School of Psychological Science

Research topics

The FaceLab is currently researching a number of key topics.

Person Perception Program (as part of the CCD)
Subtle cues to a person’s identity, gender, ethnicity, age, attractiveness, emotional state, and direction of attention can be effortlessly read from the face, body and voice, and used to guide social interactions. We aim to understand the perceptual, cognitive, neural and evolutionary mechanisms underlying this expertise, and how these mechanisms emerge through development. An important goal is to determine how such processes develop differently in the neuro-developmental disorders of autism and developmental prosopagnosia so that effective interventions can be developed to enhance person perception, and ultimately, social functioning and quality of life in these individuals.
Impaired face processing in autism spectrum conditions
Individuals with autism spectrum conditions demonstrate a range of face processing differences and deficits, relative to typical individuals. These face processing atypicalities provide us with intriguing insights into autism, and highlight the mechanisms critical for successful face ‘reading’, recognition and discrimination. We are currently investigating the causes and consequences of these atypicalities and their role in the social difficulties experienced by individuals with autism spectrum conditions.
Development of face expertise
Children do not reach adult levels of face reading skills until around 10 years of age or older. We are investigating whether their poor performance is due to immaturity in face-coding mechanisms or in more general cognitive mechanisms such as attention and executive functioning.
Face aftereffects
Viewing a face can bias us to see the opposite characteristics in subsequently viewed faces. This phenomenon is called an aftereffect and it can reveal how our visual experiences relate to neural activity and face-coding mechanisms. We are investigating what aftereffects (such as those occurring in identity, figural, feature spacing and emotion) can tell us about how faces are coded. We are also looking into what, if any, functional benefits result from this adaptive sensitivity to changes in our diet of faces.
Face expertise and other-race effects
Although we have a remarkable ability to distinguish thousands of faces despite their similarity as visual patterns, we are more expert with some faces than others. Most notably, we often lack expertise with other-race faces and find them difficult to discriminate and recognise. We are investigating the contribution of experience and socio-cognitive factors to these other-race effects.
Attractiveness: Hot or not?
What makes a face attractive and where do our standards of beauty come from? We are investigating the biological and cognitive mechanisms that contribute to our face preferences, with a focus on the adaptive evolutionary mechanisms of sexual selection.


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Last updated:
Thursday, 13 August, 2015 3:19 PM