Dr David Pearson


Faculty:Faculty of Science & Technology


Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Brain & Cognition

David is a cognitive psychologist whose research examines the cognitive processes involved during memory, mental imagery and visuo-spatial thinking, with a particular focus on applications in the fields of clinical and environmental psychology.

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View David's Frontiers and ResearchGate profiles.


David joined Anglia Ruskin University as a Reader in 2015, having previously worked at the University of Aberdeen. He has also worked at the University of the Saarland in Germany and taught for the Open University. David is a Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society, and a member of the Experimental Psychology Society. He is also a visiting researcher at Trieste University in Italy and the University of Bergen in Norway.

Research interests

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  • The involvement of mental imagery and working memory in different clinical disorders, particularly those that are associated with involuntary and intrusive images and memories. Recent studies have looked at the role of abstract contextual representations in modulating intrusion frequency for negative stimuli that are viewed during analogue trauma paradigms. This research has been supported by the Nuffield Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the Malaysian Ministry of Education.
  • The mental health benefits of viewing and interacting with natural environments. Recent studies have focused on experimentally testing predictions that arise from Attention Restoration Theory (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989) which asserts that the cognitive load associated with viewing natural scenes is lower than that associated with built environments. This research has been funded by the Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability and the Scottish Government’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division.
  • Exploring and developing theoretical and applied issues in visuo-spatial working memory (VSWM) and mental imagery research. Recent papers have addressed the role of VSWM and imagery in visual creativity, sequence-space synaesthesia, body image dissatisfaction, and perceptual specificity effects in long-term memory. Experiments have also explored the role of the oculomotor system as a rehearsal mechanism during VSWM. This research has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

David is a member of our Executive Function Research Area which forms part of our Brain and Cognition Research Group.

Areas of research supervision

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  • Mental imagery in clinical disorders
  • Mental health benefits of natural environments
  • Visual creativity and thinking
  • Eye movements during imagery and visuo-spatial working memory

Find out more about our Psychology PhD.


  • PhD in Psychology, University of Aberdeen, 1997
  • MA (Hons) in Psychology (1st), University of Edinburgh, 1992

Memberships, editorial boards

  • Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society
  • Chartered Psychologist
  • Member of the Experimental Psychology Society
  • Associate Editor, Frontiers in Psychiatry

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

Professional Activity

  • Research Board, British Psychological Society
  • Membership Standards Board, British Psychological Society
  • BPS Spearman Medal and Doctoral Award Committees

Research Funding

  • Involuntary memory and mental imagery in clinical disorders. 2014-2015. Malaysia Ministry of Education. Co-applicant: Mohamad Azhari Abu Bakar (University Malaysia Sarawak). £93,000.
  • How does the eye-movement system mediate the formation, retention and recall of visuospatial working memories? 2011-2012. Economic and Social Research Council. Co-applicant: Daniel Smith (Durham University). £79,000.
  • Scene saliency and cognitive restoration in natural and built environments. Aberdeen Centre for Environmental Sustainability/The James Hutton Institute, 2009-2013. Co-applicants: Jillian Anable (AU School of Geosciences), Tony Craig (James Hutton Institute). £52,000.
  • Measurement of Visuo-Spatial Working Memory. 2006-2007. Economic and Social Research Council.  Co-applicants Rebecca Bull, Colin Hamilton (Northumbria University). £45,000.
  • Terrain Visualisation: effect of 2D and 3D representations in human wayfinding. 2005-2007. British Academy.  Co-applicants: Michael Wood (AU School of Geography), Colin Calder (AU Learning Technology Unit), David Miller (James Hutton Institute).  £4800.
  • An investigation of cognitive processes during the encoding and retrieval of emotional visual stimuli. 2005. Nuffield Foundation.  Co-applicant: Emily Holmes (Oxford University). £1100
  • Dual-task Interference Effects with a Trauma Film Paradigm. 2005. Wellcome Trust. Co-applicants: Emily Holmes (Oxford University). £1300
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh & Lloyds TSB Research Studentship on Autobiographical Memory and Aging (co-applicant Louise Phillips). 2003-2006. £43,000.
  • Mental synthesis in five and ten year old children. 2002-2003. British Academy. £3500.
  • Perceptions: A multifaceted arts and science programme for children. 2001-2002. Scottish Arts Council. Co-applicants: David Atherton (City Council Education Officer), Anita Clark (artistic director of CityMoves DanceSpace). £5000.
  • Royal Society of Edinburgh & Lloyds TSB Research Studentship on Creativity and Aging. (co-applicant Louise Phillips). 2000-2003. £38,000.
  • Mental imagery, working memory, and creative thinking: The role of stimulus support. 1996-1998. Economic and Social Research Council. Co-applicants: Robert Logie, Ken Gilhooly. £43,000.

Selected recent publications

Krans, J., Pearson, D.G., Maier, B., & Moulds, M., in press. Contextual representations of negative images modulate intrusion frequency in an intrusion provocation paradigm. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry.

Jurgensen, F., Pearson, D.G., & Knopke, I., in press. Building an authentic listener: Applying a passive exposure-based training paradigm to detecting differences among compositional styles. Journal of Interdisciplinary Music Studies.

Darling, S., Uytman, C., Allen, R.J., Havelka, J., & Pearson, D.G. (2015). Body image, visual working memory and visual mental imagery. PeerJ 3: e775

Cseh, G., Phillips, L.H., & Pearson, D.G. (2015). Flow, affect, and visual creativity. Cognition and Emotion, 29(2), 281-291.

Pearson, D.G. & Logie, R.H. (2015). A sketch is not enough: Dynamic external support increases insight on a guided synthesis task. Thinking and Reasoning, 21(1), 97-112.

Pearson, D.G., & Craig, T. (2014). The great outdoors? Exploring the mental health benefits of natural environments. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 1178.

Pearson, D.G., Ball, K., & Smith, D.T. (2014). Saccade preparation as a rehearsal mechanism in visuospatial working memory. Cognition, 132(3), 416-428.

Van der Jagt, A.P.N., Craig, T., Anable, J., Brewer, M.J., & Pearson, D.G. (2014). Unearthing the picturesque: The validity of the preference matrix as a measure of landscape aesthetics. Landscape and Urban Planning, 124, 1-13.

Pearson, DG. (2014). Are C-reps Contextual Representations? A reply to Brewin and Burgess. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 45(1), 220-222.

Ball, K., Pearson, DG. & Smith, DT. (2013). Oculomotor involvement in spatial working memory is task-specific. Cognition, 129(2), 439-446.

Price, MC. & Pearson, DG. (2013). Toward a visuospatial developmental account of sequence-space synaesthesia. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 7, 689.

Krans, J., Langner, O., Reinecke, A., & Pearson, D.G. (2013). Intrusive images and voluntary memory for affective pictures: Contextualization and dual-task interference. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 44, 418-425.

Pearson, D.G., & Hollings, J. (2013). Einstein’s jacket: Evidence for long-term perceptual specificity in mental imagery. Consciousness and Cognition, 22(1), 148-154.

Pearson, D.G., Deeprose, C., Wallace-Hadrill, S., Burnett Heyes, S., & Holmes, E.A. (2013). Assessing mental imagery in clinical psychology: A review of imagery measures and a guiding framework. Clinical Psychology Review, 33(1), 1-23.

Pearson, D.G. (2012). Contextual representations increase analogue traumatic intrusions: Evidence against a dual-representation account of peri-traumatic processing. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 43(4), 1026-1031.

Pearson, D.G., Ross, F. & Webster, V. (2012). The importance of context: evidence that contextual representations increase intrusive memories. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 43(1), 573-580.

Pearson, D.G. & Sawyer, T. (2011). Effects of dual task interference on memory intrusions for affective images. International Journal of Cognitive Therapy, 4 (2), 122-133.

Rudkin, S.J., Pearson, D.G., & Logie, R.H. (2007). Executive processes in visual and spatial working memory tasks. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60(1), 79-100.

Pearson, D.G. (2007). Mental imagery and creative thought. Proceedings of the British Academy, 147, 187-212.

Allen, R., McGeorge, P., Pearson, D.G., & Milne, A. B. (2006). Multiple-target tracking: A role for working memory? Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 59(6), 1101-1116.

Law, A.S., Logie, R.H., & Pearson, D.G. (2006). The impact of secondary tasks in a virtual environment. Acta Psychologica 122(1), 27-44.

Pearson, D.G., & Logie, R.H. (2004). Effects of stimulus modality and working memory load on mental synthesis performance. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, 23(2/3), 183-192.

Allen, R., McGeorge, P., Pearson, D.G., & Milne, A.B. (2004). Attention and expertise in multiple target tracking. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 18(3), 337-347.

Law, A.S., Logie, R.H., Pearson, D.G., Cantagallo, A., Moretti, E., & Dimarco, F. (2004). Resistance to the impact of interruptions during multitasking by healthy adults and dysexecutive patients. Acta Psychologica 116 (3), 285-307.

Pearson, D.G. & Sahraie, A. (2003). Oculomotor control and the maintenance of spatially and temporally distributed events in visuo-spatial working memory. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology-A, 56(7), 1089-1111.

Reisberg, D., Pearson, D.G., & Kosslyn, S.M. (2003). Intuitions and introspections about imagery: The role of imagery experience in shaping an investigator's theoretical views. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 17(2), 147-160.

Book Chapters

Pearson, D.G. (2013). Working Memory. In M. Gellman & J.R. Turner (Eds.),  Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. Springer, USA.

Pearson, D.G. (2007). Visuo-spatial rehearsal processes in working memory. In R.H. Logie & N. Osaka (Eds.), The Cognitive Neuroscience of Working Memory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Wood, M., Pearson, D.G., & Calder, C. (2007). Comparing the effects of different 3D representations on human wayfinding. In G. Gartner, W. Cartwright, and M.P. Peterson (Eds.), Location Based Services and TeleCartography. Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Pearson, D.G. (2006). The episodic buffer: Implications and connections with visuo-spatial research. In T. Vecchi & G. Bottini (Eds.), Imagery and spatial cognition: Methods, models, and cognitive assessment. UK: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Pearson, D.G., Alexander, A., & Webster, R. (2001). Working memory and expertise differences in design. In J. Gero, B. Tversky, & T. Purcell (Eds.), Visual and Spatial Reasoning in Design II. Sydney: Key Centre of Design Computing and Cognition.

Pearson, D.G. (2001). Imagery and the visuo-spatial sketchpad. In J. Andrade (Ed.), Working Memory in Perspective. Hove: The Psychology Press. 

Pearson, D.G., De Beni, R. & Cornoldi, C. (2000). The generation and transformation of visuo-spatial images in mental discovery. In M. Denis, C. Cornoldi, R.H. Logie, M. de Vega and J. Engelkamp (Eds.), Imagery, Language and Visuo-Spatial Thinking. Hove: The Psychology Press.

Pearson, D.G. & Logie, R.H. (2000). Working memory and mental synthesis. In S. O'Nuallan (Ed.), Spatial Cognition: Foundations and applications. John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Pearson, D.G. & Logie, R.H. (1998). Visuo-spatial working memory: Fractionation and development. In J. Bideaud and Y. Courbois (Eds.), Image Mentale et Developpement: De la theorie piagetienne aux neurosciences cognitives. Paris: Press Universitaires de France.

Other Reports

Guidelines on Memory and the Law: Recommendations from the Scientific Study of Human Memory. A report by the Memory & The Law  Committee, a Working Party of the Research Board of the British Psychological Society (BPS, 2008).