Cognition in Complex Environments

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The Cognitive in Complex Environments Group combines researchers in the areas of cognition, perception and development. Our aim is to understand mind and brain, through the study of neuro-typical humans (including both adults and children), examination of atypical populations (including people with brain injury and neuro-developmental disorders) and the invest‌igation of animal models (including lesion studies and single cell electrophysiology).‌

Cognitive Neuroscience

The Cognitive Neuroscience group is a collection of researchers whose work spans across the domains of perception, memory, language, and action. Collectively, we are interested in understanding the functional and neural mechanisms that support mind and behaviour. Our long-term goal is to understand cognitive processing in rich, complex real-world physical and social environments – taking Psychological Science out of the laboratory and into the real world. We are pursuing this through the development of a diverse set of research methods – combining multiple physiological measures.

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. One of our current priorities is the development of mobile-cognition, based around the idea of the ‘instrumented person’, a suite of wearable technology that allow us to apply experimental methods in real-time outside the lab, including mobile eye-tracking, mobile electromyography and heart rate variability, mobile electroencephalography and location tracking.


We have a purpose-built human electrophysiology research centre -The Psychological Imaging Laboratory - which hosts twin 64-channel EEG recording chambers for use in Event-Related Potential (ERP) research. The laboratory is part of SINAPSE (a Scottish Funding Council Pooling Initiative in Brain Imaging). The Division also has a Vision Lab with stereoscopic viewing systems and a Perception Suite.

A picture of a student being prepped for EEG

Academic Staff

NameArea of ResearchContact
Prof David Donaldson Is interested in understanding how cognitive abilities such as memory and language work, examining both their functional and neural basis.
Dr Paul Dudchenko Is interested in how animals form, maintain, and modify their "cognitive maps", focusing on how individual neurons code information in the brain.
Dr Elena Gheorghiu Is interested in human visual perception and how the brain processes visual information. My studies of human vision focus on the relationship between the initial stages of vision that detect local features and the intermediate-to-higher stages of vision that connect these features to form contours, textures, surfaces and shapes. My research is aimed at understanding the relationship between the low and intermediate-to-higher neural mechanisms that are functionally relevant in everyday life.
Dr Ross Goutcher Is interested in understanding how the brain represents information about structure in depth, and how the brain accounts for uncertainty when making perceptual decisions.
Dr Catherine Grainger Is interested in cognitive and developmental psychology and understanding the nature of autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Dr Magdalena Ietswaart Is interested in the area of neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience and investigates perception and action. The research investigates how action is represented in the brain and how this knowledge can be applied clinically
Dr Jan Kuipers Is interested in speech perception and the development of a mental lexicon in mono- and bilingual infants and toddlers using Event Related Potentials (ERP) and eye-tracking techniques
Dr Yee Lee Shing Is interested in how human cognition develops across the lifespan, making use of both neuroimaging and multivariate developmental methodology. In her research on episodic memory (i.e. memory situated in time and place), Dr Shing examine how the associative and strategic components interact and regulate memory changes across different life periods.
Prof Roger Watt Does research into computational explanations of human visual perception, principally centred on the concept of an image description language as a common stage for all visual tasks. This work is complemented by psychophysical studies of spatial and temporal aspects of human vision. Although rooted in fundamental issues of visual representation and space, this work has been applied to a number of visual tasks, including more high level ones like reading pages of text and face perception. For demonstrations of Rogers' work click here.
Prof Lindsay Wilson Is interested in brain abnormality in patients with head injury, and identifying corresponding psychological changes.


NameArea of ResearchContact
Ms Anna Smith Spatial navigation
Dr Graham Mackenzie EEG markers of memory and familiarity of faces.
Dr Jamie Murray EEG and memory.
Dr Joanne Park EEG and memory, application to sport.
Dr Rebecca Sharman Mirror Symmetry Perception
Dr Damien Wright Visual symmetry and perception.

Honorary Staff

NameArea of ResearchContact
Prof Bill Phillips Is interested in theoretical accounts of the computational abilities of the cortex, particularly the cognitive disorganisation associated with schizophrenia.
Dr Helen Ross Is interested in the Moon Illusion and other outdoor perceptual illusions.

Postgraduate Students:
Heather Branigan, Lindsay Horton, Danielle Kelly, Roman Goj, Simon Ladouce, Georgia Alexandrou, Laura Carey.


Child and pink bucket‌In their first year of life, children undergo crucial changes in their perceptual, motor, cognitive, and social abilities. By systematically observing these changes we aim to gain understanding in what stimulates and what constrains child development in these different domains. Such understanding is of vital importance to determine (a) why some children face problems in their development and (b) how these problems can be treated using evidence-based practice.

The Psychology at Stirling University has a long history of excellence in developmental research.  We are concerned with several questions: How do children distinguish good intentions from bad intentions? How do they know what other people believe and want? How do children learn language? When do children start to experience complex emotions such as regret and relief? How do children process faces, and how do typically developing children differ from children with autism and children with Williams Syndrome? Are outdoor activities enhancing children’s creativity and learning process?

Playgroup Research Picture of childPlaygroup research Pic child with parent


Stirling University provides excellent resources in the area of developmental psychology. Amongst these are the on-site preschool playgroup (3 to 5 years) and the parent-toddler group (new-born to 3 years). Access to these groups is invaluable for both researchers and students of developmental psychology. The playgroup offers excellent research facilities, including several video-monitored testing rooms and a one-way mirror observation room. We use a variety of approaches, ranging from observational studies, free-play paradigms, and experimental studies, including eye-tracking, and we are developing a child neuroimaging (EEG) lab. Children within the playgroup have the chance to participate in new research ideas with staff members trained in child care and communication. 

Room with slide

All research projects are created with health and safety in mind, are passed through a University ethics committee and will not be taken unless parental consent is given, as parents are asked when the child enrols.

 Main Researchers

NameArea of ResearchContact
Dr Jan Kuipers Is interested in speech perception and the development of a mental lexicon in mono- and bilingual infants and toddlers using Event Related Potentials (ERP) and eye-tracking techniques.
Dr Sarah Vick Is interested in nonverbal  communication, human animal interactions and outdoor learning
Dr Eva Rafetseder Is in the area of reasoning and its development in children aged 3 to 14 years, specifically cognitive development of counterfactual reasoning.
Dr Yee Lee Shing

Is interested in how human cognition develops across the lifespan, making use of both neuroimaging and multivariate developmental methodology. In her research on episodic memory (i.e. memory situated in time and place), Dr Shing examines how the associative and strategic components interact and regulate memory changes across different life periods.
Dr Stephen Langton Is interested in eye gaze in children with autistic spectrum disorders (the use of luminance and geometric information).
Prof Peter Hancock Is collaborating with Debbie Riby on face processing in children with autism and with Williams syndrome
Prof Christine Caldwell I am interested in social learning, traditions, and cultural evolution, in nonhumans and humans.
Dr Elizabeth Renner Dr Elizabeth Renner is working with Dr Christine Caldwell to study social and individual learning at different ages.
Dr Line Caes Dr Line Caes research interests are in paediatric psychology, with a specific interest in the psychosocial aspects of pediatric pain
Dr Mark Atkinson I’m interested in how and when children use different types of information to learn. In particular, I’m looking at how children learn from adults and other children, and how this may be different to how other primates use social information. I’m also interested in language acquisition, and how children may play a part in changing a language as they learn it.
Dr Catherine Grainger is interested in cognitive development, and how cognitive processes differ in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD)
Dr Yee Lee Shing is interested in how human cognition develops across the lifespan, making use of both neuroimaging and multivariate developmental methodology.

 Honorary Research

NameArea of ResearchContact
Dr Robin Campbell Is interested is the development of intentionality - how children come to refer to different sorts of things in thought, talk or drawing. Robin also has an active interest in the history of developmental psychology (see 'Language Development: Pre-Scientific Studies', in Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics, Elsevier, 2006).

Postgraduate Students:
Joshua March, Charlotte Wilks

If you would like to talk to any of our researchers on their projects please don't hesitate contacting the researcher, clicking on the name will take you directly to their home page.



Face Research

steve_peter_morphStirling has a long history of face research. We study almost all aspects of face perception, including low level visual processing, adaptation, gaze perception, social perception such as mate preference and attractiveness, mechanisms of recognition and forensic aspects such as unfamiliar face matching and eye witness recovery of memories for faces.

We run an MSc in the psychology of faces. We host the face research mailing list and the PICS face database. The EvoFIT facial composite system was developed here.

If you have some time, please participate in online studies.


We have a dedicated face research lab, with testing cubicles, a Tobii eyetracker, a 3D camera system and a meeting room.  Other facilities include the Psychological Imaging Laboratory and the Playgroup.

Tobii eyetracker in use


NameArea of ResearchContact
Prof David Donaldson Human memory and ERPs; familiarity and recollection effects for faces.
Prof Peter Hancock Representations for face recognition, modelling human performance.  Forensic applications; face matching and facial composite systems.
Dr Stephen Langton Capture and direction of attention by faces.
Dr S Craig Roberts Human mate choice; determinants of attractiveness.
Dr Sarah-Jane Vick Analysis of expressions, especially in non-human primates.
Prof Roger Watt Understanding low level human vision; interpreting the information content of faces.

PhD Students

Nadia Ayal

Funding: We have attracted funding from many sources, including: BBSRC, ESRC, EPSRC, CSO, Leverhulme, Wellcome Trust, British Academy.

Postgraduate Provision: We run MSc programmes in Psychological Research Methods (Psychology of Faces; Autism Research; Bilingualism Research; Cognition and Neuropsychology; Perception and Action; Child Development; evolutionary Psychology) and welcome PhD applications.

The Cognition in Complex Environments Group is holding weekly meetings to discuss new papers and interesting topics.  Meetings are held every Thursday during semester time at 12:30pm in the common room of Psychology (3A90). 

Contact For general enquiries about research, or PhDs please contact: Peter Hancock Professor in Psychology
Psychology, Faculty of Natural Sciences
University of Stirling
Stirling, FK9 4LA
01786 467675
© University of Stirling FK9 4LA Scotland UK • Telephone +44 1786 473171 • Scottish Charity No SC011159
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