£3.7 million study to reveal the secrets of social interaction

Published: 11 July 2007

A £3.7 million study by a team of psychologists at the University of Glasgow aims to shed new light on the complex questions of social interaction.

How do people recognise gender, emotion and even trustworthiness by facial expressions or voice quality alone? How can emotions be contagious? How are partners able to automatically act in synch with each other?

A £3.7 million study by a team of psychologists at the University of Glasgow - funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) - aims to shed new light on these complex questions and others.

Professor of Cognitive Psychology, Simon Garrod, who will lead the research, explains: “Social interaction is the basis of most human activities. Through social interactions people make judgments about such things as their partner’s social identity, emotional state, whether they are attracted to them (and attractive), and how trustworthy they are.

"Psychologists interested in social cognition argue that many of these basic social judgements are made automatically rather than as the result of conscious decision. Yet, very little is known about the detailed cognitive-neural mechanisms of social interaction that support such judgements.

"This project aims to clarify the cognitive-neural mechanisms underlying such social phenomena using the most up-to-date experimental, computational and brain imaging techniques."

The project will investigate the following:

  • the immediate processing of social signals originating from the face, voice and bodily movement
  • how such signals support the automatic interactive alignment of social behaviours (associated with pupil dilation, blinking, yawning etc.)
  • the mechanisms that underlie joint attention and action.

It is hoped that the findings will not only be significant for social science but also for economics, finance and politics where the basic mechanisms of social interaction have obvious relevance to key social judgments.

Understanding basic mechanisms of social interaction will also be practical significance for the burgeoning field of social robotics, which aims to produce convincingly human-like robots and avatars.

Professor Ian Diamond, Chief Executive of the ESRC, said: “This new investment reinforces our commitment to supporting leading edge research in areas that impact on key areas for society, business and policy as well as strengthening the UK research base. This funding is a solid investment that will help to ensure that the research base contributes fully to the economic development and quality of life for the people of the UK and beyond.”


Further information:
Martin Shannon,
Media Relations Officer
0141 330 8593

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research that impacts on business, the public sector, voluntary organisations and society.

First published: 11 July 2007

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