Dr Ali Mair

Dr Ali Mair


I joined the University of Leeds in 2023 as a Lecturer in Psychology. Prior to this I also studied at the University of Leeds as both an undergraduate student (BSc (Hons) Psychology, 2006-2009) and a postgraduate student (MSc Memory and its Disorders, 2009-2010). I completed my PhD on the Effects of Age on Autobiographical Memory at City, University of London in 2016, which was followed by two 3-year Postdoctoral Fellowships at the University of Hertfordshire and the University of York, the latter funded by the British Academy.

Research interests

My research focuses on the naturalistic study of human memory, with two main strands: (1) the use of wearable cameras as memory aids, and (2) changes to autobiographical memory associated with healthy ageing.

The use of wearable cameras as memory aids. Wearable cameras are small devices that can be worn around the neck or attached to clothing, and which capture automatic photographs every few seconds, from the wearer’s perspective. The photographs can be downloaded onto a computer and used to cue memory. Early studies involving a prototype camera, Microsoft’s SenseCam, showed promising results with amnesic patients, who were able to retrieve previously inaccessible details about autobiographical events when cued with SenseCam photographs. My own research has demonstrated similar effects in group studies of young and older adults, who retrieved more details about everyday events from their own lives and staged events (in which the accuracy of their retrieval could be established) when cued with SenseCam photographs vs. a no-review control condition. My co-author and I similarly found striking improvements in everyday memory in a patient with a history of brain damage and complex mental health problems, in whom use of the camera also improved social participation and reduced anxiety and rumination. One of the most interesting features of the effect of wearable cameras on memory is their ability to trigger a wave of recollection, whereby a large number of previously inaccessible details suddenly flood into consciousness at once. However, precisely what causes this flood of recollection remains unknown. Trigger photographs do not follow an obvious pattern – they are not always photographs of a significant environmental change, and they are often blurry and unintelligible to anyone but the wearer. Moreover, it is not known whether the retrieval benefit is the result of information contained within a single photograph, or caused by increasing memory activation across a whole sequence of images. Understanding the mecahnism by which wearable camera photographs support memory retrieval depends on understanding more about how human memory works under naturalistic conditions, and how this interacts with the photographs captured by wearable cameras. My work aims to answer some of these questions, and to form an evidence base from which to direct technological development to benefit people with memory impairments. 

Changes to autobiographical memory associated with healthy ageing. The ‘classic’ age effect in autobiographical memory involves a reduction in autobiographical memory specificity, or a reduction in the number of event-specific details that older adults can recall, relative to young adults. However, research is increasingly showing that this ‘classic’ effect is only observed under certain conditions. The magnitude of age effect observed in autobiographical memory depends on how autobiographical memory is measured, with the same older adults exhibiting a deficit on some tasks but not others administered within the same test session. In particular, tasks that measure overall memory specificity and those that involve more executive processing appear to be particularly sensitive to ageing. These can be dissociated from tasks that measure the number of specific details a memory contains, which are less sensitive to ageing but are influenced by retention interval and the type of event that is retrieved. Moreover, retrieval instructions that emphasise telling a good story actually reduce the number of specific details that older (but not younger) adults report, relative to retrieval instructions that emphasise plain facts. Together, these findings indicate that features of the autobiographical memory test, retrieval context, and the to-be-remembered event can all influence the relative performance of older adults compared to young adults. Although existing autobiographical memory tasks purport to measure autobiographical memory ability, there is increasing evidence that the different measures are not interchangeable. Precisely what each task measures remains unclear. Current theories suggest that autobiographical retrieval involves the complex interaction of multiple different cognitive systems, involving both memory processes and “working-with-memory” processes such as executive function and mental imagery, some of which appear to be more impacted by ageing than others. My work in this area explores the extent to which the typical age-related changes in autobiographical memory can be attributed to these “working-with-memory” processes and other factors, rather than memory impairment per se.


  • PhD Psychology
  • MSc Memory and its Disorders (Psychology)
  • BSc (Hons) Psychology

Professional memberships

  • European Society for Cognitive Psychology

Student education

I teach at both Undergraduate and Masters levels within the School of Psychology. This teaching is oriented around my research interests in ageing and long term memory, across typical and atypical populations. I also supervise projects at Level 3 and Masters levels, and act as a personal tutor to groups of students each year.