School of Psychology

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Bahar Tuncgenc

Research Fellow, Faculty of Science



After obtaining undergraduate training in Psychology and a minor degree in Biology (2010), I completed a Master's in Cognitive Science (2012) at the Middle East Technical University. My MSc thesis focussed on the development of social norms in Turkish toddlers. To find out more about human social behaviour, particularly bonding and cooperation, I did a DPhil with Dr Emma Cohen at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford (2016). My DPhil thesis revealed how performing movements that are synchronised in time (such as in dance or rhythmic walking) signals affiliation in infancy, and forges bonds and helping between peers in childhood. During my DPhil, I earned a study abroad grant from Charterhouse European Bursary, which enabled me to spend 3 months at the Uppsala Child & Baby Lab, collaborating with Dr Christine Fawcett. A growing interest in the links between sensory-motor behaviours and social communication in autism led me to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship with Dr Stewart Mostofsky at the Johns Hopkins University and Kennedy Krieger Institute (2017 - 2019). During this fellowship, I examined how different forms of action copying relate to social communication and was involved in the method development of a Computerised Assessment of Motor Imitation (CAMI). These works were done in collaboration with psycholinguists (Dr Inge-Marie Eigsti and her team) and computer vision scientists (Dr Rene Vidal and his team). Since June 2019, I have been working as an independent Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham School of Psychology. I continue to work closely with my previous collaborators and others to find answers to the questions laid out in my Research Summary.

Teaching Summary

As an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, I have designed and taught undergraduate- and graduate-level courses at the University of Oxford and University of Nottingham on research… read more

Research Summary

My research is on human social interactions, cooperation and bonding behaviour.

I aim to understand how these behaviours develop in childhood and which sensory and movement mechanisms underlie them. I study adults and children from neurotypical and autistic populations. My research uses a multidisciplinary framework based in developmental, cognitive and social psychology, anthropology, neuroscience and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Since March 2020, I have been conducting a global survey on how social connections and well-being are impacted by the distancing measures applied during the COVID-19 pandemic.

My key research questions are:

  • Does copying others' actions make us affiliate more with others, and if so, under which conditions?
  • Which forms of action copying are impaired in autism, and how do they relate to the social-communicative difficulties observed?
  • What is the role of sensory-motor integration in facilitating action copying and social bonding?
  • Can joint movement (as in dance) and social bonds help improve well-being?
  • How does social isolation (as in the case of the pandemic) impact social interactions and well-being?
  • Do the answers to the above questions change during development and across cultures (and how)?

I collaborate with many other scientists from across the world to help answer these questions. You can see a full list of my publications here.

Selected Publications


My research aims to explain how humans bond and cooperate with each other starting from the first months of infancy all the way into adulthood. The findings from this research can have important implications for education, well-being and forming social connections within and between groups.

My research has been featured in TV and radio interviews with BBC News, ITV Central, Notts TV, BBC Radio Oxford and BBC Radio Nottingham. Some examples of media involvement are:

BBC News: Dancing can bring people together, say researchers

Daily Mail: Dancing really DOES break the ice: Children who dance together feel more connected

ITV News: Featuring our global Distancing Study on COVID-19 on ITV Central News

Notts TV: Featuring our global Distancing Study on COVID-19 in the news programme "Ey up Notts"

Cherwell Magazine: Global study to analyse social distancing effect on mental wellbeing and behaviour

Public Engagement

Spreading the word of science, especially to those who are least likely to access it otherwise, is a passion and duty for me. I am always excited to talk about my work and areas of expertise.

Tate Exchange Event 2019: Conducted an interactive study at the "Moving Humans" exhibition

Baltimore Brain Connect 2018: Gave free science lessons in inner city schools as part of the Brain Awareness Week

Book translation 2017: Translation of the book "Why we cooperate" into Turkish

RöporTAF 2017 (in Turkish): Live Youtube interview for an initiative advocating science engagement in Turkey

As an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, I have designed and taught undergraduate- and graduate-level courses at the University of Oxford and University of Nottingham on research methods, evolutionary and social psychology, autism and neurodevelopmental disorders. I have supervised several undergraduate and Master's students, and co-supervised a DPhil student in Oxford to successful completion. As part of efforts to support science advocacy and equal opportunities, I have given public talks in community events, schools and university open days.

School of Psychology

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The University of Nottingham
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