Niven, Elaine


  • Senior Lecturer (Teaching and Scholarship), Psychology
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Research activity per year

Personal profile


I began my current position as a Lecturer at the University of Dundee in September of 2015. Before joining Psychology at Dundee I worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Edinburgh, where I had gained both my PhD and my undergraduate degree, and I continued my link with the University of Edinburgh as an Honorary Fellow between 2015 and 2017.

In my research I have studied memory and cognition across a variety of populations including in younger adults, older adults, and in people with cognitive and/or with physical impairments. As part of what are often multidisciplinary teams, I have investigated temporary binding of visual and spatial information in working memory with Dr Louise Brown (University of Strathclyde), working memory and episodic memory with Professor Robert H. Logie (University of Edinburgh), and assessing cognition and behaviour in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) with Professor Sharon Abrahams and Dr Thomas Bak (University of Edinburgh). A number of these collaborations are ongoing. Throughout my research positions I have always been involved in teaching (including teaching courses Introduction to Cognitive Psychology, and Memory), and during this time also completed a PGCert in Academic Practice; I am now a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, and a Chartered Psychologist with the British Psychological Society.


  • Level 1 Introductory Psychology 1 - Memory & Cognition; Introductory Psychology 2 - Attention, Learning, Memory
  • Level 2 Biological Psychology; Ageing
  • Level 3 Biological Psychology (module coordinator); Research Skills 3a - Practical 1
  • Level 4 Dissertation supervisor
  • MSc Practicum and/or dissertation supervisor 
  • Undergraduate Learning and Teaching, Quality and Academic Standards lead for Psychology


I have an over-arching interest in how we mentally represent the world around us; how we store, manipulate, update and retrieve that information – often apparently seamlessly – and how this changes with age, and with situation – for example, with reduced resources to process incoming information. My research and supervision topics include the often closely associated areas of autobiographical memory, event representation, visuo-spatial working memory, working memory capacity, memory and ageing, and multitasking, with a particular interest in conducting research relating to how memory operates ‘in the real world’.

For Level 4 students - illustrative dissertations I have advised or supervised:

Over the past few years there has been a lot of media attention, as well as research, about the impact of smartphones on our day-to-day lives. Much media attention has focussed on potential consequences of ’thoughtless use’ of devices that appear to otherwise provide so much. How does the research compare to the hype? A range of dissertations have looked at related topics:

  • Does taking photographs impair our memory for what we are recording? In a replication and extension study of the work of Henkel (2014) we looked at the apparently negative consequences to memory of taking pictures of objects, and the possibly positive effect of zooming-in when doing so.
  • There is evidence to suggest that while we may well forget something that we have ‘off-loaded’ (for example, written down), or purposely tried to forget, there may also be unintended positive consequences - such as being better able to remember a following piece of information. Following Storm and Stone (2014), a dissertation study sought to test whether observed effects extend to remembering and forgetting pictures.
  • While monitoring your dinner as it cooks, you pick up your phone and continue reading a paper that you started earlier, before pausing to answer the latest in a long line of texts in a group chat that’s trying to arrange your next holiday trip. You might feel a sense of achievement at being ‘time-efficient’ - but are we doing ourselves a disservice when we attempt to multi-task? A dissertation looked at the consequences (positive and/or negative) of different types of multi-tasking.


Investigating the boundaries of episodic memories: when we recall an event from our lives - a particular journey to a given location, a specific friend’s birthday celebration last month, yesterday’s family dinner, and so on -  we can break that event down into smaller and smaller components; what patterns can be found in the way we do this, and how do these differ across different types of event? Do these components, or the structure of these components, change over time? 

  • A final year undergraduate dissertation sought to test the generalisability and stability of a previously derived structure to the boundaries of episodic memories.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

External positions

Honorary Fellowship , University of Edinburgh

1 Sept 20151 Nov 2017


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

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