The impact of alcohol intoxication on face discrimination: recognizing the same individuals across changing viewing conditions


   Department of Psychology

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  Dr A Harvey, Dr Stefana Juncu, Dr L Stafford  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three-year PhD to commence in October 2024.

The PhD will be based in the Department of Psychology (Faculty of Science & Health) and will be supervised by Dr Alistair Harvey, Dr Stefana Juncu and Dr Lorenzo Stafford.

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years and a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£18,622 for 2023/24). Bursary recipients will also receive a contribution of £1,500 per year towards consumables, conference, project or training costs.

Costs for student visa and immigration health surcharge are not covered by this bursary. For further guidance and advice visit our international and EU students ‘Visa FAQs' page

The work on this project will:

  • Establish the extent to which alcohol-intoxicated individuals confuse individual identities across a range of face types and viewing perspectives
  • Advance our understanding of alcohol’s impact on real-world face detection
  • Shed light on the cognitive mechanisms of face discrimination, particularly those impaired by acute alcohol intoxication

Project description

Human faces convey such a complex array of physical and emotional information that recognising the same individual under different viewing conditions is surprisingly difficult (Jenkins et al., 2011). We are excellent at recognising different photographs of the same familiar face, but make frequent errors identifying different images of the same unfamiliar person. For example, when viewing photos of an unknown person taken at different times, with different expressions and hairstyles, from a range of viewing angles, we tend to perceive some of those images as being of a different person (Jenkins et al., 2011; Laurence et al., 2016; Stiernstromer et al., 2018). 

Currently, however, little is known about the impact of alcohol intoxication on face discrimination, which is surprising given the extent of alcohol consumption and the importance of accurate face detection for harmonious emotional and social functioning. Normal (sober) face recognition depends on acquiring information about the relative position and inter-relation of facial features (Henderson, Williams & Falk, 2005). Yet alcohol may disrupt face processing as it has been shown to restrict eye movements and narrow the scope of visual attention to particular face features (Buser et al., 1996; Harvey, 2014; Harvey & Tomlinson, 2020 Holdstock & de Wit, 1999; Moser, et al., 1998; Nawrot, et al., 2003; Wilkinson, 1976). 

The aim of this project is to evaluate the intoxicated viewer’s ability to distinguish unique facial identities across four experiments. The first is designed to examine general (unfamiliar) face discrimination under alcohol. The second, will explore alcohol’s impact on distinguishing unfamiliar faces of the viewer’s own and other ethnic groups. The third will test the impact of alcohol on the sorting of familiar (e.g., celebrities) as opposed to unfamiliar faces. Finally, the fourth experiment is free to adapt for addressing any outstanding questions from the previous three studies.

The project’s findings will significantly develop our understanding of alcohol’s influence on the ability to tell familiar and unfamiliar individuals apart, which has important implications for cognitive theories of face processing, criminal investigations of drunken violent crime, the reliability of eyewitness identifications, racial bias in the legal system, and judicial decision making. 

General admissions criteria

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in an appropriate subject. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements

Appropriate quantitative research methods training, including inferential statistical analysis, intellectual curiosity, and demonstrable understanding of cognitive psychology with a particular interest in face processing. 

How to Apply

If you have any project-specific questions please contact Dr Alistair Harvey ([Email Address Removed]), quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, please use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code PSYC8500124 when applying. Please note that email applications are not accepted.


Psychology (31)

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project may be eligible to compete for one of a small number of bursaries available. Successful applicants will receive a bursary to cover tuition fees for three years and a stipend in line with the UKRI rate (£18,622 for 2023/24). Bursary recipients will also receive a contribution of £1,500 per year towards consumables, conference, project or training costs.
Costs for student visa and immigration health surcharge are not covered by this bursary. For further guidance and advice visit our international and EU students ‘Visa FAQs’ page.