Alex Jones
November 2018

What do you work on?

How our faces influ­ence social behaviour!

Essen­tial­ly, why and how we judge others based on their appear­ance, and whether there is truth in these judgments.

“People uncon­scious­ly asso­ciate someone who looks Extravert­ed with words describ­ing that trait. Using Gorilla, we are now expand­ing these studies to explain the effect using clin­i­cal populations.”

What did you do using Gorilla?

I have set up a variant of the Implic­it Asso­ci­a­tion Test, where people respond to words that describe high and low vari­a­tions of per­son­al­i­ty traits (e.g., ‘out­go­ing’ or ‘reserved’ to describe high or low Extra­ver­sion), and clas­si­fy faces with names (such as Mary or Jane). The catch is that the faces are the pre­dict­ed appear­ance of indi­vid­u­als high or low on those traits – the faces actu­al­ly convey high and low Extra­ver­sion. The faces are created using facial aver­ag­ing soft­ware on the pho­tographs of indi­vid­u­als who score very high or very low on a per­son­al­i­ty ques­tion­naire mea­sur­ing their Big 5 traits.

We found that people uncon­scious­ly asso­ciate someone who looks Extravert­ed with words describ­ing that trait.

Using Gorilla, we are now expand­ing these studies to explain the effect using clin­i­cal pop­u­la­tions – people with prosopag­nosia or alex­ithymia for example. This will clarify the cog­ni­tive process­es that might explain this uncon­scious asso­ci­a­tion – i.e., is it due to iden­ti­ty recog­ni­tion, or is it due to emotion recognition?

“I can now focus on analy­sis, inter­pre­ta­tion, and testing ideas, rather than labo­ri­ous­ly pro­gram­ming exper­i­ments and waiting for data.”

For you, what is the stand-out feature in Gorilla?

The flex­i­bil­i­ty. Other online plat­forms can handle a few dif­fer­ent kinds of study types – e.g., ques­tion­naires, rapid pre­sen­ta­tion of stimuli, but no plat­form brought them togeth­er in the way Gorilla does. In hand with this is its ease of use. At first I thought it would be dif­fi­cult to use given its flex­i­bil­i­ty, but even complex exper­i­ments are simple to set up in less than an hour.

What is the most excit­ing piece of work or research you’ve ever done?

The work I am cur­rent­ly trying to publish on an approach I call ‘face regres­sion’, which is a bottom up way of visu­al­is­ing the rela­tion­ships between facial appear­ance and given traits (e.g., trust­wor­thi­ness). This is based on linear mod­el­ling, and allows us to tease apart appear­ances – for example, we visu­alise the effect of attrac­tive­ness on trust­wor­thi­ness, and it turns out that purely trust­wor­thy faces are not so trustworthy!

How do you think online research is going to change your field?

Much of the work in my field was quick to adopt online method­olo­gies. But I think across psy­chol­o­gy this is going to really change how we under­stand human behav­iour, simply because clas­si­cal­ly in-lab tasks can be com­plet­ed by anyone, any­where. For a field that is now pub­licly known for its repli­ca­tion crisis, caused in part by homoge­nous and small samples, this is real progress.

What is the biggest advan­tage of online research methods?

I see two. The first is that we can access a much larger sample than ever before, which increas­es our gen­er­al­iz­abil­i­ty and infer­ences. Psy­chol­o­gy is in dire need of this! The second is that it makes it easier to access par­tic­i­pant samples that are dif­fi­cult to access. More recent­ly I have used Gorilla in cross cul­tur­al studies, with col­lab­o­ra­tors sharing Gorilla studies with pop­u­la­tions in Africa and South America.

Why did you choose to use Gorilla?

I cam­paigned heavily for Gorilla to be adopted by my depart­ment. For one, it would solve a lot of prob­lems we had with space con­straints, because lab based studies could be put online. More than that, we were also impressed by its utility as a teach­ing tool that illus­trates exper­i­men­tal design and flow clearly to students.

How did Gorilla make your life or research better, easier or faster?

The biggest benefit has been taking exper­i­ments that gen­er­al­ly require lab-based com­put­ers for timing accu­ra­cy, and allow­ing them to be put online, reach­ing a far wider par­tic­i­pant pool than before. But, the amount of time that is saved is really sig­nif­i­cant. I can now focus on analy­sis, inter­pre­ta­tion, and testing ideas, rather than labo­ri­ous­ly pro­gram­ming exper­i­ments and waiting for data.

“Other online plat­forms can handle a few dif­fer­ent kinds of study types – e.g., ques­tion­naires, rapid pre­sen­ta­tion of stimuli, but no plat­form brought them togeth­er in the way Gorilla does.”

What advice would you give to someone start­ing out in behav­iour­al science/research?

Prob­a­bly to learn a pro­gram­ming lan­guage (like R or Python), and become ‘data-lit­er­ate’.

Being able to handle your own data and under­stand it is a skill that is widely applied beyond research, but will open many doors within aca­d­e­m­ic research, as the skill is so valuable.

Are there any online courses, pod­casts, dis­cus­sion groups or resources that you’d rec­om­mend to others?

I really like Dat­a­Camp for learn­ing data analy­sis and han­dling skills, and Every­thing Hertz for a podcast on the state of psy­chol­o­gy. These have helped broaden my ana­lyt­i­cal and crit­i­cal skills over the past few years as a new lecturer.

When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?

Running! I spent my 20s working every hour under the sun in research, now I am more secure I’ve tried to take inter­est in my health and well­be­ing. I have found running really helps. It doesn’t stop me from think­ing of research while running, though!

What’s your favourite science inter­net meme?

Prob­a­bly the ‘I have no idea what I’m doing’ dog. Its such an accu­rate rep­re­sen­ta­tion of what research is like, but no one really admits to it!

Alex Jones
Face perception, evolutionary psychology, computational modelling
Lecturer
Swansea University
Alex Jones

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