I graduated from the University of York in 2011 with a degree in Psychology before completing my doctoral training at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit (University of Cambridge). My PhD research, supervised by Dr Joni Holmes and Prof. Susan Gathercole, explored the cognitive mechanisms of instruction-guided behaviour.
My area of expertise is cognitive development and I am particularly interested in how children and adults process information and speculate about events in the past and future. I began studying the impact of temporal information and emotional influences on decision-making in 2016 as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Queen's University Belfast. Here I worked on a project exploring whether the extent to which individuals focus on the future, or their skills in thinking about the future, affect the quality of their decisions. In late 2016, I moved to the University of Edinburgh where I worked as part of an international team investigating the functional organisation and capacity limits of working memory (http://womaac.psy.ed.ac.uk/).
I returned to the School of Psychology, Queen's University Belfast, in November 2018. At present, together with Dr Aidan Feeney (Queen's University Belfast), Prof. Teresa McCormack (Queen's University Belfast). Mr Matthew Johnston (Queen's University Belfast), Dr Sarah Beck (University of Birmingham), and Prof. Christoph Hoerl (University of Warwick), I am working on a project which seeks to develop the first comprehensive psychological theory of relief.
The nature and function of relief
The emotion of relief has been the subject of surprisingly little research, despite having featured in theorizing about phenomena as diverse as self-harming, gambling addiction, and educational motivation. What makes this relative lack of research on relief all the more surprising is that, in what there is of such research, relief is often conceived of as the antonym of regret – an emotion that, by contrast, has already attracted a large amount of attention in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioural economics, leading to the development of detailed theoretical frameworks.
What complicates the study of relief is that the term is used to refer to an emotion that can occur in two quite different situations. We talk about being relieved when an unpleasant episode is over. But we also talk about being relieved upon realizing that an outcome could have been worse. These considerations raise two possibilities. One is that all uses of the term relief, on closer inspection, have core features in common: perhaps there is always an element of being glad that things aren’t worse alongside being glad that an unpleasant experience is over. The alternative is that relief is not a unitary phenomenon. In a recent philosophical analysis, Hoerl draws a distinction between counterfactual and temporal types of relief, claiming that these relief types have different antecedents and functions. Hoerl’s characterization of counterfactual relief is close to the way in which relief, in decision-making research, is viewed as the antonym of regret, with the latter occurring when an actual outcome is worse than a counterfactual one. Temporal relief, by contrast, is assumed to be experienced when an unpleasant event is over. Hoerl’s distinction between relief types raises important issues about the cognitive prerequisites and function of relief. Our aim is to address these issues and develop the first comprehensive psychological theory of relief.
Working memory across the adult lifespan
There are vigorous debates among scientists about what limits our working memory ability, and how those limits change as people move through middle age and into their older years. This project involves the rare occurrence of co-investigators who hold different views, agreeing to work together on a project that directly investigates why their independent research programmes have previously generated different results with different implications for understanding the effects of age on cognition. Proponents of three contrasting accounts of working memory (in the UK: Prof. Robert Logie; in the US: Prof. Nelson Cowan & Prof. Moshe Naveh-Benjamin; and in Switzerland: Prof. Pierre Barrouilet & Prof. Valerie Camos) aim to produce crucial tests of theoretical predictions, and to assess change in working memory performance across the adult lifespan.
The development of temporal asymmetries in children and adolescents
As adults, we seem to care more about what is yet to come than what has already happened. Psychologists long debated whether the fact that we are biased toward the future is irrational or illogical, or evolutionary adaptive in the sense that it allows us to prepare for what lies ahead. However, this bias is not merely a psychological quirk, but a phenomenon that has an immense impact on our everyday judgments. For example, when deciding how much someone should be punished for their wrongdoing, we are likely to think a more severe sanction is appropriate if the offence lies in the future than the past. This is because we seem to see future acts as more deserving of praise and blame, and more deliberate, than comparable past acts. These effects, dubbed temporal asymmetries in judgments, have been interpreted as being part of a more general bias toward the future.
Our project is the first to examine the developmental origins of temporal asymmetry. We are investigating when children first seem to value future events more than the past, judge that future events seem closer in time than past events, feel more emotion when considering the future versus the past, and judge that future actions are more deserving of praise or blame than past actions. These studies will provide a new body of evidence about fundamental changes in children's thinking about time.
The cognitive mechanisms of instruction-guided behaviour
Dr Aidan Feeney (Queen's University Belfast)
Prof. Teresa McCormack (Queen's University Belfast)
Prof. Christoph Hoerl (University of Warwick)
Dr Sarah Beck (University of Birmingham)
Dr Joni Holmes (MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge)
Dr Stephen Rhodes (University of Missouri)
- Twitter - @4gnieszka
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article
Research output: Contribution to journal › Article