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Perception, Cognition and Neuroscience (PCN) Research Group

The Perception, Cognition and Neuroscience (PCN) Research Group is comprised of a group of active researchers working on a variety of projects investigating aspects of perceptual and cognitive processing along with their neural correlates.

The group is built around a set of first-class experimental facilities and we use cutting-edge, scientific methods and analytical techniques. We are committed to research excellence and we disseminate our scientific findings via presentations at high profile conferences and publications in internationally recognised, peer reviewed journals.

We are a friendly and vibrant group of colleagues and the PCN Group provides an intellectually stimulating environment in which to carry our research. If you are interested in forming a collaboration, in joining the group during a research visit or a sabbatical, or you are a prospective Ph.D. student who may be interested in working as part of the team, please contact a group member by email.

The study of human cognition within the School of Psychology and Computer Science is characterised by theoretically led, blue skies, research and applied research with a strong translational basis. Current research includes, but is not limited to:

  • Eye-movement studies of reading processes and search
  • Reasoning, decision making and problem solving
  • Face recognition and the construction and use of facial composites
  • Attentional focus and the impact of task-irrelevant visual and auditory distracters on cognitive processing
  • Non-conscious processing including implicit sequence learning
  • Language learning, cognitive development and developmental disorders
  • Motor learning and execution

Further, our research endeavours are supplemented by a panoply of neuro-stimulation and (electro)psychophysiological techniques that shed light on the neural signatures and mechanisms associated with cognitive processes. Finally, our research on electrophysiological recording methods of neurotransmitters in brain regions has contributed to animal models of disorders such as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), depression and fronto-temporal dementia.

Eye-movements during Reading and Visual Processing

We use eye-movement recording techniques to explore a multitude of aspects of human visual, linguistic and cognitive processing. The on-line measures of eye-movements that humans make during tasks such as reading or search allow researchers to make inferences concerning the nature of moment-to-moment cognitive processes that occur during those tasks. A focus of this type of research has been to investigate how visual and cognitive processes occur for languages with different written forms (e.g., Finnish, Arabic, Chinese, etc.) to assess the extent to which aspects of processing are cross-linguistically common or unique. Further, our research within this domain investigates how behavioural differences provide insight into the characteristics of atypical populations such as those with autism and anxiety, or stroke patients. This work has been supported through external funding from the ESRC, Leverhulme Trust, BBSRC, MRC, DSTL and the Royal Society. Support also derives from UCLan via provision of PhD scholarships and undergraduate internships.

Researchers:

Liversedge, Benson, Degno, Judge, Marsh, Zang.

Face Recognition and Facial Composites

Focusing on face recognition, facial composites and their use in criminal investigation, this research has contributed to our understanding of the processes underlying face perception and has had a direct effect in enhancing the identification of criminal suspects directly resulting in arrests. Our recent theoretical work explores the role of verbalisation in face encoding, description and the accuracy of recognition in yes/no recognition paradigms and identifications from line-ups. This area of research has been part funded by the EPSRC, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust and British Academy and through internal sources of finance.

Researchers:

Frowd, Ball, Chu, Fodarella, Marsh, Richardson, Taylor, Threadgold.

Focused and Selective Attention/Distraction

Our research focuses on understanding how individuals are able to selectively attend to certain information whilst ignoring other irrelevant/distracting information. We investigate how types of memory processes that may be required for a particular task interact with various properties of the background acoustic environment in modulating the susceptibility or invulnerability to disruption. Our work also explores how contextual factors (such as task difficulty) and individual difference variables (such as differences in Working Memory Capacity) help to shield an individual from some forms of distraction. Our recent work has begun to explore the cognitive neurophysiological basis of distraction to offer a window on the underpinning causes of some forms of auditory distraction. Also, within this context, we explore how feedback influences attentional focus, cognitive processing and perceptual responses. This area of research has been part funded by the Bial Foundation, Leverhulme Trust, British Academy and through internal UCLan sources.

Researchers:

Marsh, Ball, Benson, Degno, Fodarella, Frowd, Judge, Liversedge, Massey, Pilgrim, Richardson, Ruhnau, P. Taylor, Threadgold.

Reasoning, Decision Making and Problem Solving

Our recent research has focused on reasoning and decision making within the domain of the environment. We are particularly interested in reasoning biases that occur in the context of judgements of environmental impact when eco-friendly objects are added to conventional objects. Our current research explores the boundary conditions for the occurrence of reasoning bias in this setting and the mitigation of reasoning errors through interventions like nudges. Our research on creative problem solving explores the role of focused attention and verbalisation in the realisation of non-insight and insightful solutions to visually-presented problems. A further focus in this work includes the role of cooperation in group decision making and decision making under pressure. Our work in this area has been funded by the Leverhulme Trust and British Academy and through the provision of undergraduate internships.

Researchers:

Ball, Degno, Marsh, Morley, Robinson, Richardson, J. Taylor, P. Taylor, Threadgold.

Nonconscious/Unconscious Processing

Research on this stream focuses on many topics within social-cognitive and cognitive science. One goal of this research stream is to understand how people function when they are not aware of what they are doing. Another goal is to understand how social and cultural schemas and interaction context impact on conscious and unconscious communication and further, how communication as a strategic behaviour can be influenced by priming and disruption. Other research within this space concerns the extent to which information outside of the current focus of attention (e.g., background sound, information within the parafovea) is processed. We achieve this by investigating immediate and delayed influences of such information on behaviour (e.g., short-term memory, reading/semantic access). Our research also includes implicit language learning in typically and atypically developing children and adults.

Researchers:

McCulloch, Ball, Degno, Denhovska, Liversedge, Marsh, Richardson, Threadgold.

Development, Learning and Processing of Language

The programmes of research within this area include the discovery of how children understand and use their bodily actions (gestures) to influence their language learning and cognitive development, how different forms of language (gesture, speech) interact and combine in multimodal communication and how children learn to read. Other themes within this vein of research include understanding language acquisition, reading and learning in atypically developing children and adolescents and the acquisition of vocabulary through play for children from backgrounds of varying socio-economic status. Funding to support research in this area has been received from the Leverhulme Trust and internal sources.

Researchers:

Furman, Benson, Denhovska, Field, Judge, Marsh, Liversedge, Zang.

Self-Regulation and Affect

Research in these areas explore how self-regulatory processes are implicitly negotiated to achieve daily goals, ways in which the environment can be harnessed to facilitate goal striving, and has made strides in understanding the cultural, mental and physical representations of goals. Integral to the process of self-regulation, we have research lines involving how very simple planning strategies can circumvent the costs of effortful control. We then seek to understand the different points of the goal trajectory that can benefit from these cost-free strategies. Another theme involves how the social milieu affects personal goal striving in experimental and applied settings. Within this field our research explores how typical and atypical individuals (particularly children) with ADHD differentially process social and emotional stimuli and explores the neural signatures of such differential processing. We also explore the additional disruptive power of emotional against neutral distracter stimuli using behavioural and psychophysiological methods. This research has been funded by a British Academy grant and an ESRC Transformative grant (Radical Futures).

Researchers:

McCulloch, Chronaki, Degno, Marsh.

Joint Action and Human Cooperation

Using experimental, archival and field research, we study the behavioural and cognitive processes involved in human interaction and cooperation, including how deficiencies in communication can be used to understand and resolve situations of conflict. This research has strong impact in its emphasis on communication as a diagnostic tool, for example, in decision making and information gathering contexts. In the context of negotiation, our research explores how power and verbal mimicry affects cooperation, specifically we explore whether verbal mimicry interferes with, or facilitates, problem solving when a task is competitive or co-operative and when the power dynamic is symmetrical or asymmetrical. In investigative interviewing contexts, we explore the behavioural metrics and antecedents of rapport building as a tool to facilitate information sharing. This research extends further to real-world contexts such as those relating to cybersecurity, where we have a current research programme examining the cognition of adversaries working cooperatively and language-based markers of insider threat that can be diagnostic of active insider attacks. This area of research has been part funded by DSTL and through internal sources of finance.

Researchers:

Richardson, Ball, McCulloch.

Perceptual-Motor processing

Our research within this research space includes examination of the underpinnings of short-term memory. We critique and reappraise the dominant, classic view of short-term memory wherein there purportedly exist special modules within the cognitive architecture that are dedicated solely to the function of short-term memory. Our research provides support for an alternative view of short-term memory retention which supposes that it reflects a by-product of general-purpose perceptual and motor skills. Our recent attempts aim to re-evaluate the cognitive neuroscience of verbal short-term memory and learning within a perceptual-motor framework. Other research within this area explores the priming of visual-motor processing through pictures of hand postures and motor learning among dentists and interventions to improve dentist motor performance.

Researchers:

Marsh, Ball, Furman, P. Taylor, J. Taylor.

Research Degree Supervision

Our staff are supervising several research degree students (both funded and self-funded) that span a variety of topics and that draw on various research methodologies. These topics include eye-movements and reading (Supervisors: Liversedge, Degno, Judge), creativity and mindfulness/mind-wandering (Supervisors: Judge & Ball), auditory distraction (Supervisors: Marsh, Ball, Threadgold), mathematical reasoning (Supervisors: Furman, Liversedge), facial composites (Supervisors: Frowd, Marsh, Richardson, Threadgold), Language-markers of insider threat (Supervisors: Richardson and Ball), Hyper-brain markers of successful joint action (Supervisors: Richardson and Ball) and vocal emotion and visual-spatial attention (Supervisors: Chronaki and Liversedge).

Impact

One project that has been particularly impactful is EvoFIT, led by Professor Charlie Frowd. This is a software system for witnesses and victims to evolve the face of a criminal. It has been shaped by over 20 years of research, and is ongoing (e.g., incl. 10 MPhil / PhD students carrying out EvoFIT-related projects in the School). Individuals can now identify people from EvoFIT composites, on average, around 70% of the time. For the past decade, we have been training and supporting the police to use this system. To date, there have been over 5,000 composites constructed in criminal investigations by 30 police forces in the UK and overseas.

Dr Sarita Robinson has been working with Lancashire Fire Service to deliver training to firefighters on understanding decision-making processes when under pressure. Sarita also undertakes extensive public engagement activities, talking at summer festivals, contributing to print media and has been a radio and TV expert explaining cognitive neuroscience topics to a lay audience.

Dr Andy Morley works with m62 visual communications to exploit visual cognitive dissonance to improve immediate and delayed memory retention from content presented in slides used during presentations.

One project that has been particularly impactful is EvoFIT, led by Professor Charlie Frowd. This is a software system for witnesses and victims to evolve the face of a criminal. It has been shaped by over 20 years of research, and is ongoing (e.g., incl. 10 MPhil / PhD students carrying out EvoFIT-related projects in the School). Individuals can now identify people from EvoFIT composites, on average, around 70% of the time. For the past decade, we have been training and supporting the police to use this system. To date, there have been over 5,000 composites constructed in criminal investigations by 30 police forces in the UK and overseas.

Dr Sarita Robinson has been working with Lancashire Fire Service to deliver training to firefighters on understanding decision-making processes when under pressure. Sarita also undertakes extensive public engagement activities, talking at summer festivals, contributing to print media and has been a radio and TV expert explaining cognitive neuroscience topics to a lay audience.

Dr Andy Morley works with m62 visual communications to exploit visual cognitive dissonance to improve immediate and delayed memory retention from content presented in slides used during presentations.

The Perception, Cognition and Neuroscience research group holds an exciting programme of seminars presented by guest speakers or members of the School’s own staff and student research community.

Seminars are held on Wednesdays at 4:00 pm (unless advertised otherwise) in the DB254 Room, Darwin Building. Currently, due to COVID-19 restrictions, we run the seminar series online.

We have a mailing list we use to advertise the seminars and to communicate any change in the programme. Please contact Dr Federica Degno (fdegno@uclan.ac.uk) if you would like to join the mailing list.

2020/2021 Programme

  • 4 November 2020, 4:00pm. Dr Adam Parker, University of Oxford (UK). Effects of reading and spelling ability on return-sweep behaviour.
  • 4 November 2020, 4:00pm. Dr Martin Vasilev, Bournemouth University (UK). Return-sweeps and oculomotor targeting during reading.
  • 18 November 2020, 4:00pm. Dr Alexandre Marois, Thales Research and Technology Canada, Quebec City (Canada). Eyes have ears: A systematic examination of the pupillary dilation response as an index for auditory attentional capture.
  • 18 November 2020, 4:00pm. Professor François Vachon, Université Laval, Quebec City (Canada). The Semantic Deviation Effect: A New Form of Auditory Distraction?
  • 9 December 2020, 4:00pm. Dr Eleanor Ratcliffe, University of Surrey (UK). Nature as a means to support social and creative flourishing
  • 9 December 2020, 4:00pm. Professor Terry Hartig, Uppsala University (Sweden). Attention restoration in natural environments: Mixed mythical metaphors for meta-analysis
  • 16 December 2020, 4:00pm. Dr Yoed Kenett, Technion Israel Institute of Technology (Israel). Mapping the creative mind and brain.
  • 16 December 2020, 4:00pm. Dr Roger Beaty, Pennsylvania State University (USA). Mapping the creative mind and brain.
  • 13 January 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Katherine Labonté, McGill University (Canada). Action slips in a procedural task: The effect of interruption complexity and modality.
  • 13 January 2021, 4:00pm. Helen Hodgetts, Cardiff University and Cardiff Metropolitan University (UK). Studying the mechanisms involved in the resumption of an interrupted dynamic task.
  • 27 January 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Chuanli Zang, University of Central Lancashire (UK). A Guide to Calculate Power Analysis and Effect Size.
  • 10 February 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Kayleigh Warrington, Nottingham Trent University (UK). A Beginners Guide to Bayes Factor Analysis.
  • 10 March 2021, 09:30am. Professor Xingshan Li, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing (China). How Chinese Readers Segment Incremental Words?
  • 10 March 2021, 09:30am. Professor Simon P. Liversedge, University of Central Lancashire (UK). Word segmentation and identification during Chinese reading: Testing the MCU Hypothesis.
  • 24 March 2021, 4:00pm. Professor Patrik Sörqvist, University of Gävle (Sweden). Some observations of cognitive effects in sustainable consumer behaviour.
  • 24 March 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Jiaying Zhao, University of British Columbia (Canada) and University of California, Berkeley (USA). How can psychology contribute to sustainability?
  • 21 April 2021, 4:00pm. Prof Emily Elliott, Louisiana State University (USA). A journey into Open Science: Multi-lab Direct Replication of Flavell, Beach, and Chinsky (1966): Spontaneous Verbal Rehearsal in Children.
  • 5 May 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Cristina Fodarella, University of Central Lancashire (UK). The importance of detailed context reinstatement for the production of identifiable composite faces from memory.
  • 5 May 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Philipp Ruhnau, University of Central Lancashire (UK). Non-invasive electric brain stimulation – current approaches.
  • 19 May 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Daniel Jolley, Northumbria University (UK). The psychology of conspiracy theories.
  • 19 May 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Gordon Pennycook, University of Regina (Canada). Intuition, reason, and social media.
  • 2 June 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Bernhard Angele, Bournemouth University (UK). Does online masked priming pass the “Turing test”?
  • 2 June 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Denis Drieghe, University of Southampton (UK). The impact of hyperlinks, skim reading and perceived importance when reading on the Web.
  • 30 June 2021, 4:00pm. Dr Andreas Widmann, Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Magdeburg and University of Leipzig (Germany). Separation of the parasympathetic and sympathetic contributions to the pupil dilation response.
  • 30 June 2021, 4:00pm. Professor Nicole Wetzel, Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, Magdeburg and University of Applied Sciences Magdeburg-Stendal (Germany). Distraction of attention by novel sounds: A developmental neurocognitive perspective.

Staff

PhD students

  • Petar Atanasov
  • Laura Campbell 
  • Jodie Rebekah Ellis
  • Christine Green
  • Leanne Horvath
  • Zoe Danielle Hughes
  • Ruth Hurley
  • Rohanna Sells