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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