Mrs Hayley Spurin

Research project: Complex mental state understanding in children and adolescents with Autism


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a developmental condition causing impairments and difficulties with social communication (DSM V, 2013).  ASD is thought to affect a person's ability to utilise Theory of Mind, the principal where by one person understands the mental state of another, interpreting feelings or intentions.  The studies in this thesis use eye tracking technology and verbal reports to further expand a polarised debate as to the physiological and cognitive skills separating people with ASD from the neuro-typical (NT) population. Results indicate that there are considerable skills present in ASD populations indicating that social communication is less impacted by the ability to look at socially salient aspects of faces or crowded social scenes.  This thesis explores complexities in the ability to process combined information for people with ASD, as a potential theory for understanding social communication performance compared to NT populations.

  • Research degree: PhD
  • Title of project: Complex mental state understanding in children and adolescents with Autism
  • Research supervisor: Dr Elisa Back


I undertook my Master's in Applied Child Psychology in 2009, after a 5 year secondary school teaching career, and have continued to teach through my PhD.  I have covered maternity leave for the Psychology department at Kingston University and taught up to Master's level.  I convened a final year UG module at Roehampton University called Autism and Interdisciplinary Approach,  achieving a 4.9 out of 5 from my students during the 2019 - 2020 academic year. My teaching style is inspired by both my professional and personal experience.  Having a daughter diagnosed with ASD in 2017, I link the science with the reality of ASD, which can really help comprehension, taking the abstract into reality.  I have presented my work at the British Psychology Society conference, Liverpool and Belfast;  at the Neuro-Developmental conferences Oxford, Kingston and Surrey Universities, and at the Social Communication Conference 2018 at the University of Kent.

Areas of research interest

  • Developmental Psychology
  • Autism
  • Theory of Mind
  • Emotion Recognition
  • Face Processing
  • Language Production
  • Social Emotional Communication
  • Interventions


  • MSc Applied Child Psychology, Kingston University, London
  • PGCE, Secondary English, Media and Drama, University of Swansea
  • BA English and History, University of Wales, Swansea

Funding or awards received

  • BPS Student bursary to attend the Liverpool Conference, 2018
  • Student bursary for attending the Social Communication Conference at Kent University

Conference papers

BPS Belfast 2016: Recognising Complex Emotions in ASD

NDev 2017: Recognising complex emotions: Eye movements in children and adolescents with ASD in complex social scenes

NDev 2018:  Real time language production and Theory of Mind assessment in Autism

BPS 2018:  Complex mental state and basic emotion recognition in dynamic film: An exploration of Theory of Mind understanding in ASD

Social Communication Conference 2018: Real Time language production and Theory of Mind assessment in Autism