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College of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences

Department of Psychology


Timothy Sweeny

Dr. Sweeny is interested in taking a new graduate student for Fall 2020. He will review applications from students applying to either Affective/Social/Cognitive, Clinical, or Developmental Psychology programs.

Areas of expertise/research interests

  • Visual perception, auditory-visual perception
  • Emotion/face perception
  • Consciousness and awareness
  • Perceptual development

Current research and projects

  • How do we see the gist of a scene? What visual processes allow us to perceive several things—a crowd of people, a flock of birds, or a wall of bricks—all at once?
  • How do we distinguish between individuals in a group? What processes help us to see subtle information that makes people unique?
  • What is visual experience like in childhood? How does the ability to perceive and understand social information develop from childhood to adulthood?
  • What kinds of visual processes occur without our conscious awareness? How does visual input guide our behavior even when we are not aware of it?
  • How do we recognize emotional expressions? Does hearing emotional information influence the way we see facial expressions?

Professional Biography

I study visual perception. The research in my lab uses psychophysics and computational modeling to understand how the visual system enhances the way we see people in an amazing variety of contexts—alone, in groups, among countless sights and sounds. One branch of my work explores how the visual system sorts through lots of information to bring subtle distinctions, like a smile in a crowd, to our awareness. Another branch of my research investigates how the visual system integrates information about many things, allowing us see the gist of a scene. Ultimately, my goal is to understand how basic perceptual processes shape complex social and emotional behavior.

I teach an undergraduate course on Sensation and Perception, and I lead a graduate seminar on affective neuroscience.


  • PhD, Northwestern University, 2010
  • BA, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 2003

Selected Publications

  • Lamer, S., Weisbuch, M., & Sweeny, T.D. (In press). Spatial cues influence the visual perception of gender. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
  • Elias, E., Dyer, M., & Sweeny, T.D. (2017). Ensemble perception of dynamic emotional groups. Psychological Science, 28(2), 193–203.
  • Sweeny, T.D., Haroz, S., & Whitney, D. (2013). Perceiving group behavior: Sensitive ensemble coding mechanisms for biological motion of human crowds. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 39(2), 329–337.
  • Sweeny, T.D., Grabowecky, M., Paller, K.A., & Suzuki, S. (2013). Detecting and categorizing fleeting emotion in faces. Emotion, 13(1), 76-91.
  • Sweeny, T.D., Haroz, S., & Whitney, D. (2012). Reference repulsion in the categorical perception of biological motion. Vision Research, 64, 26–34.
  • Sweeny, T.D., Guzman-Martinez, E., Ortega, L., Grabowecky, M., & Suzuki, S. (2012). Speech enhances visual perception. Cognition, 124, 194–200.
  • Sweeny, T.D., Grabowecky, M., & Suzuki, S. (2011). Awareness becomes necessary between curvature and aspect-ratio processing. Psychological Science, 22(7), 943–950.
  • Sweeny, T.D., Grabowecky, M., Paller, K.A., & Suzuki, S. (2009). Within-hemifield perceptual averaging of facial expressions predicted by neural averaging. Journal of Vision, 9(3):2, 1–11.