Placing that face

A University of Aberdeen researcher has been awarded a research grant to investigate how we remember faces, and specifically, how we remember where we saw them.

Dr Margaret Jackson, Lecturer in Psychology at The University of Aberdeen, has been awarded a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council worth almost £280,000 to study how we remember where we saw certain faces, and how certain emotional expressions influence this memory.

Beginning today (02 March) and lasting 2 years, Dr Jackson will use touchscreen and eye tracking technology to measure how accurate people are at remembering the location of faces, particularly those faces showing threatening expressions such as anger.

Dr. Jackson said: “It is fundamental to normal, human interaction that we are able to read other people’s facial expressions so we can infer what they are feeling.  This is particularly important for anger which signals hostility or aggression and threatens our physical and emotional welfare. However, facial expressions are fleeting, so it is essential that we clearly and accurately remember who expressed an emotion and where that person is so that we can respond in an appropriate way.”

As well as adding to current knowledge of human memory, attention, and cognitive processes, this research can be applied to a varied audience.

Dr Jackson added: “The need to interpret social situations correctly and respond appropriately affects us all, and it impacts not only our close relationships with family and friends, but also communications with others in the wider world such as at work, school, university, the local shop, and even the stranger on the street.

It is hoped that this research may be useful in helping to understand how social skills and mood may impact on memory for face location.   Given that this type of memory is crucial for social functioning – identifying individual differences in these systems may be of particular benefit to people with impairments in social processing such as autism. “


This study builds on the recent success of the School of Psychology that was ranked 3rd in the UK on world-class research in the Research Excellence Framework – the largest assessment of University research in the world.