The Department of Psychology is committed to producing theoretical and applied research of the highest quality.
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Cognition, Emotion and Behaviour
The Cognition group encompasses a wide spectrum of both applied and theoretical research that reflects the multiplicity of interests in our team. For example, a number of our colleagues investigate the cognitive deficits caused by drug misuse. Research by members of the group also looks at certain aspects of memory. These include the development and production of false memories, collaborative remembering, memory conformity, and the effects of mood on prospective memory.
Examples of Cognition, Emotion and Behaviour research
Relationship between theory of mind, executive function and schizotypy.
Dr Adam Qureshi is currently engaged in a project aiming to explore the relationship between theory of mind, executive function and schizophrenia by studying nonclinical individuals who vary in schizotypy and hence not in nonspecific effects of psychiatric illness. Schizotypy proposes a spectrum of experiences and behaviours that can be defined as psychosis-related. Schizophrenia lies at one end of this spectrum, but within the spectrum are the paranoid, schizoid or schizotypal personality disorders.
An investigation of autistic traits, performance on socio-cognitive tasks and the default mode network: An fMRI study.
Some degree of autistic traits, which are behaviours associated with autism, are seen even in those without a diagnosis of autism. Such individuals might still struggle with social language or process them differently to those with fewer autistic traits. This study uses Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) in individuals across the spectrum of autistic traits to investigate: 1. the neural network engaged in pragmatic language processing; 2. whether the overlap in neural network engaged in theory of mind and pragmatic language processing is associated with degree of autistic traits; and 3. whether autistic traits are correlated with the default mode network. MRI can help inform our understanding of the spectrum of autistic traits, by exploring which neural structures and systems are engaged in those socio-cognitive tasks typically impaired in those with autism.
Motor planning and the issue of affordances.
Dr Stergios Makris aims to provide evidence about the modulation of the affordance effect under different types of attention and vision (i.e. “subliminal” affordances). Furthermore, how the ability of detecting affordances is acquired and developed through age. The methodological approaches for the aforementioned studies involve a series of behavioural, eye-tracker and brain-stimulation (single-pulse TMS, rTMS, tDCS) techniques.
Neural and cognitive underpinning of superior action prediction abilities.
Dr Stergios Makris is engaged in this project which consists a series of investigations looking at the causative role of visual and motor action representations in the ability to predict the outcome of actions. This involves investigating cases of every day actions (such as reaching and grasping an object), as well as cases of actions in sports and how professional athletes are better than novices into simulating and predicting the outcome of observed sport actions. The studies involve behavioural, eye-tracker and brain-stimulation (TMS, tDCS) techniques.
How autistic individuals make predictions.
Dr Themis Karaminis current work focuses on the social interaction and communication profiles of autistic individuals, and especially autistic children. This research examines how autistic individuals use knowledge accrued from their recent experiences (‘prior knowledge’) to predict what is in the environment. The project “‘I predict therefore I am!’: The predictive social mind, prior knowledge and autism” is funded by Edge Hill University’s Research Investment Fund and consists studies based on child-friendly ‘computer-games’ and eye-tracking and computational modelling techniques.
Expertise, Development & Neural Plasticity
This research group investigates broad developmental issues related to expertise training and human learning, among children and adult populations. The research domains include perceptual, cognitive, and motoric processes, as well as social issues such as Theory of Mind, autism, dyslexia, among others. We conduct behavioural experiments and observational studies, and employ a variety of research technologies, such as eye-trackers, non-invasive brain stimulation techniques (TMS, tDCS), brain imaging (fMRI, TDI), and computational modelling.
The Expertise, Development and Neural Plasticity research group also hosts two smaller research labs:Autism Lab BabyLab
Examples of Expertise, Development & Neural Plasticity research
Eye Movements of Experts: Dr Damien Litchfield has been primarily investigating how eye movements change and become more efficient as a function of domain-specific expertise. Particular focus has been on visual expertise in medical image perception and using eye-tracking methodology to establish the visual and cognitive mechanisms that underpin why abnormalities such as cancer are still missed in medical image perception. The current research employs gaze-contingent paradigms to explore how eye movements are guided from the first glimpse of a scene and how experience in particular real-world tasks improve visual search (e.g., comparing medical image perception with everyday scene perception). This research program also examines whether such ‘expert’ eye movement patterns are a useful learning cue for novice observers, and if knowing where another person looks may help guide search and performance in real-world tasks.
Child Development: Dr Martin McPhillips predominantly focuses on the motor development of children and young adults with a range of developmental difficulties, including dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, deafness, autism and developmental coordination disorder. Some of the work is lab-based, while other work is field-based with an emphasis on developing motor interventions for children and adults with learning and/or social and emotional problems. From this work, the ‘Primary Movement’ intervention programme has been devised, which is now used in many schools across the UK, Ireland and Western Australia.
How autistic individuals make predictions: Dr Themis Karaminis current work focuses on the social interaction and communication profiles of autistic individuals, and especially autistic children. This research examines how autistic individuals use knowledge accrued from their recent experiences (‘prior knowledge’) to predict what is in the environment. The project “‘I predict therefore I am!‘: The predictive social mind, prior knowledge and autism” is funded by Edge Hill University’s Research Investment Fund and consists studies based on child-friendly ‘computer-games’ and eye-tracking and computational modelling techniques.
VR, Social Synchrony and Anthropomorphism: Atherton and Cross have recently developed applications that measure visual perspective-taking towards given agents in the virtual world. The paradigms allow for sensitive measures of reaction time and analysis using fine-grained eye-tracking data. This has allowed for testing the effects of social synchrony on the ability to take the perspective of other agents. Additionally, a growing body of work has shown that individuals with autism and those with high levels of autistic traits have a particular penchant for anthropomorphism. Following anthropomorphism of agents, autistic people have improved performance on a range of theory of mind and perspective-taking tasks (Atherton et al. 2018, Atherton & Cross 2018; Atherton & Cross, 2021; Cross et al. 2019). Using VR, they have tailored a range of socio-cognitive paradigms to utilise anthropomorphic rather than typically human agents to explore the relationships between movement coordination, prosociality, theory of mind and visual perspective-taking.
Boardgaming on the Autistic Spectrum: In a recent survey of over 3000 board gamers worldwide, Cross and Atherton found that rates of autism were exceptionally high, indicating that board gaming may be a preferred hobby for those on the spectrum. Through a partnership with board gaming company Asmodee, Cross and Atherton investigate how board gaming can foster social connection for people on the autistic spectrum, specifically focusing on social understanding, enjoyment, and perspective-taking. Their three-year-long project explores the impact of boardgaming through a mixed methods inquiry, including year-long interventions at special educational schools and community centers in the Liverpool and Manchester areas, and qualitative interviews and focus groups at existing board gaming clubs for autistic people around the UK. They are also partnering with Asmodee to create modified versions of existing Asmodee board games that are particularly aligned with the play styles and preferences of autistic people. These modified versions, which are included in Asmodee’s Access Plus line of games, will be available to the public within the next few years.
Health, Lifestyles & Wellbeing
The Health research group covers three main themes of research: Social Identification, Health and Cognition, and Health and Sport. Research members investigate a range of psychosocial (e.g. social identities and social support) and contextual influences on behaviour, and attempt to expand theoretical models of coping and adjustment. As a result, this research deals with real-world issues ranging from the social implications arising from racism, motivation, and happiness, to substance misuse, or to the impact of stress, coping, emotion and mental toughness as revealed in the context of sport.
Examples of Health, Lifestyles & Wellbeing research
Drug Misuse and Cognitive Deficits. Professor Philip Murphy’s research focusses on the effects of such drug misuse on different aspects of working memory (i.e. memory which helps us cope with the immediate world around us), with particular attention to executive processes such as the ability to update our representations of what is happening in the light of incoming information, and the ability to switch the focus of our attention. These findings in this field have been published in high profile journals around the world, presented at international conferences, and have received much media attention at times.
Social and contextual influences on substance use. Professor Derek Heim’s research investigates social and contextual influences on substance use and aims to expand theoretical models of coping and adjustment by investigating pragmatically the possibility that psychosocial factors (e.g. social identities and social support) modify adverse effects of negative experiences such as racism or bullying.
Social identity in digital gaming. Dr Linda Kaye’s research explores how social identity operates within digital gaming communities. Namely, whether gamer identity bolsters positive psychosocial outcomes, but also how gaming and other virtual settings can be a mechanism to support social inclusion.
Cognitive, affective and behavioural outcomes in the context of sport. Dr Andy Levy’s research examines the impact of stress, coping, emotion and mental toughness aims to enhance theoretical understanding with a view to informing interventions and applied practice among a range of competitive athletes. Additionally, Dr Dave Marchant’s work concerns (i) effects of attentional focus on movement execution and learning in sport, exercise and rehabilitative settings and (ii) exercise behaviour uptake and maintenance, acute bouts of and long-term participation in exercise and mental and cognitive health, exercise dependence, exertion tolerance
Contextual influences on personality judgement accuracy. Dr Helen Wall leads this research in assessing the accuracy of observers’ personality judgements of targets. This includes an investigation of the behavioural indicators of personality in addition to the behavioural cues used by judges when assessing another’s personality across a range of contexts. Current projects are developing these lines of inquiry by examining the role of online and offline impression management on the expression and perception of personality and draws on a variety of assessment perspectives; namely, self and informant reports of personality and implicit measures.
Substance Use and Misuse Lab
The Substance Use and Misuse Lab investigates the social, biological and cognitive drivers of substance use and misuse. With a view to improving strategies for promoting successful behaviour change, we examine the psychological and social processes shaping alcohol, drug, food consumption and doping, as well as studying the consequences of intake across the lifespan. The Substance Use and Misuse Lab is a member of the Liverpool Centre for Alcohol Research, connected to Liverpool Health Partners.
Our research uses cutting-edge technologies, including Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS), Eye Tracking and Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)/ Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS). We also carry out laboratory-based cognitive experiments, alcohol administration, test blood, hair and saliva under the Human Tissue Act in accordance with Edge Hill University’s Human Tissue Act Committee, and conduct real-time examinations of substance use behaviours, and cognitions, using field observation techniques, interviews, questionnaires and specially designed Smartphone applications.
Examples of research in the lab
- Group processes in alcohol behaviours.
- Substance misuse treatment options for opiate and cocaine users.
- The suitability of providing injectable naltrexone for prisoners with a history of opiate misuse.
- Biopsychological responses to food-related commercials.
- Qualitative perceptions and caloric estimation of healthy and unhealthy foods.
- Sports Participation and Alcohol Use: Associations with Sports-Related Identities and Well-Being.
- Assessing real-time contextual effects on drinking and associated cognitions using Smartphone technology.
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation and its impact on inhibitory control and ad libitum alcohol consumption.
- Using eye tracking, TMS and facial EMG to examine emotional contagion and alcohol consumption.
Insights for the community
Our research is being used to inform community initiatives and support. Specifically this relates to supporting people who may be coming off recreational drugs such as heroin and also about issues relating to alcohol consumption.
In the news
Dr Rebecca Monk and Professor Derek Heim on “Can beauty be-er ignored? The science behind the ‘beer goggles’ effect”
The group comprises researchers who explore a range of interactional and communicational behaviour, using both experimental and qualitative methods, and includes researchers from neuroscience, cognitive, developmental and social psychology. The research of this group offers a major reconceptualisation of human communication, by recognising and prioritising the multimodality of communication. Research focuses on the close connections between gestures, speech and thinking in linguistic generation, speech and nonverbal communication in impression formation in courtrooms, multimodal communication in autism, multimodality in the digital age, the neuroscientific basis of processing multimodal messages etc.
Members of the group focus on a range of different genres of communication, such as online communication, political discourse, communication in socio-legal and work contexts, communication in instruction and learning, communication in clinical settings, communication in negotiation and decision-making etc. The group has both a theoretical and an applied focus, with particular emphasis on identifying communicational features and strategies that are effective in different social, political and cultural contexts. Much of the research is Interdisciplinary in nature involving important collaborations with linguistics, semiotics, criminology, computer science, education and health.
Key achievements are several books and monographs that have changed both academic and public understanding of human communication e.g. ‘Rethinking Body Language’ (Routledge), ‘The Conflicted Mind’ (Routledge) and which have attracted major international interest, in terms of both foreign translations and reviews, major public engagement activities, prestigious public and academic keynotes including at the Museum of London (on behalf of Gresham College), and at the launch of the new International Multimodal Communication Centre at Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA), University of Oxford, October 2019.
Examples of Multimodal Communication research
Interpersonal Perception Accuracy
Dr Helen Wall is leading this area of research in which she is explores the accuracy of personality judgements based on first impressions. Within this, she is exploring what behaviours are key to the accuracy of these personality judgements and how different contexts impact upon these. Here, she is finding that different contexts vary in cue availability (i.e., email, social-networking sites, telephone, face-to-face) and thus shape our first impressions of others. We have recently found that certain online behaviours play a role in certain trait judgements, although these are not always accurate.
Online Behaviour and Interpersonal Perceptions
Dr Linda Kaye and Dr Helen Wall explore the psychological and contextual correlates of particular online behaviours (e.g., emoji usage), as well as understanding how these impact upon personality judgements. Within this, they have recently found personality correlates of emoji use on social networking sites, as well as users’ smiley emojis being associated with a number of positive personality judgements. They are currently furthering this area of enquiry by exploring other online behaviours and the impact these have on personality judgements.
Emotional processing of emoji
Dr Linda Kaye work is currently exploring the the emotional processing of emoji, and how this corresponds to language. Specifically, it is aiming to establish the extent to which emoji are actually processed emotionally. Further will be exploring perceptual relationships between space and properties of sound with emoji. This project is in collaboration with colleagues at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain, Griffith University, Australia and Nottingham Trent University, UK.
Dr Helen Wall in collaboration with Prof. Bernhard Hommel from Leiden University, and Dr Motonori Yamaguchi from Essex University explore the cognitive representations underlying joint performance. In a series of experiments, they have tested a claim that co-acting individuals share a mental representation of the task (co-representation) in order to coordinate actions in a joint task in a series of experiments. Little evidence has been obtained to support co-representation under the condition that co-acting individuals have separate action goals (e.g., pressing keys). However, a new study has provided evidence for shared representations if co-actors share action goals. The project further investigates what aspects of co-actors’ task representations are actually shared between actors in a joint task as well as what factors contribute to shared task representations. The researchers hope that the investigation will reveal how to improve joint performance in everyday activities.
Group and Individual Decision Making in Judicial Contexts
Dr Joyce Humphries and Dr Helen Wall have recently received funding to investigate the role of defendant and juror characteristics on judgements of guilt and attributions of blame. The overarching objective of this research is to develop our theoretical understanding of jury decision making processes by exploring individual (personality factors), social (group processes) and psychological factors (such as mental illness stigma). Specifically, our work will examine the influence of mental illness type on judgements of guilt and attributions of blame in student and community groups.
Rethinking Body Language
Professor Geoff Beattie’s research on multimodal communication has shown that spontaneous iconic gestures are an integral part of speaking and convey core parts of the underlying semantic message. His book ‘Rethinking Body Language’ challenges the established orthodoxy that verbal language and nonverbal communication are separate modalities of communication, instead arguing that they are fundamentally interconnected. His research shows that gestural movements convey core aspects of underlying thinking. The book describes how communication, including television advertisements (in collaboration with ITV) can be made more effective by incorporating iconic gestures. Moreover, since we have little conscious awareness of these movements, these gestural movements can be useful diagnostically for revealing aspects of underlying psychological state. The form and ‘meaning’ of these gestures may not match the accompanying speech and these gesture-speech mismatches can indicate both deception and implicit-explicit attitudinal dissociation. The overarching theoretical position on nonverbal communication is that it is dynamic, intimately connected with verbal communication, and often reflects aspects of thinking that are not articulated in the speech itself.
In the news
Our research has been well received nationally and internationally through the National Press as well as media outlets such as The Conversation.
Geoff Beattie’s book Rethinking Body Language: How Hand Movements Reveal Hidden Thoughts was licensed by Post & Telecom Press for publication in Chinese in 2020:
Geoff Beattie’s novel ‘The Body’s Little Secrets’ (Gibson Square) was reviewed in Semiotica in 2019 by Professor Marcel Danesi from the University of Toronto who wrote:
“‘With his latest novel, Dr. Geoffrey Beattie can now be projected onto the same international platform as the late Umberto Eco, who became famous for integrating semiotic theory with fiction, starting with his bestseller, The Name of the Rose….”There is little doubt, in my estimation at least, that Geoffrey Beattie is Umberto Eco’s successor, displaying an uncanny and ingenious ability to blend his insightful work on nonverbal semiotics with an exceptional sense for narrative in this outstanding roman-a-clef…The theorist and writer crystallize seamlessly in this absolutely wonderful page-turner.””Professor Marcel Danesi
Geoff Beattie gave a keynote on the importance of rethinking body language and the implications of this for counselling at Forum Business Media’s National Counselling and Psychotherapy Conference, London, March 2020.
The Times Education Supplement (TES) did a major article on Beattie’s research on gesture (and its relevance to the teaching profession (‘What body language can do to aide learning’) in 2019.
Geoff Beattie was consultant and on-screen contributor for BBC Bitesize in 2019 on a campaign aimed at younger teenagers on ‘Healthy Relationships’. He made four films for the campaign, all around body language and implicit communication (‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’, ‘When does flirty become creepy’, ‘Body language tips for dating success’ and ‘The body language of love’). The campaign paralleled ‘Love Island’ and involved several contestants from both the current series and previous series of ‘Love Island’.
The Conversation- What psychology can tell us about why some people don’t wear masks – and how to change their minds– By Dr Helen Wall, Dr Alex Balani and Dr Derek Larkin
The Conversation- You can tell more about a person from their Facebook page than by actually meeting them– By Dr Linda Kaye & Dr Helen Wall
The Conversation- What your emojis say about you– By Dr Linda Kaye, Dr Helen Wall & Dr Stephanie Malone
The Conversation- The psychology behind Trump’s awkward handshake … and how to beat him at his own game– By Professor Geoff Beattie
The Conversation- How Donald Trump bullies with his body language- By Professor Geoff Beattie
The Conversation- Why you’re better at whistling than singing– By Dr Michel Belyk
Professor Geoff Beattie joined Russia’s Central Television program to discuss: “Analysing politicians’ body language”