Professor Heather J Ferguson
Professor of 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? How does reading fiction influence our social and cognitive capacities in meaningful ways?
I am currently holding several research grants to support my work in these areas, including a five-year European Research Council Starting grant to examine the cognitive basis of social communication and how this changes across the age-span, a four-year Leverhulme Trust research grant to examine how people with autism spectrum disorder integrate perspective in language and make sense of non-real versions of the world, and a three-year Leverhulme Trust research grant that combines approaches from psychology and philosophy to examine whether and how we learn from fiction.
- Ferguson, H.J., Brunsdon, V., & Bradford, E. (in press). Age of avatar modulates the altercentric bias in a visual perspective-taking task: An ERP study. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience.
- Black, J., Williams, D., & Ferguson, H.J. (2018). Imagining Counterfactual Worlds in Autism Spectrum Disorder. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 44, 1444-1463.
- Cane, J.E., Ferguson, H.J., & Apperly, I. (2017). Using perspective to resolve reference: The impact of cognitive load and motivation. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Language, Memory & Cognition, 43, 591-610.
- 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.