Cognition in Complex Environments

The Cognition in Complex Environments Research Group conducts research in the areas of cognitive neuroscience, developmental psychology, face research, visual perception, and autism research.

We hold weekly meetings online on Fridays at 3pm GMT. You can follow us and request to attend our talks via the Cognition Research Group in Stirling (CoRGiS) X account.

Two researchers, one with toy parrot, and child with pirate hat run an experiment

Our mission

Our aim is to understand the mechanisms guiding human perception, cognition, action, language, and social interaction. We provide the innovation, understanding, and evidence base for the promotion of global security, good health, equality, sustainability, and effective and inclusive learning environments.

Through our work, we actively contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Nine square blocks in a grid with numbers and icons relating to the sustainable development goals

Psychology postgraduate and PhDs

We run MSc programmes in Psychology and we also welcome PhD applications.

Our students enjoy research-led teaching and have opportunities for hands-on lab work within the research hubs. Our Psychology division is a frequent recipient of Carnegie Trust, BPS, and EPS research bursaries enabling our students to develop their research and communication skills. 

About our research

Cognitive neuroscience

The Cognitive Neuroscience group are researchers whose work spans across perception, memory, language, and action.

Collectively, we are interested in understanding the functional and neural mechanisms that support mind and behaviour. Our goal is to understand human cognition in complex and dynamic real-world scenarios. We pursue this by taking some research out of the laboratory and into the real world using a diverse set of research methods – combining multiple physiological measures.

Find out more about our Centre for Mobile Cognition.

We are motivated by the belief that the future of Psychology lies in multi-disciplinary and impact-oriented research, underpinned by strong theory, rich data and powerful computational analysis. We are confident that basic research and impact go naturally together, and that high-quality research investigating complex naturalistic behaviour provides exciting opportunities to develop and test psychological theories.


In the early years of childhood, children undergo crucial changes in their perceptual, motor, cognitive, and social abilities. By systematically testing and observing these changes we aim to gain understanding of what stimulates and what constrains child development in these different domains.

Such understanding is of vital importance to determine: (a) how we can promote optimal health and wellbeing for all children; (b) how we can ensure that all children thrive in education and beyond; and (c) how inequalities in child development outcomes can be reduced. Our research provides an invaluable window on the structure and origins of human cognition and the applications of this knowledge to improving children’s lives, thereby supporting the development of evidence-based interventions and theory.

Psychology at the University of Stirling has a long history of excellence in developmental research. We have our own in-house Kindergarten and specialist lifespan research laboratory.

The University of Stirling also has a research group dedicated to autism research: the Stirling Autism Research (STAR) Lab.


Research projects past and present

ARED Project

Funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The Agency, Rationality and Epistemic Defeat (ARED) project aims to explore the origins of human rational thought by comparing how infants, dogs, and pigs form and revise their beliefs. ARED is an interdisciplinary research project between philosophy (Dr Giacomo Melis), developmental psychology (Dr Eva Rafetseder & Dr Kirsten Blakey) and animal cognition, in collaboration with the Messerli Research Institute.

Illustrating Adventurous Play

Funded by the Froebel Trust.

In this seed project, Dr Lily FitzGibbon will use a participatory approach to develop and validate a new pictorial self-report measure of adventurous play for use with 3- to 7-year-olds, an age-group whose viewpoint is rarely taken in quantitative play research. This new measure will form the critical lynchpin for further research advancing understanding of the role of adventurous play for children’s health, wellbeing, and learning.

SAND Project

Funded by the Jacobs Foundation & the Leverhulme Trust

In the SAND Project, Dr Eva Rafetseder explores the effects of schooling across neurocognitive development. Entering formal schooling is a major transition in almost every child’s life.

Despite the transformative nature of this experience, most countries adopt a somewhat arbitrary cut-off date to determine when a child will enter school. Many parents face the difficult decision of whether their child should enter school as soon as they're eligible or wait another year. We're a group of developmental psychologists who are interested in finding out about the changes in the brain and in the mind of kids as a result of formal schooling.

It’s Toxic for Girls: A Gendered Experience of Stem Classes in High School

Funded by Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).

Following a longitudinal, ethnographic study of a cohort of adolescents through their high school experiences; this study led by Dr Carol Jasper offers an insight into the reasons underpinning female exit from STEM roles.

The presentation of vignettes of systemic prejudice and the normalisation of sexism at institutional, classroom, and inter-pupil levels indicates that inequality can be manifest throughout female STEM career trajectories from Secondary schooling onwards.

Face research

Stirling has an outstanding record of face research. We study various aspects of face perception and memory, including low level visual processing, adaptation, gaze perception, developmental, mate preference and attractiveness, and mechanisms of recognition. We also cover forensic and neuropsychological aspects such as unfamiliar face matching, eye-witness memory, and identifying markers of covert face recognition (prosopagnosia, concealed face recognition).

We host the face research mailing list and the PICS face database. Find out more about Stirling Face Lab.

Visual perception

Stirling Visual Perception group combines expertise of several academic researchers, each with their autonomous lines of research, which all have the common aim of understanding how the brain processes visual information that enables us to see and interact with the environment. 

Our main research areas include how the human brain processes shape, colour, texture, depth and motion; how we can track and segregate the dynamics of objects moving through everyday visual scenes; how focusing on some elements of visual (and multisensory) scenes affords them a processing advantage and how this focus fluctuates when we engage in a monotonous or demanding task for a while.

Our research approaches span different areas of visual neuroscience including human visual psychophysics, electrophysiology (EEG/ERP), computational approaches, as well as the neuroimaging of brain rhythms, either intrinsic or stimulus-driven, as indicators of cognitive functions, in concert with other physiological markers of one's current state of arousal, wakefulness and vigilance, such as pupil dilation.

Autism research

The Stirling Autism Research (STAR) team consists of a group of autistic and non-autistic autism researchers based at the University of Stirling, Scotland.

We are passionate about autism research that makes a meaningful difference, and we have a particular focus on wellbeing. We believe that autism research can and should play a positive role in autistic people’s lives, and we acknowledge our responsibility as researchers in the narratives surrounding autism and autistic people.

Stirling Autism Research (STAR) comprises a range of researchers from different disciplines, such as psychology, neuroscience, social work and healthcare. Our aim is to conduct high-quality research, which aims to better understand the strengths and difficulties experienced by autistic people across the lifespan, to improve the quality of autistic people’s lives. Through our growing professional research network, we facilitate collaborations and research across the autism community, and engage in inter-disciplinary research with other universities and service providers.

Our research includes topics such as: mental health, wellbeing (e.g. anxiety, depression) and quality of life (e.g. social integration, everyday functioning, environmental, motivation); minority stress, community connectedness and autistic identity, autism acceptance and stigma, camouflaging, ageing, future thinking (thinking about the future), prospective memory (remembering to remember) and metacognition (thinking about thinking), executive function (e.g. planning, decision making, behaviour regulation).

Find out more about Stirling Autism Research.

Our research facilities

We have state-of-the-art and world-leading research facilities.

Our Psychological Imaging Laboratory  hosts three 64-channel EEG recording suites (part of the Scottish Imaging Network: A Platform for Scientific Excellence), including one fitted with an eye tracker, and Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) devices.

The Centre for Mobile Cognition has a suite of wearable technology that allows us to apply experimental methods in real-time outside the lab, including a portable electroencephalography (EEG) system, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), mobile eye-tracking, mobile heart rate variability (HRV) and electromyography (EMG) systems, and location tracking.

In developmental psychology we have an on-site Psychology Kindergarten (3 to 5 years) which offers invaluable access for both researchers and students. The kindergarten offers excellent facilities, including several video-monitored testing rooms and a one-way mirror observation room. We conduct observational studies, free-play paradigms, and experimental studies, including eye-tracking, and we are developing a child neuroimaging (EEG) lab. Children within the Kindergarten have the chance to participate in new research ideas with staff members trained in childcare and communication.

We have a dedicated Face Research Lab with testing cubicles fitted with several high-resolution remote eye trackers (Eyelinks, Tobii, SMI, Eyetribe), a 3D camera system and a meeting room. We also have a state-of-the-art facility for simultaneous recording of eye movements, autonomic activity, facial micro-expressions and vocal responses - The Conface Lab.

Our perception labs provide psychophysics equipment such as fully integrated computerized psychophysics system e.g., ViSaGe stimulus generators (programmable hardware system), ultra-high-precision displays (Display++), high-precision photometry and Wheatstone stereoscopes, as well as VR and AVR equipment, high resolution eye tracking and stereoscopic viewing systems.

We have a dedicated lab space for autism research.

Our research is supported by a wide range of funders including the BBSRC, ESRC, EPSRC, ERC, CSO, The Leverhulme Trust, The Wellcome Trust, The British Academy.

Independent researchers

Stirling Psychology offers a vibrant and supportive environment for independent research fellows working on any aspect within our research groups, and we are always keen to welcome new members.

Join us at Stirling

Members of the Cognition in Complex Environments Research Group

Research group members

 Column one lists members of the group and column two describes each member's area of interest.

Name Interests
Georgios Argyropoulos Episodic memory, emotion regulation, eye-tracking, psycholinguistics, cognitive neuroscience, neuropsychology.
Jordi Asher

Visual perception (motion, depth, 3D shape, contrast), disorders in visual perception (migraine, stroke), assistive technologies using mixed reality (AR, VR, XR), perceptual learning for neural plasticity.

Anna K. Bobak Super-recognisers, individual differences, face memory, face perception, psychological assessment, generalisability crisis.
Thora Bjornsdottir Social face perception, first impressions, social group memberships, inequality.
Eilidh Cage Autism, mental health, autistic identity, autism stigma, camouflaging, higher education.
Christine A. Caldwell Social learning, cultural evolution, cumulative culture, cognitive development, animal cognition, metacognition.
Benjamin Dering Electroencephalography (EEG), Alcohol-induced memory blackouts, binge-drinking, Cognitive Neuroscience, visual perception, episodic memory.
James Dowsett Neural oscillations, brain stimulation and consciousness.
Paul Dudchenko Spatial cognition, navigation, head-direction cells, place cells, hippocampus, memory.
Kumiko Fukumura Human language communication, spoken production, language comprehension, eye-tracking, psycholinguistics.
Elena Gheorghiu Visual perception (shape, texture, colour, depth, motion), visual adaptation, perceptual organisation, neuropsychology of vision, emotion understanding, computational vision.
Ross Goutcher Visual perception (motion, depth); binocular vision; computational vision; multisensory perception; scene segmentation; perceptual decision-making.
Catherine Grainger Cognitive and developmental psychology: understanding the nature of autism spectrum conditions (ASC).
Peter Hancock Face perception, face recognition, holistic processing, facial composites, computer modelling, neural coding.
Magdalena Ietswaart Perception and action, learning, real-world neuroimaging, neuro-rehabilitation and diagnostics, dementia prevention, sports medicine.
Chithra Kannan Face-trait judgements, implicit cognition, face processing among developmental populations (Prosopagnosia, autism, alexithymia).
Christian Keitel Visual and multisensory cognition, attention, human performance, brain rhythms, neuroimaging.
Dimitrios Kourtis Joint action, human-robot interaction, action perception, object affordances, handedness, EEG.
Jan R. Kuipers Bilingualism, speech production, learning, memory, selective attention, dyslexia.
Gemma Learmonth

Visuospatial attention, pseudoneglect, cognitive aging, laterality, stroke rehabilitation, non-invasive brain stimulation (tDCS/tACS/tRNS and GVS), static/mobile EEG and neurofeedback.

Anthony J. Lee

Face perception, social judgements, mate preferences, romantic relationships, evolutionary psychology, measurement and assessment.

Stephen R. H. Langton Social attention, face perception, face memory, visual attention.
Gema Martin-Ordas Evolution, development, episodic memory, future thinking, time.
Ailsa E. Millen Recognition memory (faces, objects, scenes), covert recognition, concealed recognition, visual attention, deception, metacognition.
Eva Rafetseder Socio-cognitive development, counterfactual reasoning, counterfactual emotions, theory of mind, belief revision, imitation.
Arran Reader Action imitation, body representation, cognitive neuroscience, movement, transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Research staff

Column one lists research staff and column two describes each staff member's area of interest.
Name Interests
Kirsten H. Blakey Socio-cognitive development, social learning, belief revision, metacognition, cumulative culture, prosocial behaviour.
Monique Botha I am currently a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Stirling for a project entitled 'Fragile Knowledge: Dehumanisation and Interpretation Bias in Autism Research'.


Postgraduate students

Samuel Bennett (Supervisors: 1st Benjamin Dering, 2nd Elena Gheorghiu)

Sebastian Gregersen (Supervisors: 1st Benjamin Dering, 2nd Pamela Rackow, 3rd Rachel Crockett, Hon. David Donaldson)

Liivia-Mari Lember (Supervisors: 1st Magdalena Ietswaart, 2nd Angus Hunter)

Duoduo Li (Supervisors: 1st Saihong Li, 2nd Jan Kuipers)

Judith Lowes: (Supervisors: 1st Peter Hancock, 2nd Anna Bobak) Face recognition, developmental prosopagnosia, face, perception, rehabilitation, individual differences,

Alexander Martin (Supervisors: 1st Peter Hancock, 2nd Stephen Langton)

Marisa McKinlay (Supervisors: 1st Eilidh Cage, Catherine Grainger. 2nd Mary Stewart external)

Lauren Murray (Supervisors: 1st Ross Goutcher, 2nd Benjamin Dering)

Rosyl Somai (Supervisors: 1st Peter Hancock, 2nd Kevin Swingler)

George Watts (Supervisors: 1st Eilidh Cage, 2nd Catherine Crompton external)

Contact us

For general enquiries about research, or PhDs, please contact the Research Group Leaders:

Dr Ailsa Millen, Lecturer
+44(0)1786 466372


Dr Aysha Motala, Lecturer
+44 (0)1786 467683