School of Psychology

Experience Excellence Studying People

Dr Heather J Ferguson

Reader in Psychology


I completed my MA in Psychology, MSc in Research Methods for Psychological Science, and finally a PhD (Comprehending Counterfactuals) at the University of Glasgow in 2007. Following two years as a postdoctoral researcher at University College London, I joined the University of Kent’s School of Psychology as a Lecturer in 2009.

My primary research interest is in Cognitive Psychology. I am particularly interested in the interface between cognitive processes and social interaction, specifically the way that we access and represent other people's perspectives during communication. I use a variety of techniques, including eye-movements, event-related brain potentials and reaction times to look at questions, such as:

  • How do people understand and predict events in terms of other people's mental states (e.g. their intentions, beliefs and desires)? And how quickly can they do this? What happens when these intentions, beliefs or desires are at odds with our own knowledge of the world?
  • How do social abilities relate to cognitive skills (such as memory and inhibitory control)? Can social communication be enhanced by training these cognitive skills? How does advancing age affect this relationship?
  • How do we separate reality from fantasy (say, in a fictional novel), and why do they get muddled up sometimes?

I am currently holding several research grants to support my work in these areas, including a 5-year European Research Council Starting grant to examine the cognitive basis of social communication and how this changes across the age-span, and a 4-year Leverhulme Trust research grant to examine how people with autism spectrum disorder make sense of counterfactual versions of the world.

Key publications

  • Ferguson, H., & Cane, J. (in press). Examining the cognitive costs of counterfactual language comprehension: Evidence from ERPs. Brain Research.
  • Ferguson, H.J., Apperly, I., Ahmad, J., Bindemann, M., & Cane, J.E. (2015). Task constraints distinguish perspective inferences from perspective use during discourse interpretation in a false belief task. Cognition, 139, 50-70.
  • Ferguson, H.J., Cane, J.E., Douchkov, M., & Wright, D. (2015) Empathy predicts false belief reasoning ability: Evidence from the N400. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10, 848-855.
  • Ferguson, H.J., & Breheny, R. (2011). Eye movements reveal the time-course of anticipating behaviour based on complex, conflicting desires. Cognition119, 179-196.


School of Psychology - Keynes College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NP

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Last Updated: 01/10/2015