Psychology students in discussion at University of Portsmouth

Situated action and communication

Explore our work in situated action and communication, one of our areas of expertise in Psychology


Our research studies action and communication in relation to the contexts and situations in which they emerge. Our work takes the body, and the social, material world in which we live, as fundamental to all psychology.

Working within our Centre for Interaction, Development and Diversity, we explore the processes through which human beings are influenced by their immediate worlds – and how they shape them. From this perspective, ‘things’ in the world – often seen as physical objects – are often deeply social as well.

Our researchers study the implicit and often non-verbal ways in which we engage with other people, and the ways in which these processes influence social understanding, identity, and culture itself.

We study psychological phenomena in relation to the contexts and situations in which they emerge, and our work covers different methods such as naturalistic observations, experiments, conversation analysis, cross-cultural studies and longitudinal studies.

Our research and findings are regularly published in various journals within the field,  – including Developmental Psychology, Autism, PLoS One, Discourse Studies, and Sports Medicine.

To view a full list of staff and researchers in this area, please visit our research portal, Pure.

Our research covers the following topics

  • Developmental psychology — research programmes include attentional and intentional engagements in infants, phonemic and semantic skills, and against the theory of mind.

  • Human movement — Looking at gaze and steering, gaze and non-verbal information during interpersonal interactions, faking injuries in football, sniffing robots, the kinematics of giving, and falls in older life.

  • Autism — research looks at sensory processing and perceiving intentions in AS and typical adults, employment issues in autism, interactional competences in autism. We also house the Autism Research Network in this Centre.

  • Disability and empowerment — research programmes include critical interrogations of services and systemic practice in working with people with intellectual disability, constructions of challenging behaviour in services, and analysing talk: choice, control and power relations.

  • Communication and identity — looking at community and identity in health care, language development and socialisation, identity and memory, and constructions of identities within learning disability services.

Research methods

Our most common research methods include:

  • Naturalistic observations
  • Field and laboratory experiments
  • Interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Conversation Analysis
  • Longitudinal methods
  • Fixed and mobile eye tracking
  • Thermal Imaging

Partnerships and collaborations

We have links with international centres around the world, including:

  • Centre for Research in Life, Mind and Society (CLMS), University of the Basque Country, San Sebastian, Spain
  • Centre for Subjectivity Research (CSR), University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Institute for Advanced Study, University of Konstanz, Germany
  • Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen, NL
  • Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (Developmental Psychology), Leipzig, Gemany
  • Enactive Network (EN), Universite de Technologie de Compiegne, France
  • Wales Autism Research Centre, University of Cardiff, Wales
  • Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland
  • Klinik fuer Allgemeine Psychiatrie fuer Psychsoziale Medizin, Universitaet Heidelberg
  • Centre for Neural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Hyderabad, India
  • Aesthetics of Interaction in the Design of Intelligent Products and Systems, Technische Universiteit, Eindhoven, NL

Publications include

Project highlights

  • Autism Research Network – Our Centre for Situated Action and Communication is home to the Autism Research Network (ARN), which was set up in response to informal discussions with parents and practitioners in the Hampshire area. The primary aim of this Network is to create a forum to promote a genuine communication channel amongst researchers, practitioners, carers, parents and individuals on the Autism Spectrum. These collaborations have resulted in the creation of the Autism Centre for Research on Employment (ACRE), which specialises in conducting research to increase employment outcomes for people in the spectrum.
  • Public Engagement and partnership with Winchester Science Centre & Planetarium
  • Advisory and Training work with practitioners and parents – including the website – a platform that aims to offer reliable information regarding controversial issues in health and education; a partnership with the local nursery network Growing Places; a twice-yearly Family Newsletter about current infancy research; and diverse training to develop awareness of infant social understanding and skills, in partnership with Brazelton Centre, Cambridge, and Fernandez Hospitals, Hyderabad, India

Discover our areas of expertise

Situated action and communication is 1 of our 4 areas of expertise in our Psychology research area – explore the others below.

Interested in a PhD in Psychology?

Browse our postgraduate research degrees – including PhDs and MPhils – at our Psychology postgraduate research degrees page.


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