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Dr Peter McLeod

MA PhD Camb, MA DPhil Oxf

Emeritus Fellow


I grew up in Surrey and went to Guildford Grammar School. I read Natural Sciences at Cambridge. I then worked at the Medical Research Council's Applied Psychology Unit in Cambridge from 1969 to 1983 with a year at the University of Oregon at Eugene in 1980-81. In 1983 I was appointed to a lectureship in the Department of Experimental Psychology in Oxford and a tutorial fellowship at Queen's. I was Estates Bursar from 2006 to 2008.

Research Interests and Representative Publications

I worked in the field known as 'attention' in which people are given several tasks to perform simultaneously. By seeing which tasks can be combined with little interference and which cannot it is possible to deduce the organisation of the cognitive system.

  • Shallice, T., McLeod, P. & Lewis, K. (1985).  Isolating cognitive modules with the dual task paradigm: Are speech perception and production separate processes? Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 37, 507-532.

An important task for the cognitive system is to link perception of the objects moving around you to appropriate actions, intercepting some, avoiding others. To understand the visual-motor system working at its limit I studied how professional cricketers manage to hit the ball with little more than half a second to choose and execute a complex action.

  • McLeod, P. (1987). Visual reaction time and high-speed ball games. Perception, 16, 49-59.
  • Land, M. & McLeod, P. (2000). From eye movements to actions: How batsmen hit the ball. Nature Neuroscience 3, 1340-1345.

A second paradigm that I used for studying visual-motor interaction is how people know where to go to catch a ball. Catching, like many motor skills, is implicit. That is, people cannot explain how they do it. Why is the algorithm that ensures you intercept the ball before it hits the ground is not available for conscious report?

  • McLeod, P. & Dienes, Z. (1996).  Do fielders know where to go to catch the ball, or only how to get there? Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 22, 531-543.
  • Reed, N., McLeod, P. & Dienes, Z. (2010). Motor skill and implicit learning: What people who know how to catch a ball don’t know. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 63-76.

A pervasive cognitive bias, known as the Einstellung effect, is that once you've had a good idea, it's hard to see that there is a better one. The problem is that people notice evidence that supports their idea but seem blind to evidence that goes against it. By measuring the eye movements of chess players who find a good move and then fail to spot a better one (which they could find if the good move was not possible) we demonstrated the cognitive mechanism that underlies this bias. People are literally blind to evidence that is not consistent with the view they already hold.

  •  Bilalic, M., McLeod, P. & Gobet, F. (2008). Why good thoughts block better ones: The mechanism of the pernicious Einstellung (set) effect. Cognition, 108, 652-661.