Whitehead Lectures in Cognition, Computation and Culture

Goldsmiths' Departments of Computing and Psychology organise regular lectures by guest speakers throughout the academic year encompassing diverse aspects of cognition, computation and culture. All are welcome to attend.

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For enquiries related to the lectures, please contact Karina Linnell or Frederic Leymarie.

Linking relational and absolute: Constraints in spatial cognition

Professor Jurģis Šķilters (Dept. of Computing, University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia)

22 Jan 2019, 4:00pm - 6:00pm
137a, Richard Hoggart Building


In my talk, I will, first, explain Eigenplace function that links relational (topological and geometric) spatial information with representation of exact locations in real world environments. I will argue that topological and geometric relations are constrained by functional ones that are generated in everyday interaction with spatial objects. Experimental evidence regarding functional constraints will be provided.

In the final part of my talk, I will argue that relational topological units are primary in respect to geometric ones and will define a topological grouping principle. Some applications in the areas of computation and visual perception will be provided and some research problems will be briefly discussed.


Professor Jurģis Šķilters is the Chair and Principal Investigator at the Laboratory for Perceptual and Cognitive Systems at the Faculty of Computing, University of Latvia. He is also the Director of Ph.D. Program in Psychology, University of Latvia.

His main research interests are visual perception and spatial cognition. After obtaining his doctoral degree from the University of Mainz, Germany, he has been conducting research and lecturing in several countries (Latvia, Italy, USA, Israel, Norway, Belgium to mention just a few). He has been visiting professor in USA and Italy. During the last 15 years, he has been a director or co-director of several large international European and transatlantic research projects. Currently he is a PI in an EU-Horizon ITN: e-Ladda (Early Language Development in the Digital Age) coordinated by NTNU, Trondheim, Norway.
Since 2004 he is the Editor-In-Chief: The Baltic International Yearbook of Cognition, Logic and Communication. Prof. Šķilters is the founder of the first international Cognitive Sciences center in the Baltic region. 2019 he was the Co-Director of the Program Committee of the European Summer School in Logic, Language, and Information.

He is author or co-author of more than 100 peer reviewed publications and volumes. Most recently (2019) he has co-edited (together with Michael Glanzberg and Nora Newcombe) Events and Objects in Perception, Cognition, and Language and 2016 (together with Susan Rothstein) Number: Cognitive, Semantic and Crosslinguistic Approaches. 2015 he edited (together with Michael Glanzberg and Peter Svenonius) Perspectives on Spatial Cognition. Manhattan, KS: New Prairie Press.

Immersive Virtual Reality: Moral dilemmas, aggression and automatic choices

Dr. Sylvia Terbeck, Liverpool John Moores University

29 Jan 2019, 4:00pm - 5:00pm
137a, Richard Hoggart Building


In moral psychology people often use theoretical vignettes to assess moral decision making. In these types of studies, people are asked to imagine and emergency situation – for example to kill one person in order to save five people – and to then rate how morally acceptable they would regard this action and if they would be likely to do it. These experiments however have low ecological validity and might be confounded with social desirability biases. We re-created the traditional footbridge dilemma in Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) and found that participants significantly more endorsed the action, even if they regarded it as morally unacceptable.

Furthermore, using a robotic manipulandum to simulate realistic force, and a 3D human manikin skin to increase realism, individuals still took the utilitarian action (i.e., killed one to save five). Thus, it can be suggested that humans exhibit moral hypocrisy; they act different to what they theoretically regard as morally acceptable when placed into this situation. IVR could also be utilised to measure aggression in individuals, since this is also a psychological construct which is difficult to assess on a questionnaire. In a recent study we developed a novel psychological IVR aggression test. Finally, we have also developed an IVR automated car scenario in which one is asked to decide to kill oneself (an altruistic act) or to help other selflessly. Our theory suggest a more self-centred view of morality in moral action and a stronger social approach in theoretical moral decisions.


Dr Sylvia Terbeck is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Liverpool John Moores University. Before this, she was a Lecturer in Psychology at Plymouth University. She completed her DPhil in Experimental Psychology in December 2013 at Oxford University. Her research centers around intergroup relations and moral decision making. She has published a significant number of papers in social neuroscience as well as studies involving the use of Immersive Virtual Reality. Dr Terbeck has received research funding from the British Academy. She has presented her work in a TEDx talk, and is currently the departments public engagement co-ordinator. Dr Terbeck has written a single authored book entitled “The Social Neuroscience of Intergroup relations” (Springer, 2016). She has now accepted a book contract with Routledge to edit a 2nd book entitled “How to succeed as a female psychologist: A new examination of the discipline.”