Christine Spencer

    Miss Christine Spencer

    Postgraduate research student

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    Research Interests

    graduated with a BSc Psychology First Class Honours degree from Queen’s University Belfast in 2015. I am now a final year Psychology PhD student, currently working as Knowledge Transfer Associate at Sensum Co, an empathic AI company which is situated in Belfast, Northern Ireland.


    I am currently developing and validating a set of algorithms for the automatic detection of stress and other emotional states in vehicular settings. These algorithms will be integrated into an empathic interface system, so that vehicles can accurately detect and respond appropriately to the emotional states of their occupants.

    My PhD project focuses on the form and function of the phenomenon of empathy. I critically examine how we conceptualise and measure this phenomenon, and the role that it plays in our interpersonal encounters and long-term social relationships.  My work is rooted in Evolutionary Psychology. Therefore, I am highly interested in the evolutionarily-adaptive role that empathic behaviour might play in managing an individual’s position in the social hierarchy.


    My main research interests include:

    The conceptualisation and measurement of empathy.

    The expression and function of empathy in social interactions.

    The potential role of empathy expression in social-hierarchy management.

    Interpersonal behaviour, social signalling, non-verbal communication

    Automated emotion-detection techniques

    Affective computing

    Empathic interfaces


    Research skills:

    • Behavioural experimental design and data analysis.
    • Designing of behavioural coding schemes for interpersonal empathic behaviour and other general non-verbal behaviours.
    • Data analytics in R (data wrangling, modelling and visualisation)

    Teaching experience:

    • Training of assistant annotators
    • Undergraduate Statistics class on Observational Methods
    • Masters class teaching on Synchronisation and Multimodal Processing of Behavioural Data.
    • Lab demonstrating in undergraduate Statistics classes.
    • Co-supervision of 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., Moore, D., McKeown, G., Rutherford, L. & Morrison, G., (submitted). Temporal context influences physiological arousal and experienced stress during a simulated driving task

    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)




    ID: 16735753