Favourite Thing: Trying to understand how and why animals have evolved to behave like they do!
Sir Roger Manwoods Grammar School, Sandwich, Kent (1992-1996)
University of Portsmouth (PhD Psychology, 2002-2005); University of Liverpool (MSc Evolutionary Psychology, 2000-2001); Royal Holloway University of London (BSc Zoology, 1996-1999)
Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Portsmouth, Free University Berlin
University of Portsmouth
Senior Lecturer in Psychology
Me and my work
I try to understand how and why facial expression evolved
I analyse facial expression in humans and other primates (chimpanzees, gorillas, macaques etc.) to try and understand what evolutionary selection pressures caused facial expression to evolve. The fact that we use our faces to communicate with each other is fascinating, and how we do this can make or break a friendship! Many people think that how we speak to each other (and what we say) is the most important thing that affects how we interact, but I don’t think this is true. Lots of our communication is ‘non-verbal’ (e.g. facial expression, gestures, body position) which is something we share with many other primates. So, my job is to try and understand how it works, and why we evolved like that. 🙂
My Typical Day
I don’t have a typical day, which is part of the fun!
My working day can change on a daily basis… Sometimes I am stuck in the office all day, probably writing grant applications (to try and convince the government and other funding organisations that my work is worth investing in!) or writing scientific papers. Sometimes I am at the zoo conducting research with the animals (either observing their behaviour, or doing experiments to see how they ‘think’ about things). The most exciting thing we are doing at the moment is planning to train crested macaques (monkeys from a small island in Indonesia) to use touch screens in cognitive tasks at Marwell Zoo. This means we can see how they understand facial expressions and other social signals. The problem with this type of research is that is takes a very long time to train the monkeys – most of the time they will love taking part, but sometimes they are far too busy doing their own monkey thing in their social group! 🙂
What I'd do with the money
I will buy touch screen equipment so that zoo visitors can understand how we are working with the monkeys, and what monkeys are capable of :)
The aim of the zoo project is to find out how primates think about their world (including facial expressions). We want people to learn about this too, and one way of doing this is to get them involved in the same sort of experiments that the monkeys do! So, I will use the money to help buy touch screen equipment to set up next to the monkey island at Marwell Zoo. Visitors can then take part in experiments and learn more about the monkeys!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Enthusiastic, thick-skinned, lucky
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Belle and Sebastian
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Chimp trekking in Uganda!
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
Successful grant funding, a ‘Nature’ paper and I would like to own a whole army of cats
What did you want to be after you left school?
A medical doctor
Were you ever in trouble at school?
All the time…
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Hmm, difficult question. I am not sure there has been any specific finding, but we now know lots more about how primates communicate!
Tell us a joke.
RUBBISH at jokes. :P