing, Electronics and Mathematics From children's free play to robot's AI

22 November 2017 – Professor Kenny Coventry University of East Anglia Spatial Demonstratives and Perceptual Space: Describing and remembering object location

  • Spatial demonstratives – terms including 'this' and 'that' – are among the most common words across all languages. Yet, there are considerable differences between languages in how demonstratives carve up space and the object characteristics they can refer to, challenging the idea that the mapping between spatial demonstratives and the vision and action systems is universal. Overviewing findings from multiple experiments, I show direct parallels between spatial demonstrative usage in English and (non-linguistic) memory for object location, indicating close connections between the language of space and non-linguistic spatial representation. Spatial demonstrative choice in English and immediate memory for object location are affected by a range of parameters – distance, ownership, visibility and familiarity – that are lexicalized in the demonstrative systems of some other languages. The results support a common set of constraints on language used to talk about space and on (non-linguistic) spatial representation itself. While demonstrative systems are not diagnostic of the parameters that affect demonstrative use in a language, demonstrative systems across languages may emerge from basic distinctions in the representation and memory for object location. In turn, these distinctions offer a building block from which non-spatial uses of demonstratives can develop.

15 November 2017 – Dr Natalia Lawrence, University of Exeter Apps for Overeating? Using Cognitive Training to Modify Impulses towards Food 

  • This talk will summarise research suggesting that computerised tasks can be used to train response inhibition to foods resulting in reduced food intake and weight loss. Results from controlled lab studies and large-scale real-world studies will be presented. Findings suggest promising training effects in adults and children. I will briefly discuss the possible mechanisms underlying intervention effects and consider how we might be able to optimise this training in order to achieve sustained changes in eating behaviour.

8 November 2017 – Dr Domna Banakou, University of Barcelona The Impact of Virtual Embodiment on Perception, Attitudes, and Behaviour

  • Over the past two decades extensive research in experimental psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and virtual reality has provided evidence for the malleability of our brain's body representation. It has been shown that, under appropriate multisensory integration, a person's body can be substituted by a life-sized artificial one, resulting in a perceptual illusion of body ownership over the fake body. More importantly, several studies in virtual reality have shown that when people are virtually represented with a body different to their own, they exhibit behaviours associated with attributes pertaining to that body. We will explore how we exploited Immersive Virtual Reality to induce body ownership illusions over distinct virtual bodies. By combining the knowledge gained from previous studies in the field, we studied the extent to which people can accept as their own, a virtual body that differs significantly from their real body. Additionally, we examined how an altered self-representation can influence one's self-perception, perception of the environment, and implicit biases. Moreover, by exploiting the basic concepts of action perception and agency, we tested whether it is possible to induce illusory agency over specific actions that are not carried out by the participants themselves.

1 November 2017 – Dr Cordet Smart University of Plymouth Emergent new understandings of small groups

25 October 2017 – Dr Belen Lopez-Perez Liverpool Hope University I want you to Feel Bad: Adults’ and Children’s Motivation in Interpersonal Affect Worsening

  • Every day in their interactions, people (agents) shape and influence others’ emotions (targets). According to the hedonic approach to emotion regulation, people generally aim to increase positive emotions in friends, and induce negative emotions in foes. However, the instrumental approach has shown that adults can be driven by an egoistic motivation and make partners feel bad if they (agents) can benefit from it. In the first study, I will show how adults can also be altruistically motivated by making others feel negative if this can be beneficial for the target’s long-term well-being and it does not entail any direct benefit for the agent of the regulation process. In the second study, I will present some preliminary results with children (8–10 year-olds) which support the hedonic approach; Children only worsened their game rival’s mood even when worsening their game partner’s mood could help them to get a prize. The results will be discussed in terms of how emotion-outcome expectancies may affect people’s efforts to change others’ emotions.

18 October 2017 – Gavin Buckingham Sport and Health Sciences, University of Exeter Weight Illusions – what do they represent?

  • How good are we at determining how heavy something is? It turns out that we're actually pretty poor at this simple-seeming perceptual task. Indeed, there are several compelling illusions in which various identically-weighted objects feel as if they weigh different amounts from one another. For example, in the size-weight illusion, small objects can feel up to 50 per cent heavier than identically-weighted large objects. Various studies seem to indicate that prior expectations cause the size-weight illusion, but the mechanisms behind this robust perceptual effect are not well understood. I will present data from a number of studies examining real and illusory weight perception in a range of different situations and special populations which might get us (incrementally) closer to understanding the physiological and psychological factors which drive our experience of an object's weight.


11 October 2017 – Dr Gunnar Schmidtmann Eye and Vision Research Group, Plymouth University A Novel Database of Facial Expressions of Mental States: The McGill Face Database

  • Databases of facial expressions of mental states typically represent only a very small subset of expressions, usually the basic emotions of fear, disgust, surprise, happiness, sadness, and anger. In order to expand the range of stimuli available for psychological and neuroscientific research (e.g. theory-of-mind), we have developed and validated a large database of pictures of facial expressions of mental states. 93 different expressions of mental states were interpreted by two native English-speaking professional actors. High-quality colour pictures were taken under controlled lighting and perspective conditions both in front view and side view, resulting in 372 different pictures. Results from two different validation experiments demonstrate the reliability and applicability of these stimuli. The database is available in English, French and German and is freely available for scientific, non-commercial purposes. In a pilot experiment, 20 healthy subjects and four patients with schizophrenia were tested with a subset of faces from the new database. The database was applied before and after a Social Cognitive Intervention Therapy. Preliminary results show that after the therapy the emotional states are perceived more 'strongly' than before, i.e. the patients classified the emotions more 'correctly' compared to pre-treatment performance.

4 October 2017 – Dr Becky Stancer (previously McKenzie) Plymouth Institute of Education Autism, NIHR and RDS: experiences of applying for health-related funding


2017 Spring Semester

10 May 2017 – Keith Jensen University of Manchester  The Heart of Human Sociality

  • Human prosocial behaviour might be unique in the animal kingdom. The fact that we cooperate on a large scale with nonkin might be underlain by psychological mechanisms not seen in their full form in other species. Other-regarding concerns, concern for the welfare of others, might be a core component of human sociality. While empathy might also us to know something about the feelings of others, we need to care about others so that we act. However, the ability to feel into others and to be concerned about others does not guarantee prosociality. We may also be uniquely antisocial, taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others and distress at their happiness. These concerns can motivate a range of behaviours from helping to punishment, from fairness to spite, from morality to cruelty. In this talk, I will present experimental evidence from human children and chimpanzees to suggest that other-regarding concerns emerge early in children and might not exist in our closest living relatives.

3 May 2017 – Henry Otgaar Maastricht University Remembering and believing in the legal context

  • Memory plays a vital role in the courtroom. In the majority of criminal trials, forensic technical evidence such as DNA-samples is lacking. Legal professionals such as judges have to base their decisions then on eyewitness testimonies and statements provided by suspects. Since such statements contain recollections of eyewitnesses or suspects, it is of the utmost relevance that memory experts can help legal professionals in educating them about the role of memory in court. Legal cases and experimental studies have shown that people can falsely remember entire traumatic episodes such as sexual abuse which has led to wrongful convictions. In this talk, I will present the latest work on the role of memory in court. I will do this by presenting new work from my lab and will clarify this work with legal cases in which I was involved as an expert witness. Also, I will make the suggestion that in many cases, people do not remember but merely believe that an event occurred and that such beliefs are likely to play a more important part in court than memory.

26 April 2017 – Chris Harris University of Plymouth Decisions, decisions, decisions

29 March 2017 – Phil McAleer University of Glasgow First impressions of speaker personality from voices

  • Previous work from our group showed that the key personality traits listeners establish upon hearing novel voices can be reduced to a two-dimensional space aligned to ratings of Trustworthiness and Dominance. The 'Social Voice Space' shows remarkable consistency to the main personality traits found in other domains, including face perception, and is proposed to drive our decisions of whether to enact approach or avoidance behaviour. In this talk I will provide a brief summation of the 'Social Voice Space' before presenting results from ongoing work that looks to establish the stability of such personality judgements across changing listener and speaker scenarios. I will conclude by outlining work exploring a proposed positivity bias in older listeners towards younger voices.

22 March 2017 – Claire Braboszcz University of Plymouth Neuroscience of mental imagery

15 March 2017 – Lisa Leaver Exeter University  Cognition in grey squirrels: what we know and why it matters

 1 March 2017 – Paul Artes University of Plymouth Super-Vision – designing new vision tests with hyperacuity stimuli: rewards and challenges.

  • Hyperacuities are a class of visual tasks with exquisitely low thresholds, with performance approximately ten times better than suggested by the spacing of retinal receptors. For example, human observers can detect misalignment between two lines (Vernier acuity), or distortions of a circular object (radial deformation acuity), of the order of a few seconds of arc. This seminar will illuminate some new clinical applications of hyperacuity stimuli for vision measurements in clinical practice, and discuss what innovations will be needed to translate cutting-edge visual psychophysics into practical clinical tools.

22 February 2017 – Daryl O'Connor University of Leeds  Karoshi: Effects of Stress on Health and Wellbeing

  • This talk will argue that stress may indirectly contribute to health risk and reduced longevity to the extent that it produces deleterious changes in diet and/or helps maintain maladaptive health behaviours (e.g. smoking, alcohol consumption) as well as directly by influencing biological processes across the life span (e.g. blood pressure, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis functioning). Studies investigating the relationship between chronic stress, perseverative cognition, the cortisol response and health outcomes will be presented. The second half of the talk will describe recent work investigating the role of HPA axis responses to stress in suicide attempters and ideators. The importance of studying the effects of stress across the life course and developing stress management interventions will also be highlighted.

8 February 2017 – Debbie Mills Bangor University Interactions between language experience, emotion, and executive function: ERP studies of bilingual adults

1 February 2017 – Sylvia Pan Goldsmiths, University of London What is Virtual Reality and How Does it Work for Social Psychologists?

25 January 2017 – Andy Wills University of Plymouth Progress in modelling through distributed collaboration: Concepts, tools, and examples

  • Formal modelling in psychology is failing to live up to its potential due to a lack of effective collaboration. As a first step towards solving this problem, the Catlearn Research Group have produced a set of freely-available tools for distributed collaboration. In this talk, I'll describe those tools, and the conceptual framework behind them. I'll also provide concrete examples of how these tools can be used. The approach I propose enhances, rather than supplants, more traditional forms of publication. All the resources for this project are freely available from the catlearn website.

18 January 2017 – Lorraine Whitmarsh Cardiff University Behaviour change or lifestyle change? Evidence and prospects for behavioural 'spillover'

  • There is increasing acknowledgement that profound changes to individual behaviour are required in order to tackle climate change, and yet policies to achieve these changes have so far met with limited success. Most people are willing to make only very small changes to their lifestyle – so new ways of encouraging green behaviour which can match the scale of the climate change challenge are needed. The UK government and several psychologists have suggested behavioural 'spillover' might be a way to achieve this. Spillover is the notion that taking up one green behaviour (e.g. recycling) can lead on to other green behaviours (e.g. taking your own bags shopping). Ultimately, this might hold the key to moving beyond piecemeal behaviour change to achieving more ambitious, holistic lifestyle change. This seminar will present initial work to explore when spillover does, does not, and could, occur using: UK correlational data, a field experiment of the Welsh carrier bag change, and lab experiments to induce behavioural spillover. Planned work to explore spillover across diverse cultures will also be outlined.


2016 Autumn Semester

14 December 2016 – Iris Englehard University of Utrecht How does EMDR work? A dual-task approach to degrading traumatic memories

7 December 2016 – Anne Dowker University of Oxford Maths Anxiety in Girls

30 November 2016 – Laurence White University of Plymouth The Origins of Speech Anti-Rhythm

23 November 2016 – Felicity Bishop Southampton University Harnessing Placebo Effects in Routine Primary Care: GPs' and Patients' Perspectives

  • Placebos are an essential tool in randomised clinical trials, where they are used to control for bias and contextual healing effects. More controversially, researchers are developing ways of harnessing placebo effects for patient benefit in routine medical practice. In this seminar, I will describe a programme of work investigating professional and lay attitudes to clinical applications of placebo effects. Our web-based survey of 783 UK GPs showed that 97 per cent of GPs have used placebos in clinical practice, and that so-called 'pure' placebos (e.g. sugar pills) are used rarely but 'impure' placebos (e.g. homeopathy) are used frequently. Qualitative analysis of GPs' comments revealed that they perceived a broad array of perceived harms and benefits of placebo-prescribing, reflecting fundamental bioethical principles at the level of the individual, the doctor-patient relationship, the NHS, and society. While some GPs were adamant that there was no place for placebos in clinical practice, others saw placebo effects as ubiquitous and potentially beneficial in primary care. Our focus group and survey research with patients demonstrates similarly strongly-held and diverse views about harnessing placebo effects in routine primary care. If placebo effects are to be better harnessed to benefit patients, then patients and GPs would benefit from educational interventions to dispel myths, challenge misconceptions, and increase knowledge. I will finish by describing our current work to develop such interventions.

16 November 2016 – Jonathan Rolison University of Essex Risk-taking differences across adulthood: A question of age, domain, and self-perceptions.

9 November 2016 – Sobanawartiny Wijeakumar  University of East Anglia 'Shining light' on visual working memory

  • Visual working memory (VWM) plays a key role in visual cognition, comparing percepts and identifying changes in the world as they occur. Previously, functional magnetic imaging (fMRI) has identified activation in frontal, parietal and temporal areas involved in VWM processing. There are, however, various issues with trying to use fMRI to investigate such brain functions in infancy and childhood and even in late adulthood. Instead, one can rely on functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to investigate hemodynamic changes in the cerebral cortex in both typical and atypical populations. Here, we will show a novel image reconstruction approach to move from conventional channel-based to voxel-based fNIRS activation, similar to what is obtained from fMRI analyses. I will validate this approach by comparing voxel-wise fNIRS results to fNIRS results from a VWM task in young adults. I will also present some evidence of using this approach to investigate VWM changes in the brain across the human life span.

26 October 2016 – Bob French University of Borgouyne

  • Games involving cognitive skills of any kind have at least one thing in common: an adult can without the slightest effort beat a five-year-old child at them. With one exception: Concentration. The game works like this. A deck of cards consisting of pairs of various images, for example, pairs of images of various Pokemon characters: two Pikachu cards, two Charizard cards, two Gyarados cards, etc., is randomly dealt out, face down, on the table. Each of the two players takes turns turning over two cards. If they match, they keep that pair of cards and play again. If the two cards turned over do not match, they are turned face down again in their original locations and the other player plays. The game continues until there are no more cards on the table. The winner is the person with the most cards. Clearly this game requires two different memory skills: image-recollection and location-recollection. Along with other researchers, we have shown that adults are very significantly better at both of these memory skills than young children. And yet, children perform as well, and often better, than adults at this game, one that requires both image – and location – recognition! How on earth is this possible? I present a simple connectionist model that provides an insight for a possible solution to this paradox. The model suggests that no separate mechanisms are required for children to achieve their astonishingly good performance on this task. It also suggests a way for you to not be humiliated by being thrashed by your five-year-old child at this game.

19 October 2016 – William Simpson University of Plymouth What causes the other-race effect? Evidence from classification images

2 October 2016 – Graham Turpin – University of Sheffield Books on prescription, self-help and trauma: a cautionary tale

  • Bibliotherapy and self-help are recognized features of many UK mental health services. Since the pioneering work of Neil Frude, Books on Prescription (BOP) Schemes have arisen in many NHS services through partnerships with public libraries. At the same time, the importance of 'Stepped Care Models' of service delivery has been stressed, whereby Psychological Wellbeing Practitioners offer low intensity psychological interventions such as bibliotherapy and self-help. A recent national development by a leading charity involving public libraries, the Reading Agency, has drawn these two initiatives together. The progress made in rolling out nationally the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme covering common mental health conditions, dementia, young people's mental health and long-term physical conditions will be briefly reviewed. It cannot be assumed, however, that every self-help intervention is effective in moderating symptoms and psychological problems. Research on providing self-help information to people who have recently attended hospital Accident and Emergency departments will be presented. Although attendees generally value being given relevant information, no evidence of the efficacy of information provision on moderating symptoms of PTSD was obtained in three independent RCTs. The implications of these studies for self-help provision are discussed.

5 October 2016 – Bahar Koymen Manchester University Putting heads together: Children's reasoning with others

  • Reasoning is classically viewed as an individual skill enabling a person to reach conclusions based on evidence. More recent accounts, however, have highlighted that reasoning – in the more restricted sense of explicating reasons for actions or conclusions – is a fundamentally social skill enabling two or more people to produce and evaluate one another's arguments in order to reach joint decisions (Mercier & Sperber, 2011; Tomasello, 2014). Therefore, in making joint decisions with a partner, children must evaluate the evidence behind their respective claims and so the rationality of their respective proposals. In this talk I will present series of studies in which three-, five-, and seven-year-old children produced and evaluated reasons with their peer partners to reach joint decisions. The findings overall suggest that children as young as three-year-olds are able to reason with others. Children get better at reasoning in late preschool ages and eventually become very 'strategic' reasoners at school ages. Overall, these results support the view of children's joint reasoning as a fundamentally cooperative enterprise aimed at making jointly rational decisions.

2016 Spring Semester

11 May 2016 – Harry Farmer UCL Embodiment

  • The last 20 years have seen an explosion of interest in the self within cognitive science. However, research on this topic has often been disjointed with researchers from cognitive neuroscience emphasising the importance of a bodily form of self which is formed by the integration of sensory inputs and motor outputs while researchers from the social sciences have tended to view the self as an abstract conceptual structure. In this talk I will present a series of studies which investigated whether bodily and conceptual forms of self-representation interact with one another and how this affected our perceptions of other people. I will first present a series of studies which investigated the effect of skin colour on body ownership and found that experiencing body ownership over a hand with the skin colour of a racial out-group led to more positive implicit attitudes towards members of that racial out-group and modulated their empathic motor resonance to painful stimuli on the hand of that out-group member. I will go on to discuss a second series of studies that examined the relationship between trust and body representation using economic games and fMRI.

4 May 2016 – Nicola Byrom Oxford University: Attending to the bigger picture; attentional breadth may be influencing how we construct models of life experience

23 March 2016 – Ian Apperly University of Birmingham How do we take other people's perspectives, and who cares?

  • A growing literature on perspective-taking paints a complex picture. Perspective-taking may be spatial or social; automatic or controlled; and clearly depends on multiple cognitive mechanisms. I will describe some recent results from adults and children that suggest there is order in this chaos. One reason why we should care about this because it provides a powerful framework for investigating individual differences in healthy and pathological perspective-taking.

16 March 2016 – Jelena Havelka University of Leeds Visuospatial bootstrapping effects in working memory

  • It has recently been demonstrated that immediate memory for digits is superior when items are presented in a meaningful 'keypad' spatial configuration. This phenomenon, termed 'visuospatial bootstrapping', involves the integration of verbal and spatial information in working memory via stored knowledge in long-term memory. We have recently explored the basis of this effect experimentally using dual-task manipulations, with outcomes indicating contributions to verbal-spatial binding from spatial working memory and modality-general storage (possibly within the episodic buffer). We have also examined the extent to which the effect emerges in different population groups, including children of different ages, healthy older adults, and individuals with mild cognitive impairment. An overview of this recent work will be provided, along with a consideration of current and future directions.

9 March 2016 – Reinout Wiers University of Amsterdam  Assessing and Changing Implicit Cognition in Addiction

  • Dual process models have described addiction as a combination of relatively strong bottom-up cue-related neurocognitive processes and relatively weak top-down cognitive control processes. In line with this perspective, we found across several studies a larger impact of memory associations and approach tendencies on behaviour in adolescents with relatively weak cognitive. Dual-process models have recently come under fire, but we think they can still be useful at a descriptive psychological level, while more work should be done to illuminate the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms. Moreover, dual process models inspired new interventions aimed at changing relatively automatic processes in addiction, varieties of Cognitive Bias Modification (CBM) paradigms. I will present work on attentional re-training in alcoholism and on approach-bias re-training which have yielded clinically relevant results. I will also present some recent studies concerning online applications of CBM and on the underlying neurocognitive mechanisms in these training studies.

2 March 2016 – Neil Ferguson Liverpool Hope University Leaving violence behind: Disengaging from terrorism in Northern Ireland

  • This presentation explores the processes involved in leaving social movements or disengaging from terrorist activities by providing an analysis of the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Red Hand Commando (RHC) transformation away from politically motivated violence towards a civilian non-military role. Interpretative phenomenological analysis was employed to gain an understanding of participant accounts of leaving violence behind and disengaging from terrorism. Analysis of the interview transcripts revealed the interplay of individual, organisation and societal level processes in incentivising and obstructing disengagement from politically motivated violence. The findings resonate with other case studies exploring the processes involved in disengagement from political violence among other terror groupings across the globe. The results are discussed in relation to a number of topics, including the implementation DDR in post-conflict societies, the dynamic role of collective identity in the engagement in and disengagement from politically motivated violence and the role of prison in shaping disengagement from politically motivated violence.

24 February 2016 – Caroline Rowland University of Liverpool How do children learn grammar? Evidence from production, comprehension and explanatory models

  • Research on language development, particularly the development of grammar, has traditionally focused on debating the extent to which language learning depends on innate knowledge or environmental support. On the one hand, many studies, mainly on speech production (e.g. Pine et al., 1998), have suggested that children start out with pockets of knowledge based round an inventory of item-based frames. This evidence supports an approach that sees grammar development as a gradual process of abstraction across specific instances in the child's input. On the other hand, a different body of work, mainly on language comprehension, suggests that children use abstract grammatical categories from the earliest age tested (e.g. Gertner et al., 2006). This evidence supports an approach that proposes innate syntactic, semantic or conceptual knowledge at the core of grammar acquisition, and which predicts more rapid learning. However, recent work suggests that this is a false dichotomy; children and adults have both abstract knowledge and knowledge centred around lexical items at all stages of development. Thus, the traditional approaches are breaking down. What is replacing them is a focus on explanatory models designed to answer a different question: 'How do the child's learning mechanisms exploit information in the environment to build mature linguistic knowledge?' In this talk I use recent work from our lab to demonstrate what this approach has taught us so far about grammar acquisition, focussing on work that demonstrates what kind of learning mechanism best explains developmental differences in structural priming. I show how this new approach requires that we factor into our models the mechanisms underlying language processing, since the results of all studies on children's language development reflect not only children's knowledge of their language, but also the processing constraints that operate when we produce or comprehend language.

17 February 2016 – Sylvia Terbeck University of Plymouth Recent development of two topics: Music and intergroup relations and Immersive Virtual Reality and intergroup relations

  • Social psychology might benefit from a multimodal approach including insides from music psychology as well as computer science. We recently found that music and synchronised activity might enhance empathy and reduce prejudice. Furthermore, besides using traditional questionnaire based methods we developed a 3D immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) paradigm to study moral and social decisions. We found the IVR paradigm to be superior to previous methods as "dark tirade" personality variables could predict the more realistic IVR actions but not the theoretical decisions. Using IVR might thus have great benefit to the study of psychology, and I will show you how simple *programming* could be.

10 February 2016 – Kristina Suchotzki Wurzburg University, Germany Lie to Me – An experimental investigation of the cognitive mechanisms underlying deception

20 January 2016 – Allegra Cattani University of Plymouth Children's first words and gestures: A cross-linguistic study

  • Word and gesture learning emerge naturally in the child development.  Infants learn to speak and to gesture following the same developmental milestones.  First, a new picture naming task, with standardisation norms of over 370 English-speaking British children, assessing the lexical subcomponents of comprehension and production in toddlers between 19 and 36 months, is presented.  This structured task is then used to examine the lexical ability and the gesture production on a sample of British, Australian, and English toddlers.  The effects of cultural and linguistic differences are explained.

13 January 2016 – Markus Binderman University of Kent  Resource limits as the cause of errors in face matching

  • In face matching, observers have to decide whether two photographs of unfamiliar faces depict the same person or different people. This task is of great applied importance for person identification at airports and national borders, but it is also prone to error. In this talk, I will look at a key cause of these errors.

2015 Autumn Semester

9 December 2015 – Helen Haste University of Bath Civic identity, agency, positioning – and the narratives that fuel civic engagement

  • Stories are the shared memories and aspirations through which we make meaning. They give us explanations about cause and effect, and about what is important to attend to in the past. They position us in relation to others and other groups. Stories both shape and reflect our identity, and they fuel our efficacious engagement with social issues. Attitude measurement, the "gold standard" of social research, can at best only capture the superficial level of beliefs and especially of motives. Drawing on data from China and South Africa, I argue that we should be seeking explanations of civic and social action and civic identities in the narratives that are central to people's identities

2 December 2015 – Christian Fullgrabe  MRC Institute of Hearing Research, Nottingham Beyond audibility – Age-related changes in speech perception despite clinically normal hearing

  • Anecdotal evidence and experimental investigations indicate that older people experience increased speech-perception difficulties, especially in noisy environments. Since peripheral hearing sensitivity declines with age, lower speech intelligibility can often be explained by a reduction in audibility. However, aided speech-perception in hearing-impaired listeners frequently falls short of the performance level that would be expected based on the audibility of the speech signal. Given that many of these listeners are older, poor performance may be caused by age-related changes in supra-threshold auditory and/or cognitive processes that are not captured by the standard clinical assessment – the audiogram. The presentation will discuss experimental evidence obtained from clinically normal-hearing adults showing that auditory temporal processing, cognition (e.g. processing speed, attention, memory), and speech-in-noise processing (from phoneme identification to paragraph comprehension) are indeed linked and, independently of hearing loss, decline across the adult lifespan. These findings highlight the need to take into account these audibility-unrelated factors in the prediction and rehabilitation of speech processing across adulthood.

25 November 2015 – Jon May University of Plymouth 'I can resist anything except temptation': a cognitive-motivational intervention to support abstinence

  • One of the biggest psychological barriers to quit attempts are cravings for the substance or activity from which people are trying to abstain. Elaborated Intrusion theory (Kavanagh, Andrade & May, 2005) explains cravings as cognitive-emotional states in which external or internal cues trigger intrusive thoughts (I need a drink) that are then elaborated, generating embodied images of the desired substance. These images are rich in sensory detail (the appearance, smell and taste of a drink), simulating the desired experience and conveying the pleasure or relief of the real thing. Being proximal and concrete, these highly vivid images dominate experience and drive out the intention to abstain. I shall review evidence from laboratory and field studies testing EI theory, and present some preliminary data on a novel motivational intervention called Functional Imagery Training, or FIT. The focus of FIT is on making the imagery associated with succeeding in a quit attempt richer and more concrete, so that it can compete with the shorter term temptations, and help people to withstand them.

18 November 2015 – Stephanie Dornschneider Buckingham University Whether to Protest: Evidence from the Arab Spring.

  • During mass uprisings, why do certain people join the protests against their governments, while others stay at home? Focusing on structural or organizational factors that contribute to political mobilization, much of the existing literature fails to address this difference in behavior. In response, this presentation draws on the literature on beliefs and belief systems to explore the reasoning processes by which individuals (fail to) decide to join political protests. Focusing on the Arab Spring as a particular case, it examines 121 protestors and non-protestors from Egypt – a country where the Arab Spring protests led to the fall of the president – and Morocco – a country where the head of state did not resign as a result of the uprisings. Information about the reasoning processes of these individuals was gathered through field research (ethnographic interviews) and Facebook groups. To construct reasoning processes from these sources, the analysis applied qualitative methods developed by Strauss and Corbin, coding the people's direct speech into beliefs, belief connections (inferences), and decisions for actions. To analyze these data, which consist of trillions of combinations of beliefs and inferences, the analysis developed a computational model (in Python). The model systematically evaluates the protestors' and non-protestors' reasoning processes, contributing new insight into the sources of political protest.

11 November 2015 – Clare Press Birkbeck, University of London Mapping between action and action perception: Domain-specificity and implications for autism

  • Mechanisms which map between the visual appearance of an action and the motor codes required to perform it are crucial for a range of functions, including imitation and action control, and possibly also play a role in action perception and understanding. The first part of my talk will present some studies addressing the domain-specificity of underlying mechanisms. It will examine whether the mechanisms mapping motor codes to observed actions are separable from those mapping motor codes to associated inanimate events, as required for stamping on the brake pedal when we see a red light. It will also investigate whether action influences perception of predicted sensory consequences in a different manner from inanimate predictive events. The second part of my talk will present work addressing differences in action production and perception in autism, and asking which mechanisms may be functioning atypically.

4 November 2015 – Fred Cummins University College Dublin Prayer, Protest and Football: the Puzzles of Joint Speech

  • Joint speech is an umbrella term covering choral speech, synchronous speech, chant, and all forms of speech where many people say the same thing at the same. Under an orthodox linguistic analysis, there is nothing here to study, as the formal symbolic structures of joint speech do not appear to differ from those of language arising in other forms of practice. As a result, there is essentially no body of scientific inquiry into practices of joint speaking. Yet joint speaking practices are ubiquitous, ancient, and deeply integrated into rituals and domains to which we accord the highest significance. I will discuss Joint Speech, as found in prayer, protest, classrooms, and sports stadia around the world. If we merely take the time to look there is much to be found in joint speech that is crying out for elaboration and investigation. I will attempt to sketch the terra incognita that opens up and present a few initial findings (phonetic, anthropological, neuroscientific) that suggest that Joint Speech is far from being a peripheral and exotic special case. It is, rather, a central example of language use that must inform our theories of what language and languaging are.

21 October 2015 – Stephen Hall University of Plymouth Brain rhythms: where do they come from and what do they mean?

  • Brain rhythms or ‘Oscillations’ are neuronal network phenomena, first recorded almost a century ago. In the time since these first recordings, brain rhythms have been studied across a wide range of species, under many different experimental conditions. Here, I will introduce the topic of brain rhythms, through a discussion of the various cognitive and behavioural functions in which they have been implicated. I will describe some of the basic physiological principles of oscillations and how this relates to our ability to measure them. I will discuss some of the differences between evoked and induced oscillations. Finally, I will explore some of the theories surrounding the potential significance and importance of these phenomena (or epiphenomena?).

2015 Spring Semester

25 March 2015 – Douglas Martin, University of Aberdeen How do cultural stereotypes form? 

  • We all share knowledge of the cultural stereotypes associated with social groups (e.g., Scottish people are miserly, scientists are geeky, men like the colour blue) – but what are the origins of these stereotypes? We have examined the possibility that stereotypes form spontaneously as information is repeatedly passed from person to person. As information about novel social targets is passed down a chain of individuals, what initially begins as a set of random associations evolves into a system that is simplified and categorically structured. Following repeated social transmission, novel stereotypes emerge that are not only increasingly learnable but that also allow generalizations to be made about previously unseen social targets. By understanding how cognitive and social factors influence the cumulative cultural evolution of stereotypes in the lab, it might be possible to gain insight into how stereotypes might naturally evolve or be manipulated.

18 March 2015  Matt Davis MRC-CBU, University of Cambridge Predicting and perceiving degraded speech.

  • Human listeners are better than machines at perceiving and comprehending speech – particularly if the speech signal is acoustically degraded or ambiguous. This is in part because we are better at using higher-level language knowledge to support perception and we are more able to rapidly learn about speech sounds, words and meanings. In this talk I will argue that a computational account of speech perception based on predictive coding explains both our ability to use prior knowledge to guide immediate perception, and longer-term perceptual learning. I will describe recent behavioural, MEG/EEG and multivoxel pattern-analysis fMRI experiments using artificially degraded (noise-vocoded) speech that are consistent with this account.

11 March 2015  Bradley Love University College London Decoding the brain's algorithm for categorisation from its neural implementation

  • How do we learn to categorise novel items and what is the brain basis of these acts? In this talk, I will discuss work using model-based  fMRI analyses to understand how people learn categories from examples. I will focus on category structures that have a rule-plus-exception structure. For example, a child may acquire the rule “If it has wings, then it is a bird,” but then must account for exceptions to this rule, such as bats. Results indicate that the medial temporal lobe (MTL) plays an important role in both recognising and learning exception items. I will end by considering a new method that allows one to use fMRI data to decide between competing cognitive models. Results indicate that the basis of category knowledge is surprisingly concrete (i.e., exemplar or episodic) in nature. This technique allows one to unravel the contributions of different processes (e.g., top-down attention) in shaping observed behaviour.