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Professor Roddy Cowie

Photo of Roddy Cowie




Room 01.531, David Keir Building
School of Psychology
Queen's University Belfast
Belfast, BT7 1NN
Northern Ireland, UK


+44 (0)28 9097 4354


I was born in Perth, Scotland in 1950, and grew up in and around Clackmannanshire. I went to Stirling University in 1968, spent a junior year abroad at UCLA, and graduated with joint honours in Philosophy and Psychology. I did a PhD at Sussex on the relationship between human vision and ideas about machine vision that were emerging at the time. I was appointed to Queen’s in 1975, became senior lecturer in 1991, and professor in 2003.

Other sections give specific information on my teaching and research. In broad terms, both of them reflect my interdisciplinary background. I am wary of assuming that we know how to divide up the issues involved in understanding human beings, and a lot of what I do involves encouraging both students and research collaborators to consider how different disciplines look at the problems they are interested in.

My main goal in administration within the School has been promoting a research culture, as head of the Cognitive & Biological Research Division 1989-93, Chair of the Research Committee 1992-93, and Director of Research in Emotion, Perception & Individual Differences 2005-2011. At University level, I helped to establish provision for students with disabilities as chair of the University Disability Action Group from 1996 – 99, and manager of two projects which provided access for deaf students, SUCCEED (project funded by BT 1995- 97) and JUDE (funded by HEFCE / NIHEC 1997- 99). I was also deputy chair of the University Ethics Committee 2007-2009.

I have been involved in music and the Church for most of my life. Both are reflected in my academic work. My research on music (see the research section) is informed by the experience of performing (solo and in a choir) and writing songs (see e.g. I taught a course on the psychology of religion for many years, and I bring my background in psychology to bear on the debates about God and Science (see e.g. ) I broadcast fairly regularly, both about my research on emotion (e.g. and about religion and science issues (e.g.

I have been married since 1977 to Ellen Douglas-Cowie, and we have two children.


School of Psychology Administrative Roles

I have held a long succession of admin posts in the School, mainly in research-related areas. Since the 1990s these have included Head of Cognitive & Biological Research Division, Chair of the School Research Committee, Head of Postgraduate Research, Director of Research for the EPIC cluster (Emotion, Perception and Individual Characteristics) from 2005-2011, and most recently Postgraduate Research Tutor.

Currently my main administrative duties are

  • managing three large research projects, with a fourth pending (see the Research section)
  • oversight of provision for postdoctoral researchers in the School
  • development of strategies to maximise impact of research in the School.

I also co-ordinate two undergraduate modules, Methods and Group Projects (yr 2) and Emotion (yr 3)

People who have graduated from the School generally remember my teaching.  I think the ideas that we have to offer people are genuinely important, and I will do whatever it takes to get them across. The comments at the end of this section reflect that. The courses I teach vary from year to year, but these are the areas I have been teaching  in recently.


Emotion has been my main research area since the mid-1990s. I teach two courses on it:

PSY 1002 (Introductory Psychology)  I teach a ‘mini-course’ to first year students on the psychology of emotion. It covers topics like the range of things we call emotion; the idea that they are more closely related to biology than other parts of mental life; their relationship to cognition; and the importance of positive emotions.  

PSY 3082 (Emotion option) This is a course that third year students can choose if they want to. It covers emotion at a more advanced level, looking at topics like the history of the subject; the theoretical challenge of explaining what it is; the practical challenge of describing it; the neural structures involved; the signs of emotion; its role in social interactions; its relationships to values; and the emerging discipline of emotion and computing. Students also study a particular emotion (chosen by them) and present a paper on it to other students.   

Thinking like a psychologist

The heart of a degree in psychology is learning to use your mind in a distinctive way – including distinctive ways of weighing up evidence as you read and think, and presenting it as you write and speak.  I try to focus students on that challenge at several levels:

PSY 1001 (Introductory Psychology) I explain how we expect students to write essays for coursework and exams.    

PSY 1004 (‘Myths in psychology’ semester 1) I introduce this course on critical thinking.

PSY 1005 (‘Myths in psychology’ semester 2) I have been involved in helping to design the coursework and feedback, and to making sure that marking is fair (and helpful).

PSY 2057 (Conceptual issues) I teach a series of lectures that begins by looking at key features of the way psychologists think, read, and write; and then looks at the way these ideas have shaped the history of psychology, and been shaped by it.

PSY 2059 (Group project) I teach students about presenting the findings of their projects ‘live’ in a conference situation.

Research design and professional  skills (Postgraduate) I introduce postgraduates to the principles underlying psychologists’ methods, which are ultimately based on the scary-sounding (but very practical) discipline of epistemology.

Introduction to MATLAB programming (postgraduate) This is for postgraduates who need basic programming skills to deal with large quantities of data or to transform it in interesting ways.

I have produced an edited book to back up my undergraduate teaching in this area:

R.Cowie (ed) Conceptual Issues in Psychology Cengage: 2011

Supervising projects

PSY 2056 & PSY 2059 These second year modules involve work with small groups of students – tutorials in semester 1 and a group project in Semester 2.

PSY 3001 (Thesis) I supervise final year students who work in pairs on projects linked to my research areas (see research section)

I also supervise research students (five at present).

Student comments

Students give comments on their courses as part of a formal feedback system. These are some that give an idea of the range of responses:

Roddy is excellent, interesting and dynamic, clear, logical and never a dull moment. Hurray!

The Charlie Chaplin of the Queen's Psychology department!! Good lectures, hard subject matter.

Dr Cowie showed a genuine interest in the subject which was conveyed clearly through the lectures. He made quite clear a potentially difficult subject. He was also quite entertaining but informative.

This course has given a better understanding of the philosophy that underpins psychology & although still confused, certainly a lot clearer on the subject

Although often the material was hard to understand and I often got confused, Dr Cowie was able to clarify the points very well. Enjoyable lectures but very taxing on the grey cells.


Member of the EPIC (Emotion, Perception, and Individual Characteristics) Research Cluster 


 SEMAINE Avatars  


My core research area is perception, particularly perception that results in impressions that are subtle and hard to describe exactly. I use formal techniques to capture what these elusive impressions are like, and their relationship to the physical events and patterns of energy that underlie them.

That has led me to work on several areas, including picture perception, the experience of hearing loss, and the perception of music. However my main area has been the perception of emotion – not sterotypical outbursts of emotion, but the emotional colouring that pervades everyday life. My goal has been to develop an understanding of the way people ‘read’ that emotional colouring which is precise enough to let us build artificial systems that read and generate signs of emotional colouring roughly as people do.

The state of progress is shown in recordings of people interacting with systems which we have been involved in building:

Our biggest contribution has been developing resources that allow us to understand exactly what are the signals that humans give in interaction, and what they mean. That includes large databases, particularly

the SEMAINE database, which can be accessed at

labelling tools which provide a continuous picture of the feelings behind a person’s expressions, first FEELtrace and more recently Gtrace, both available from Tool

The work has been done through projects funded by the European Commission, all in collaboration with a range of partners from across Europe.

ILHAIRE 2011-2014 is studying laughter. Laughter is an integral part of communication – converation includes about a laugh a minute. We are studying it so that artificial systems can recognise it and generate it appropriately.

SSPnet 2009-2014 aims to develop social signal processing (including emotional signals as part of a wider pattern). Out emphasis has been on politeness and other ‘stances’ that people adopt at least partly deloberately over a moderate period of time.

SIEMPRE 2010-2013 studies the signals and patterns of communication that make live musical performance a unique phenomenon – between conductor and orchestra, among musicians, in the audience.

SEMAINE 2008-2010 developed the system shown in the videos above.

HUMAINE 2004-2007 established a broad framework for dealing with the multiple problems involved in building systems that detect and generate emotion-related signals.

ERMIS 2001-2003 began the development of integrated audio-visual techniques for detecting emotion

ORESTEIA 2000-2003 studied signs of emotion provided by behaviour rather than face or voice, in the context of driving

PHYSTA 1998-2001 began the development of databases showing both audio and visual signs of everyday emotional colouring.


I was founder and first president of the HUMAINE Association ( , I chair the steering committee of the IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing, and I have organised or co-organised over 20 international conferences or workshops, including the Audio/Visual Emotion Challenge and Workshop (AVEC 2011) at ACII 2011 (Memphis), the Doctoral Consortia at ACII 2007 (Lisbon), 2009 (Amsterdam), and 2011 (Memphis), EmoSPACE 2011(1st International Workshop on Emotion Synthesis, representation, and Analysis in Continuous spacEs) at IEEE FG2011 (Santa Barbara), Workshops on Emotion databases at LREC 2006 (Genoa), 2008 (Marrakech), and 2010 (Malta), the International Conference on Music and Emotion 2009 (Durham) and the International Speech Communication Association Research Workshop on Speech and Emotion in 2000 (Newcastle Co Down).


Professor Roddy Cowie's Full Publication List


Emotion and computing

G. McKeown, M. Valstar, R. Cowie, M. Pantic, and M. Schroder (in press) The SEMAINE database: annotated multimodal records of emotionally coloured conversations between a person and a limited agent IEEE Transactions on Affective Computing

R Cowie (in press) The good our field can hope to do, the harm it should avoid IEEE Transactions on Affective Computin: Special Issue on Ethics and affective computing

P.Petta, C Pelachaud, R Cowie (eds) (2011) Emotion-oriented systems: the HUMAINE handbook Springer: Heidelberg 792 pp

R Cowie (2010) Describing the forms of emotional colouring that pervade everyday life In P Goldie (ed) The Oxford Handbook of the Philosophy of Emotion Oxford: Oxford University Press pp 63-94

R Cowie (2009) Perceiving emotion: towards a realistic understanding of the task Phil Trans Roy Soc B Vol 364, 3515-3525

Wöllmer, M., Eyben, F., Reiter, S., Schuller, B., Cox, C., Douglas-Cowie, E., Cowie, R. (2008): "Abandoning emotion classes - towards continuous emotion recognition with modelling of long-range dependencies" INTERSPEECH-2008, 597-600 *

R. Cowie, E. Douglas-Cowie, C. Cox. (2005) Beyond emotion archetypes: Databases for emotion modelling using neural networks. Neural Networks 18, 371-388 *

R Cowie and R. Cornelius (2003) Describing the Emotional States that are Expressed in Speech Speech Communication vol 40, 5-32 **

E. Douglas-Cowie, N. Campbell, R. Cowie and P. Roach (2003). Emotional speech: towards a new generation of databases. vol 40, 33-60 **

R. Cowie, E. Douglas-Cowie, N. Tsapatsoulis, G. Votsis, S. Kollias, W. Fellenz, J. Taylor (2001).Emotion Recognition in Human-Computer Interaction. IEEE Signal Processing Magazine Jan 2001. 32-80 ***

* >50 citations, ** >200 citations, *** >750 citations

Music and aesthetics

R.Cowie (in Press) Beauty is Felt, Not Calculated; and it Does Not Fit in Boxes In E. Schellekens and P. Goldie (ed) The Aesthetic Mind: Philosophy and Psychology Oxford: Oxford University Press

R. Cowie (2009) Using dimensional descriptions to express the emotional content of music Proceedings ACII 2009 vol 1 pp 740-745

The experience of hearing loss

R.Cowie (2001) How academic can you be about hearing loss and deafness? Hearing Review Oct 2001, 62-76

R.Cowie & E. Douglas-Cowie (1992). Postlingually acquired deafness: Speech deterioration and the wider consequences. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. ix + 304

R. Cowie & E. Douglas-Cowie (1983). Speech production in profound postlingual deafness. In M. Lutman,& M. Haggard (eds.), Hearing science and hearing disorders. London: Academic Press, pp.183- 230

Picture perception

A Gallagher, R. Cowie, I. Crothers, J. Jordan-Black & R.Satava (2003) PicSOr: an objective test of perceptual skill that predicts laparoscopic technical skill in three initial studies of laparoscopopic performance Surgical Endoscopy 17, 1468-1471.

R. Cowie (1998) Measurement and modelling of perceived slant in surfaces represented by freely viewed line drawings Perception 27, 505-540

R.Cowie & R. Perrott (1993) From line drawings to impressions of three-dimensional objects: developing a model to account for the shapes that people see. Image and Vision Computing 11(6), 342-352