My academic work sits at the intersection of experimental, computational, and interpretive methods. I am especially interested in the intersection of cognition and culture, or how imaginative culture and human cognitive architecture shape each other. The supposition informing my research is that human culture is inherently rational––though this rationality is only rarely in plain sight. The epistemic orientation of my work is cynical: I believe that the intrusion of values into knowledge acquisition corrupts values and degrades knowledge.

Currently, I am actively researching two areas. The first concerns the role played by prediction and evidence hallucination in symbolic culture. This postulates much of cultural production to be a form of anxiety reduction, where cheap counterfactual fabulations (symbols) reduce anxiety by flooding the environment with 'evidence' for a predictive model. More detail on this approach can be found in this paper. My other area of research centres on how semantic frame processing is selectively degraded by different pathologies. (For example, it would seem that dementia impedes the processing of semantic frames associated with part-whole relations.) This research uses deep learning models to automate the process of semantic frame identification in unstructured text produced under experimental conditions.

In terms of background, my graduate training was in philosophy and stylistics; since then, I have cross-trained in experimental psychology and computational linguistics. I have worked in various universities across the UK and Ireland, and have held fellowships in the University of Oxford and Brunel University London. My research has been funded by Wellcome, Innovate UK, the Leverhulme Foundation, the University of Oxford, and the European Union. I have published widely across the humanities and quantitative social sciences, with my work covering topics in linguistics, experimental psychology, literary studies, documentary film, mythology, mathematical psychology, cognitive anthropology, psychology of language, philosophy, and medical humanities.

As director of Texture AI I do commercial work in the application of deep learning and large language models to natural language processing tasks. Texture AI has worked with ITV, the BBC, Google, WPP, the Telegraph Media Group, Reach PLC, YouTube, and other world-leading organisations. I am associate professor at the London Interdisciplinary School (LIS), where I am director of the Master's in Arts and Sciences (MASC) programme.

Peer-reviewed publications

  • Riestra-Camacho, R., Troscianko, E., & Carney, J. (Forthcoming). Can Narrative Bibliotherapy Reduce Vulnerability to Eating Disorders? Evidence from a Reading Experiment. Empirical Studies of the Arts.
  • Robertson, C., Carney, J., & Trudell, S. (2023). Language About the Future on Social Media as a Novel Marker of Anxiety and Depression: A Big-Data and Experimental Analysis. Current Research in Behavioral Sciences, 4, 100104.
  • Carney, J., & Robertson, C. (2022). Five Studies Evaluating the Impact on Mental Health and Mood of Recalling, Reading and Discussing Fiction. PLOS ONE, 0266323.
  • Troscianko, E.,, Holman, E. and Carney, J. (2022). Quantitative methods for group bibliotherapy research: a pilot study. Wellcome Open Research, 7, 79.
  • Troscianko, E., & Carney, J. (2021). Drawing Kafka’s Castle: An Experimental Expansion of the Theory of Cognitive Realism. Scientific Studies of Literature. 11:1, 35-73
  • Carney, J. (2020). Thinking avant la lettre: A Review of 4E Cognition. Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, 4(1), 77-90.
  • Carney, J. (2020). The Role of Aesthetic Style in Alleviating Anxiety About the Future. In J. Carroll (Ed.), Evolutionary Perspectives on Imaginative Culture. Leiden: Brill.
  • Lynott, D., Connell, L., Brysbaert, M., Carney, J., & Brand, J. (2019). The Lancaster Sensorimotor Norms: Multidimensional Measures of Perception and Action Strength for 40,000 English Words. Behavior Research Methods, 1316.
  • Carney, J. (2019). Culture and Mood Disorders: The Effect of Abstraction in Image, Narrative and Film on Anxiety and Depression. Medical Humanities, 011459.
  • Carney, J., Robertson, C., & David-Barrett, T. (2019). Fictional Narrative as a Variational Bayesian Method for Estimating Social Dispositions in Large Groups. Journal of Mathematical Psychology, 102279.
  • Carney, J. (2019). Hard Truths and Comforting Fictions: Does Narrative Actually Construct Identity? Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, 37-40.
  • David-Barrett, T., Carney, J., Rotkirch, A., & Behncke Izquierdo, I. (2019). Social Network Complexity in Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro. In D. Vanderbeke & B. Cooke (Eds.), Evolution and Popular Narrative. Leiden: Brill, 106-118.
  • Carney, J. (2019). The Return of the Oppressed: Intra-Social Inequality and Supernatural Agency in the Táin and Crofton-Croker’s ‘Teigue of the Lee’. Cosmos, 32, 121-134.
  • Carney, J. (2019). Necessary Fictions: Supernormal Cues, Narrative Cognition and the Nature of Fictional Narrative. In M. Grishakova & M. Poulaki (Eds.), Narrative Complexity: Cognition, Embodiment, Evolution. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 391-413.
  • Carney, J., & Robertson, C. (2018). People Searching for Meaning in Their Lives Find Literature More Engaging. Review of General Psychology, 22, 199-209.
  • Carney, J. (2018). Psycho-Cosmology: Mental Mapping in Táin Bó Cuailgne. In E. Lyle (Ed.), Celtic Myth in the 21st Century: The Gods and Their Stories in a Global Perspective. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 163-178.
  • Carney, J., & MacCarron, P. (2017). Comic-Book Superheroes and Prosocial Agency: A Large-Scale Quantitative Analysis of the Effects of Cognitive Factors on Popular Representations. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 17, 306-330.
  • Carney, J., & Dávid-Barrett, T. (2017). What is the naturalistic basis of theological interpretation? Religion, Brain & Behavior, 1-4.
  • Dunbar, R. I., Launay, J., Wlodarski, R., Robertson, C., Pearce, E., Carney, J., et al. (2016). Functional Benefits of (Modest) Alcohol Consumption. Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology, 3(2), 118-133.
  • Gantley, M., & Carney, J. (2016). Grave Matters: Mediating Corporeal Objects and Subjects through Mortuary Practices. M/C, 19(1), Online.
  • Dávid-Barrett, T., & Carney, J. (2016). The deification of historical figures and the emergence of priesthoods as a solution to a network coordination problem. Religion, Brain & Behavior, 6(4), 307-317.
  • Carney, J. (2016). The Space between Your Ears: Construal Level Theory, Cognitive Science, and Science Fiction. In E. Troscianko & M. Burke (Eds.), Cognitive Literary Science: Dialogues between Literature and Cognition. Oxford University Press, 73-92.
  • David-Barrett, T. A., Rotkirch, J., Carney, J., Behncke Izquierdo, I., et al. (2015). Women Favour Dyadic Relationships, But Men Prefer Clubs: Cross-Cultural Evidence From Social Networking. PLOS ONE, 0118329.
  • Carney, J., Wlodarski, R., & Dunbar, R. I. (2014). Inference or Enaction? The Impact of Genre on the Narrative Processing of Other Minds. PLOS ONE.
  • Carney, J. (2014). Some Previously Unrecognised References to Classical Historians in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s The Last Man. Notes & Queries, 61, 527-530.
  • Carney, J., Dunbar, R., David-Barrett, T., Machin, A., & Silva Junior, M. (2014). Social Psychology and the Comic-Book Superhero: A Darwinian Approach. Philosophy and Literature, 38A, 195-215.
  • Quigley, D., & Carney, J. (2014). Juvenile porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus) sighting at Crookhaven, Ireland. Irish Naturalists’ Journal, 33, 71-73.
  • Carney, J. (2014). Supernatural Intuitions and Classic Detective Fiction: A Cognitivist Appraisal. Style, 48, 203-218.
  • Carney, J. (2012). Homo Hibernicus: Myth, Ethnography and Nationalism in Robert Flaherty’s Man of Aran. Studies in Documentary Film, 6, 61-79.
  • Carney, J. (2012). The Buzzing of B: The Subject as Insect in Beckett’s Molloy. In Beckett Re-Membered: After the Centenary. Cambridge: CSP, 224-237.
  • Carney, J. (2008). Advertising and the Predation Loop: A Biosemiotic Model. Biosemiotics, 2, 313-327.
  • Carney, J. (2008). The Pangs of the Ulstermen: An Exchangist Perspective. The Journal of Indo-European Studies, 36, 52-66.
  • Carney, J. (2008). ‘Unweaving the rainbow’: The Semantic Organisation of the Lyric. The Journal of Literary Semantics, 37, 33-53.
  • Carney, J. (2007). Narrative and Ontology in Hesiod’s Homeric Hymn to Demeter: A Catastrophist Approach. Semiotica, 167, 337-368.
  • Carney, J. (2007). ‘Gifts of heaven – things of earth’: Haunting and Exchange in Conrad’s ‘Karain: A Memory’. L’Epoque Conradienne, 33, 1-17.

Popular publications

James Carney

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