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Cognition and Action

Below are some projects being conducted by members of the department relating to Cognition and Action. For more detailed information about any of the projects please visit our staff or postgraduate pages.


Project Title: The influence of parent-child book reading and cognitive development in 9-month-old infants

Researchers: Dr. Aisling Murray (ESRI), Dr. Suzanne Egan

Much of the research investigating the effect of reading to children focuses on the association between reading to young children and the later development of language and literacy skills (e.g., Highberger and Brooks, 1973; see Bus et al. 2007, for a review). Relatively few studies have examined book reading with infants and they rarely investigate the beneficial effects for cognitive development (Richman and Colombo, 2007). Those studies that have examined book reading with infants have tended to focus on factors that affect the prevalence and quality of book reading (Fletcher and Reese, 2005) rather than investigate an association between book reading and infants’ cognitive development. The aim of this project is to address this point and to investigate if there is an association between being read to and cognitive development in 9-month-old infants. The data are drawn from a nationally representative sample of over 7000 Irish infants.


Project Title: Investigating the effects of technological advances on temporal experience

Researchers: Dr. Aoife McLoughlin, Dr. Marek McGann

This project builds on research in the area of human time perception, modernity and technology acceptance and use. Within the area of sociology a link between modernity and “time squeeze”, or increasing pressure from time, has been noted as far back as the French Revolution, however very little empirical research has been conducted investigating whether changes in modern society (for example increases in information communication technology use) may in fact be affecting our basic perception of the passage of time. A link between pace of life and time pressure is to be expected. As the speed of pace of life increases, the subjective feeling of available time decreases causing a sense of time pressure within the individual. An increase in the speed of subjective time could also lead to an increased pace of life and therefore in turn may be causally linked to increases in time pressure. Highlighting the possible cognitive mechanisms that could be responsible for this link provides a basis for these different fields of research to unite in a more holistic understanding of human experience.


Project Title: Counterfactual thinking about causes and enablers

Researchers:  Dr. Suzanne Egan, Dr. Caren Frosch (University of Leicester)

The ability to consider what might have been (e.g., if only I had backed up my files I wouldn’t have lost all my data), called counterfactual thinking, is an important and pervasive part of everyday thought (e.g., Byrne, 2005). Previous research has established that people prefer to think about enablers rather than causes when undoing the past. Causes may be defined as the events that bring about an outcome (e.g., a computer virus causes the loss of files), whereas enablers are the events that make it possible for the cause to have its effect (e.g., not backing up the files enables the files to be lost). The aim of this research is to investigate why people focus on particular events when thinking counterfactually and to explore the psychological implications of focusing on these events.


Project Title: Investigating differences in the perception of duration of auditory vs visual stimuli

Researchers:  Dr. Marek McGann, Dr. Aoife McLoughlin

That auditory stimuli are perceived as longer than visual stimuli of the same duration is one of the earliest findings in the area of time perception, with some claiming it has been known since the 19th century (Wearden et al., 2006). Although it is most commonly attributed to a “clock speed” effect, previous literature has not elucidated why a pacemaker should pulse faster in the case of auditory stimuli. This work critically examines this question by introducing a key control missing from all of the earlier research – eliminating visual stimuli during timing trials. While previous studies have not presented specific visual timing stimuli during non-visual trials, they have not actually included blindfolds or other means to negate visual perception generally. This simple control has the potential to profoundly reassess our understanding of the importance of different modalities of perception on our sense of time.

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