University of Malta

Professor Ian Thornton
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Professor Ian M. Thornton BSc (Lancs) MPhil (Cantab) PhD (Oregon)
Office: Room 319, Faculty of Media and Knowledge Sciences


Ian studied Psychology & Computer Science at Lancaster University, graduating in 1988. He completed an MPhil. in Computer Speech & Language Processing at Cambridge University, and then worked as a research officer at the Language Acquisition Research Centre (LARC), Sydney University, Australia. At LARC he helped to implement cognitive-inspired computational tools for assessing second language development. In 1993 he began his doctoral studies in vision with Jennifer Freyd at the University of Oregon, USA. His thesis work, completed in 1997, explored the role of dynamic representations in face processing. During his doctoral studies he also spent a year at Rutgers University, working with Maggie Shiffrar on Biological Motion processing and with Romi Nijhawan and Beena Khurana on object localisation.

His post-doctoral work was conducted at Cambridge Basic Research, a privately funded lab split between Harvard and MIT. He worked with Ron Rensink and Patrick Cavanagh, both of whom helped inspire a lasting interest in the role that attention plays in the processing of dynamic objects. In 2000, he accepted a research scientist post at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics in Tuebingen, Germany. Working in the group of Heinrich Bülthoff, he continued to study dynamic objects while also beginning to explore the potential of virtual reality and computer animation as research tools. In 2005 he became Professor of Cognitive Psychology at Swansea University, Wales, UK. Since 2013 he has been Professor of Cognitive Science at the University of Malta.

Ian’s research aims to understand how the brain represents information that changes over time. Much work in Cognitive Science continues to concern itself with stable states (e.g. photographs of faces). Often this is simply because static experimental stimuli are more accessible and/or conceptually tractable. However, in reality, all of our experience has a temporal as well as a spatial dimension. “Images” are human constructs that have only existed for tens of thousands of years.  Across a range of topics, such as facial identity processing, action recognition, object localization, and change detection, Ian’s work explores the impact that temporal variation has for the way we internally represent the world.


Selected Publications

(For a full list with PFDs please visit

  • Mayer, K. M., Vuong, Q.C. & Thornton, I.M. (2015). Do People “Pop Out”? PLoS ONE 10(10): e0139618. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0139618.
  • Thornton, I. M., & Horowitz, T. S. (2015). Does action disrupt Multiple Object Tracking (MOT)? Psihologija, 48(3), 289-301.
  • Caniard, F., Bülthoff, H.H., & Thornton I.M. (2015). Action can amplify motion-induced illusory displacement. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8:1058, doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2014.01058
  • Thornton, I. M. (2014). Representational Momentum and the Human Face: an empirical note. Xjenza, 2(2), 9, 101-110.
  • Kristjánsson, Á.,  Jóhannesson, Ó.I., & Thornton, I. M. (2014). Common Attentional Constraints in Visual Foraging. PLoS ONE 9(6): e100752. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0100752.
  • Thornton, I. M., Wootton, Z., & Pedmanson, P. (2014). Matching biological motion at extreme distances. Journal of Vision, 14(3):13, 1–17., doi:10.1167/14.3.13.
  • Thornton, I. M., Bülthoff, H. H., Horowitz, T. S., Rynning, A. & Lee, S-W. (2014). Interactive Multiple Object Tracking (iMOT). PLoS ONE 9(2): e86974. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0086974
  • Thornton, I. M., Mullins, E., & Banahan K. (2011). Motion can amplify the face-inversion effect. Psihologija, 44(1), 5-22.


Last Updated: 27 September 2017

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