Becky’s eye view of what’s on our minds

Becky Heaver

Becky Heaver’s psychology research involved asking people to lie to her, but she finds it impossible to tell lies herself.

This is because Becky, who will be awarded a DPhil in Psychology today (Thursday morning 19 July 2012), has Asperger Syndrome – a form of autism that affects how a person makes sense of the world and relates to other people.

For Becky this means that interpreting other people’s feelings and how best to respond to them can be, at times, impossible. “I can’t fake my responses, so I’m very truthful,” says Becky.

But having Asperger Syndrome hasn’t held Becky back from establishing a fascinating academic career.

Becky, from Southwick, West Sussex, has always been interested in how people’s brains work – she studied neuroscience for her first degree and then opted for psychology for her doctorate. Becky says: “I wanted to understand people better than I do.”

Her doctoral research, entitled ‘Psychophysiological indices of recognition memory’ involved measuring people’s pupil sizes to learn about the physiological changes that take place when the brain recognises words. When people recognise words, their pupils dilate more than when they see new words.

Becky confirmed this mechanism by getting people to make false statements and then tracking their pupil size. She found that even if someone lied about recognising a word, their eyes revealed the truth as their pupils still dilated.

There have been challenges along the way for Becky. Living with Asperger Syndrome involves having to impose order on everyday routine and the complexities of academic life meant that at times postgraduate life could be daunting, but, says Becky: “Having Asperger’s means I enjoy the attention to detail my research requires.

"I am able to focus on one thing for extended periods and can see patterns and make connections that might not occur to others.  Postgraduate study suited my way of thinking as it meant I could be very specific and learn everything about a small topic. And I’ve learned that I can really make things happen when I want to, and that I’m more resourceful and stronger than I thought I was.

“My supervisors, friends and family have been a huge support and despite having written 80,000 words, I couldn’t find the right ones to convey just how much I appreciated the support I had received.”

Becky is now looking to develop a career in research and is currently a Research Officer in the Centre for Health Research at the University of Brighton.

Last updated: Monday, 16 July 2012