I have recently joined the UWE Department of Health and Social Sciences as a Senior Lecturer in Psychology. I am a developmental psychologist who has studied family relationships for the past 15 years.
At UWE, I will be teaching on the undergraduate Psychology program. I will deliver teaching on research design and analysis, as well as drawing on my expertise in family relationships. My teaching reflects the central aim of my research: to understand families as they are, rather than how they could or should be. I engage students in the key debates in the field of family psychology, for example: Do children have an obligation to maintain an active relationship with their parents? How important is genetic relatedness for family functioning?
I completed my PhD and postdoctoral research at the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge. My research examined family functioning in new and non-traditional families, such as those created through the use of assisted reproductive technologies. My specific contribution to the field has been to explore how parents explain their use of donated sperm or eggs to their children and what children think, feel and understand about how they were conceived.
I then spent five years as a Lecturer in Children, Young People and Families at Edge Hill University. During this time my research focused on families in which a child has a chronic health condition or additional need. In addition to articles in academic journals, this work has contributed to the development of information sheets, booklets, apps and cartoons that help parents and children to navigate hospital procedures and disclose medical diagnoses to friends, teachers and employers.
Most recently, my research has explored family estrangement, which is a term that is increasingly used to refer to relationships between parents, children and siblings in adulthood that are characterised by distance and negativity. In 2015 I published a report exploring the experiences of approximately 800 people who identified as being estranged from a family member. Respondents were members of the Stand Alone community, a UK-based charity which aims to support those experiencing family estrangement. The findings of this study featured in a variety of media outlets such as The New York Times and were estimated to have reached an audience of 9 million readers.
This work is particularly relevant to the ‘Promoting Psychological Health’ theme of the PSRG. For example, I have recently conducted an evaluation of the therapeutic groups run by Stand Alone for those experiencing family estrangement. I have also conducted a qualitative research that has explored people’s experiences of accessing counselling for family estrangement. As well as publishing articles in academic journals, I write about research on family estrangement for a general audience, publishing articles in Psychology Today and The Conversation. I have also written a book: “No Family is Perfect: A Guide to Embracing the Messy Reality”, which will be published by Welbeck in January 2022.
I look forward to collaborating with colleagues and to expanding my research on family relationships in such a vibrant department.
I have recently joined the Department of Social Sciences as a Lecturer in Psychology and am very excited to be part of Team UWE and the Psychological Sciences Research Group!
I am an experimental psychologist with a strong interest in methods and Open Science. I completed my undergrad and master’s in Biology at the University of Vienna, specializing in biological anthropology and human behaviour. In 2011, I moved to Scotland to do my PhD with Prof. Dave Perrett in the Perception Lab at the University of St Andrews. After I received my PhD in Psychology in 2015, I completed a post-doc at the University of Glasgow, where I was working on a five-year-long ERC-funded project on human kin recognition with Prof. Lisa DeBruine in the Face Research Lab.
While I have a broader interest in human behaviour and social cognition, the bulk of my work has focused on social face perception. Faces have a crucial role in social interactions—they provide a rich source of information, as well as a canvas to which traits, attitudes and behavioural tendencies are ascribed to, often with consequential real-world outcomes. I am interested in understanding how facial cues affect social interactions, and why: many judgments we make are inaccurate, but also extremely quick and showing significant consensus across observers, suggesting that there is more at play than mere idiosyncrasies. In particular, I am interested in the evolutionary, neurobiological, and socio-cultural influences that shape our preferences and underpin our responses to facial cues. I take a data-driven and functional approach in my work (“perceiving is for doing”), and my research is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on models and methods from experimental psychology, evolutionary biology, and computer science.
Oosterhof and Todorov’s prominent model of face perception suggests faces are evaluated along two main dimensions that have an adaptive origin—dominance, and trustworthiness. My PhD work investigated facial cues to body physique and their relation to perceptions of dominance and attractiveness, while my post-doctoral work has explored the role of kinship cues in perceptions of trustworthiness and attractiveness. Here at UWE, I plan to continue to draw on a functional framework to investigate social perception, focusing on questions around face preferences and impression formation, and how these are affected by individual differences, environmental pressures (such as scarcity) as well as perceptual biases and stereotypes.