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Understanding behaviour – can authorities sniff out crime?

Understanding behaviour – can authorities sniff out crime?

Could we stop potential terrorism attacks based on pheromone release? A leading human behaviour researcher is visiting Massey University to discuss this and other intriguing topics.

Associate Professor Alex Stedmon, from the University of Coventry, is an international leader in ergonomics/human factors, specialising in understanding human behaviour. He has been invited to Massey, New Zealand’s leading university in Ergonomics and Human Factors, to provide advice on how to integrate its existing ergonomics programmes across academic and research programmes.

“Human factors is one of the most exciting areas to work in,” says Dr Stedmon. “I can’t think of another discipline that provides such opportunities to work across so many areas and crosses so many boundaries.

“One day I might be looking at motorcycle riders and trying to understand their behavior, the next I might be helping to understand user-centred design issues surrounding a mobile phone, or talking to many different stakeholders who are looking to improve emergency-response activities at a major event.”

Dr Stedmon was part of a team from three universities who conducted pioneering research into the possible existence of a human pheromone associated with deception. In a highly innovative set of trials, the team was able to identify a chemical compound that was only present in those who were acting in a deceptive manner.

“This was a highly ambitious project. We wanted to see if humans emit any kind of chemical signature associated with deception. We ran a series of trials in a shopping mall in the UK and also in the labs at our university, which showed for the first time ever that people do emit some kind of chemical signal when they are behaving in a deceptive manner. This could present a breakthrough for border control techniques associated with false entry, smuggling or even acts of terrorism. It is also relevant to anyone in an interview who might be trying to provide false information.”

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While in New Zealand, Dr Stedmon will be meeting with Mackie Research Ltd and the New Zealand Transport Agency to learn about recent research into motorcycle accidents on the Coromandel Peninsular, and plan future collaborations looking at the unique use of “perceptual counter-measures” to help support safer riding.

“I’m a biker myself and am aware of the dangers of riding around Auckland as well as the attractions of the Coromandel. There’s some world-leading research being done right now in New Zealand that’s relevant to motorcycle riding around the world. It's a great opportunity to meet up with key stakeholders as I’ve been awarded funding from my own university in the United Kingdom to collaborate in this fascinating area of rider safety.”

Dr Stedmon is also a world leader in security research, ranging from understanding the demands that front-line security operators face on a daily basis, to wider organisational issues in designing security systems from a user perspective.

“Security ranges from the person watching a CCTV screen in a shopping mall, to safeguarding an All Blacks match to ensure fans are safe, and emergency services can get to priority areas if needed. New Zealand also faces its own challenges in relation to natural disasters and the research I have been involved with can help us understand how security works as a system of people using different technologies to serve a common goal: personal freedom and safety.”

Brought to New Zealand by Massey’s Professor Stephen Legg, Director of the Centre for Ergonomics, Occupational Safety and Health in the College of Health, Dr Stedmon will present a free public seminar at each of Massey’s campuses in Auckland, Manawatū and Wellington.

His grandfather served in the Royal New Zealand Air Force during WWII, but tragically died in the Berlin Airlift. His seminar will introduce the discipline of human factors through the eyes of a 26-year-old RNZAF radio officer during the war. He will then take the audience through his varied background of applying the science of human behaviour to aspects of inclusive design.

Seminar Details:

Massey University Auckland


Monday October 19

11am – 12pm

Massey University Manawatū


Thursday October 22

11am – 12pm

Massey University Wellington


Tuesday October 27

11am – 12pm

Biography: Associate Professor Alex Stedmon is a Reader in Human Factors within the Faculty of Engineering and Computing at the University of Coventry. He is a Chartered Psychologist, Chartered Ergonomist, Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is a New Zealand citizen with a wealth of industrial experience (e.g. DERA/QinetiQ – the UK Defence Equipment Research Agency, equivalent to New Zealand’s Defence Technology Agency) and has well-established academic credentials from leading UK universities that specialise and lead the world in Ergonomics/Human Factors research and teaching (Nottingham’s Human Factors Research Group, Loughborough’s HUSAT Research Institute, and Coventry’s Human Systems Integration Group).

Dr Stedmon has managed and worked extensively on transport research projects. He set up and was Director of the Centre for Motorcycle Ergonomics and Rider Human Factors, which developed the pioneering motorcycle simulator (MotorcycleSim) now based at the University of Southampton. The simulator was used on a range of unique rider behaviours and training studies for the Institute of Advanced Motorists.

His security research explores issues of technology use in security systems as well as contextual methods for investigating suspicious behaviours in various domains. Dr Stedmon was one of the technical leads for a strategic security consortium (EPSRC project: Shades of Grey) and received Centre for Defence Enterprise funding for projects on automated CCTV issues; identifying human pheromones associated with deception; and issues of collaborative intelligence information gathering.

He has written numerous journal papers, regularly acts as a reviewer for various human factors journals and has edited a number of special issues in transport and security.


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