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Professor Colin Davis

Professor Colin Davis

Professor Colin Davis
B.Sc (Hons), Ph.D (UNSW)

Chair in Cognitive Psychology

Area of research

Modelling the mind

Office 3D27
The Priory Road Complex,
Priory Road, Clifton BS8 1TU
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 928 7591


My research attempts to better understand the mechanisms and codes underlying human cognition. I am particularly interested in reading, but I have also conducted research on speech perception and production, memory and social cognition. I use computational modelling to investigate these aspects of cognition. Running simulations of computational models makes it possible to generate predictions that can be tested in behavioural experiments. This work has been supported by the ESRC, the British Academy, and most recently, by a research fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust to explore the self-organisation of the mental lexicon.

Much of my computational modelling has focussed on visual word recognition (e.g., Davis, 2010). This domain is interesting both because it is central to the ability to read (and to understanding why some people have difficulty learning to read) and because our ability to rapidly identify printed words provides a central testing ground for theories about the nature of mental representations (e.g., are they symbolic or subsymbolic, localist or distributed?; how is information about order coded?) and the processes that operate on these representations (e.g., how do we learn both invariant and context-sensitive representations?; what role does top-down feedback play?; how are competitive processes implemented?; to what extent is processing “modular”?).

My experimental work aims to test the predictions of computational models. One technique that I’ve used frequently is masked priming, which exploits subliminal processing to test visual identification processes. Based on simulations of a computational model, I developed a more sensitive version of the masked priming methodology, called “sandwich priming” (Lupker & Davis, 2009). Together with Dr James Adelman (Warwick) I’ve recently coordinated a masked priming experiment with over 1000 participants tested across 14 research institutions. The results of this study provide an empirical database that will be invaluable in testing models of visual word recognition.

Other work, particularly with Jeff Bowers (Bristol) has tackled more general questions about the nature of cognitive representations (Bowers et al., 2009, submitted) and mechanisms (Bowers & Davis, 2004) and the merits of alternative theoretical approaches to studying cognition (Bowers & Davis, 2011, 2012).


I studied psychology and mathematics at the University of New South Wales, graduating with a B.Sc(Hons) in 1994. I then undertook a PhD in psychology, also at the University of New South Wales, graduating in 2000. After that I spent three years as a research fellow at the Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science, at Macquarie University, Sydney, before moving to the University of Bristol in 2003 as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2006 I took up a Senior Lectureship at Royal Holloway, University of London. I was promoted to Reader in 2008 and to Professor in 2010. In 2013 I returned to the University of Bristol to take up a Chair in Cognitive Psychology.


I currently teach a first year course entitled Myths and Misconceptions in Psychology and a second year course entitled Individual and Social Cognition, as well as supervising final year research projects. I have previously taught course on Dyslexia, Develeopmental Psychology and Research Methods.


  • Cognitive psychology
  • Psychology of Climate Change
  • Deliberative Democracy
  • Computational modelling
  • Reading and visual word recognition

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

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