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PhD projects

Thinking and reasoning and their development
Beliefs about social categories
The psychology of debt and indebtedness

1997 …2023

Research activity per year

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Personal profile


I finished my first degree at Trinity College Dublin in 1992, and after a year spent in France, went to the Centre for Thinking and Language at the University of Plymouth where I was awarded a PhD in 1997. In 1998 I moved to the University of Durham where I was first a lecturer, and then from 2005, a senior lecturer. I came to Queen’s in February 2009.

Research Interests

I am interested in the role of thinking, sometimes referred to as high-level cognition, in everyday life. I have studied how we generalise on the basis of specific evidence, and how we reason deductively. I also have strong interests in judgement and decision making, including how we think about how things might have been different had we decided differently. Such alternative outcomes are known as counterfactual alternatives. Considering counterfactual alternatives is related to the experience of emotions such as regret and relief. With Professor Teresa McCormack (Queen's) and Dr Sarah Beck (Birmingham), I have recently completed an ESRC-funded project which examined the relationship between regret and decision making in children. With Professor Christoph Hoerl (Warwick) the same team is carrying out a project, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, on the nature and function of relief. The researchers on the project are Dr Sara Lorimer and Matthew Johnston, who is working on a PhD.

I am also interested in the role played by essentialist beliefs about social categories in how we think about other people. Essentialism is the belief that all members of a category share a common but hidden essence which explains their visible similarities. Essentialism is said to be a bad philosophical theory but a good psychological theory of people's beliefs about category membership. With Professor John Coley (Northeastern) I have been studying the role played by education and culture in determining which social categories are essentialised.

More recently I have developed interests in the role played by advice in decision making. In particular, I am interested in people's decisions about whether to adhere to advice. With Dr Nicole Andelic (Business School, Aberdeen), I have studied the role played by advice in the decisions made by people with problem debts about availing of formal debt solutions. My external collaborators in this work have been Aperture IVA, which at the time was the second largest provider of formal debt solutions in the United Kingdom, and Advice NI. One of our current questions concerns the role played by future thinking in adherence to formal debt advice. 


I am the Deputy Head of School and Director of Education for postgraduate taught courses in the School of Psychology. In addition, I convene a final year module, PSY3118 Using Nudges to Change Behaviour. I also contribute to modules at Level 1 and on the MSc Psychological Science (Conversion).

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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