To remove the influence of extraneous variables, experimental psychologists have typically carried out their research on individuals in small, dark rooms. But can these techniques be modified to tell us something about our social world? I will describe three well-established paradigms within experimental psychology and show how they can be adapted to measure social influences. In the first, we use a radial line bisection task to show individual differences in cognitive and physiological responses to the presence of a stranger. Some individuals show a contraction of spatial attention and increased arousal whereas others, who seem to enjoy the experience, show the opposite. In the second, we use an object affordance task to show that the presence of a stranger causes a retraction of spatial attention where the object is ‘ceded’ to the other person. Finally, we use an aperture estimation task to show that more socially anxious people require more space when ‘pushing’ between two other people. By applying rigorous psychophysical techniques to social questions, we believe that particularly compelling and novel insights into these issues can be gained.

Speaker bio:

My first degree is in Architectural Studies from the University of Adelaide, which was followed by an honours degree in Psychology. After being awarded a scholarship from the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust, I completed a PhD in Experimental Psychology at King's College, Cambridge. Following the PhD, I worked at the University of Melbourne for 17 years and, during that time, was promoted from lecturer through to professor. In 2010, I moved back to Adelaide to take up a Strategic Professorship in Psychology at Flinders University. I am Director of the Brain and Cognition Laboratory, which has a broad interest in cognitive processes, how they operate and how they might be represented in the brain. I have held various administrative roles including Dean and Deputy Dean of the School of Psychology, Director or the Flinders Institute of Psychological Science and Chair of the School Research Committee. I am an Editor of Laterality and was an Associate Editor for the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. I’m currently the Dean of Research for the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work and am on the ARC College of Experts on the SBE Panel.


About Seminar Series

The School of Psychology Seminar Series involves regular formal presentations of high-quality scholarly work with broad appeal.

The wider School community is invited to attend, including academic and professional staff, special guests, visitors, as well as HDR, postgraduate and honours students.

Seminars are held on a Friday afternoon from 3pm–4pm in rooms 201–204 in the McElwain Building (24A), UQ St Lucia.


McElwain Building (24A) St Lucia