Department of Psychology

Research student insight

Clarence Singleton

Clarence Singleton

  • Department of Psychology
  • First supervisor: Dr Mark Brosnan
  • Second supervisor: Dr Chris Ashwin
  • Research title: An investigation into systemising in Autism Spectrum Disorders

Clarence is conducting research for her PhD that will further our understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and the ways in which those with the condition systemise information.

She previously completed her Masters in Philosophy of Cognitive Science at the University of Sussex, and it was while she was writing her thesis that she became interested in researching ASD.

When I wrote my thesis on the problem of mathematical concepts for empiricist and embodied theories of cognition, I came across many stories of both children and adults who could perform seemingly superhuman feats of mathematical calculation or appear to grasp certain mathematical concepts intuitively. The one thing these people had in common was that they were all autistic.

This led Clarence to become interested in ASD and why those with impairments in social functioning appear to have (in many cases) an intact or even superior facility for ‘system’ related subjects, including mathematics.

Through this I become interested in finding out more about the relationship between people-related skills [empathising] and system-related skills [systemising].

Early research findings

Clarence has conducted a number of studies as part of her research. The first of which has shown that even in a typically developing population, adults with more autistic traits have a higher physiological response to images of non-social objects such as cars or trains than they do to images of faces.

If this finding extends to people with ASD, then physiological arousal could be an important factor underlying a drive towards systems and away from social interaction.

She is currently preparing to undertake a similar study, with a focus this time on adults who have been diagnosed with ASD.

I am also working with a game development company in order to develop an online game that could test systemising ability, drive and style. The development of this will be informed by results from my previous research.

Researching from long distance

Clarence lives in Oxford, and so she has had to manage her time carefully in order to spend time on her research in Bath.

I work four days a week in Oxford, so running my experiments has to take place once a week in Bath, which can be difficult to arrange. I’ve been able to manage this well so far and hope to continue to be able to!

Although she has not been able to attend as many of the events, workshops and seminars, she knows that the opportunities and support have been there for her.

The expertise at Bath is fantastic, and I’m proud to be a research student in one of the UK’s top Psychology departments.

Next steps

Studying for a research degree has been very demanding, but Clarence believes it shows self-motivation and determination, as well as numerable transferable skills.

After finishing her PhD she hopes to become involved with other research projects and publish a book.

Further information

To find out more about Clarence’s research, you can contact her by email:

Related pages