Favourite Thing: My favourite things to do are thinking up crazy experiments to discover more about what people find attractive and why. It’s also fun when you finish the experiment and see the results. If you’re lucky you’ve discovered something new that nobody else knows
1985-1991: Sevenoaks Prep School. 1991-1998: Sevenoaks School, Kent. I did A levels in Biology, Chemistry, English and Maths.
1998-2001: I studied Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge, focusing on zoology. 2001-2002: I studied Evolutionary Psychology at the University of Liverpool. 2005-2009: I did a PhD in psychology at the University of Bristol.
2002-2005: I worked in scientific and medical publishing in London. It was not as much fun as doing science so I returned to university to do my PhD!
University of Portsmouth, department of Psychology.
I am a lecturer in the psychology department, which means I teach psychology to students and do scientific research.
Me and my work
I investigate how evolution shapes the way humans and other animals behave, espcially how they find partners to mate with.
I specialise in human mate choice, which is how people find partners and what they find attractive in each other. This is really important for all sexually reproducing species, because if you cannot find a partner, you cannot reproduce. I use computer graphics software to digitally manipulate faces, for example to make them older or younger, or masculine or feminine, and more or less attractive. Here is an example of an average face created by blending together several men’s faces.
The one on the left has then been masculinised and the one on the right feminised by changing the shape towards the average male or female shape. And here I have done the same thing to my face:
Whenever we make a judgment about whether someone is attractive, we are unconsciously assessing whether they would make a suitable mate to share our genes with. Animals make the same sort of decisions, so evolution helps us to understand the behaviour of all different species.
My Typical Day
In the morning I might give a lecture, then in the afternoon I might photograph people for an experiment, then use computer software to change to shape of their face.
In the morning, I am woken up by my little boy, Benjamin, demanding breakfast and a cuddle (in that order). At work, my time, is split between teaching and research. So if I have a lecture one day, I might prepare for it for an hour before, print out handouts and so on, then give the lecture. This could be in front of 200 students, which is quite daunting, and goes on for 2 hours. After that, I need a big cup of tea to recover. Then I might spend the rest of the day doing research. I might photograph some people’s faces. I would then upload these pictures into special software which I use to change the shape of their face, for example turning a man’s face gradually into a woman’s across a series of steps. Then I would show these pictures to other students who would rate how attractive they find each picture.
Other activities include reading the latest research from other scientists, helping students run their own experiments, writing up my results for publication, presenting my work at conferences. Hopefully not all on the same day though.
What I'd do with the money
Commission signs explaining research on monkeys at Marwell zoo.
The psychology department in Portsmouth is doing some research on some monkeys in Marwell zoo in hampshire. We are going to introduce touch-screen computers to them and teach them how to do experiments. This will help us work out how their minds work and what sort of things they understand. The research will be fully on display to the public (they can see the monkeys using the computers), so I would use to money to make some signs explaining what is going on and what we are learning about these animals.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Interested in everything
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Don McLean or Radiohead. Tough choice.
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Sitting in natural hot springs in Japan (onsen). These are fed by volcanoes and they can be burning hot.
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
1) For my son, Benjamin, to be happy. 2) To discover something really amazing in science. 3) 100 more wishes. Ha!
What did you want to be after you left school?
After realising that I was never going to be picked for England – in any sport :( – I either wanted to be a lawyer or a scientist. I hope I made the right choice.
Were you ever in trouble in at school?
Nothing too bad, the odd detention here and there. And that fire in the headmaster’s office was never proven to be deliberate.
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Either having my research mentioned in newspapers and magazines (including Men’s Health!), or visiting Japan for a scientific conference. Amazing country.
Tell us a joke.
Ooh, I’ve got a sort of sciencey one. Here goes…Why did the scarecrow win a Nobel prize? Because he was out standing in his field.