Christine Spencer

    Miss Christine Spencer

    Postgraduate research student

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    Research Interests

    Project title: Examining Interpersonal Empathic Behaviour in Dyadic Social Interactions


    The project focuses on the interpersonal behaviours which are perceived to be "empathic" by observers. The phenomenon of empathy is a complex and ambiguous phenomenon, which is currently being defined in numerous different ways, resulting in the use of many different assessment approaches.


    However, as most approaches focus on the personal outcomes for the empathiser, there is a need for greater focus on the examination of empathic behaviour at the interpersonal level, in order to enhance our understanding of the temporal dynamics of the empathising process in a live, evolving interaction (Main, Walle, Kho & Halpern, 2017). Christine has conducted several studies in her PhD to examine the communicative behaviours that signal empathic understanding to a conversational partner, in an everyday interaction.


    These behaviours have been integrated into an open-source annotation tool, the Interpersonal Coding of Empathy (I.C.E.) scheme. Designed to be flexible, the scheme can be adapted to suit a research team’s resources and time constraints. It can be used to rate empathic behaviour intensity per X-sec intervals, or can be used with annotation software to label changes in empathic behaviour level across time. The scheme therefore allows the in-depth examination of changing empathy levels over the course an interaction. An open-access excerpt of the scheme is available on ResearchGate, and the full version of the scheme can be obtained by emailing


    Christine also examines the role of empathy in social interactions, beyond social bond formation. She is interested in whether empathic behaviour influences perceptions of social status by signalling an individual's "social fitness" (the ability to successfully navigate the social environment). If empathy indeed influences perceptions of social status, this would suggest that empathic behaviour is involved in the management of an individual's position in the social hierarchy.



    Personal profile: Christine graduated with a BSc Psychology First Class Honours degree from Queen’s University Belfast in 2015, and is now an empathy and emotions PhD student in the Social Interactions Lab of the School of Psychology. 


    Research interests:

    The expression and function of empathy in social interactions.

    The potential influence of empathy expression on perceptions of social status.

    Empathy, emotional communication, interpersonal behaviour, social signalling, non-verbal communication


    Research skills:

    • Proficiency in behavioural experimental design and data analysis.
    • Designing of behavioural coding schemes for interpersonal empathic behaviour and other general non-verbal behaviours.
    • Experience of using SPSS (basic data analysis), R (intercoder reliability in behavioural studies), Praat (laughter intensity), Motion-Energy Analysis (nonverbal synchrony), as well as ELAN and NoVA annotation software to code videotaped interpersonal behaviour.


    Teaching experience:

    • Training of assistant annotators in the use of ELAN to code videotaped interpersonal behaviour
    • Undergraduate Statistics class on Observational Methods
    • Masters class teaching on Synchronisation and Multimodal Processing of Behavioural Data.
    • Lab demonstrator in undergraduate Statistics classes.
    • Co-supervision of two undergraduate thesis projects.
    • Marking of undergraduate assignments and exam papers.


    Other experience:

    • Organising conferences: 7th Annual Psychology Postgraduate Conference (2016) at Queen’s University Belfast
    • Obtaining funding for events (2016 Postgraduate conference and mentoring events)
    • Coordination of mentoring event for first year doctoral students.
    • Participation in weekly lab meetings and journal clubs






    Spencer, C., Main, A. & McKeown, G. (in preparation). The Interpersonal Coding of Empathy (I.C.E.) scheme.


    Spencer, C., O’Hagan, L. & McKeown, G. (submitted). Exploitative Empathy in Socially-Engineered Cybercrime. 


    Spencer, C., Main, A. & McKeown, G. (2018, April). Towards the development of a coding scheme for the quantification of interpersonal empathic behaviour. Poster session presented at the Consortium of European Research on Emotion (CERE), Glasgow, United Kingdom.


    Spencer, C. & McKeown, G. (2018, April). Dual functions of empathy: is empathising behaviour involved in the management of our social position? Poster session presented at the Consortium of European Research on Emotion (CERE), Glasgow, United Kingdom.


    Spencer, C., McCormick, O., Stevenson, M., & McKeown, G. (2018, March). Is Laughter a Signal of Empathy? Poster session presented at the Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society 2018 Annual Conference: Psychology & Identity, Dundalk, Republic of Ireland.


    Spencer, C. (2017, July). Non-verbal behavioural signals of empathy: a coding scheme for dyadic social interactions. Open paper presented at the International Society of Research on Emotion (ISRE) Bi-annual Conference, Saint Louis, Missouri.


    McKeown, G., Spencer, C. Patterson, A., Creaney, T. (2017, October). Comparing Virtual Reality with Computer Rating Environments for Affective Dimensions in Social Interactions. Poster session presented at the Association for the Advancement of Affective Computing, San Antonio, Texas.


    Bowden, K. K., Nilsson, T., Spencer, C. P., Cengiz, K., Ghitulescu, A., & van Waterschoot, J. B. (2017). I Probe, Therefore I Am: Designing a Virtual Journalist with Human Emotions. arXiv preprint arXiv:1705.06694.


    Spencer, C. (2017, March). Empathy and Social Status: the interplay between perceptions of empathy expression and social status. Poster session presented at the International Convention of Psychological Science, Vienna, Austria.


    Spencer, C. (2016, September). Empathy in virtual agents... current challenges, future prospects, and perhaps a new way to look at the problem?. Talk presented at the 7th Annual Postgraduate Psychology Conference, School of Psychology, Queen's University Belfast.


    Spencer, C. (2016, May). First steps towards examining the interplay between empathy and social status. Talk presented at PsychHike 2016 conference, School of Psychology, Queen's University Belfast.


    Other activities:

    Participation in multi-modal interfaces workshop, eNTERFACE 2016, at University of Twente, the Netherlands.




    • Graduate School, Queen’s University Belfast: Sir Robert Hart Scholarship (£400) 
    • Graduate School, Queen’s University Belfast: Postgraduate Conference Fund (£750).
    • School of Psychology, Queen’s University Belfast: Postgraduate Conference Fund (£750).




    • Postgraduate Poster Award at the Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society 2018 Annual Conference: Psychology & Identity
    • Highly Commended award for paper "Negotiating the problematic issue of gender difference and inequality in mixed company... through the discursive lens" (top 10% of all submissions in the Psychology category of the international Undergraduate Awards competition).
    • Second-highest achieving student of graduating class of 2015



    Research Interest Group: Centre for Identity and Intergroup Relations

    First Supervisor: Dr Gary McKeown

    Second Supervisor: Dr Aidan Feeney


    Contact details

    Christine Spencer (Ph.D. Student)

    Social Interactions Lab

    School of Psychology

    David Keir Building

    18-30 Malone Road


    BT9 5BN



    Office Room Number: 04.405


    ID: 16735753