School of Psychology

Three 3-Year Funded PhD Opportunities

Understanding brain-to-brain synchrony through the mother-infant interactions


Synchrony has been broadly defined as the spatial and temporal coordination of micro- and macro-scale biological and behavioural dynamics between individuals. This phenomenon has been referenced across biological mechanisms such as heart-rate rhythms, reciprocal adaptation during early development, and imitation through the ‘mirror neuron system’. More recently, neuroimaging techniques have been used to demonstrate that some brain areas synchronize in individuals engaging in joint social interactions. Co-operative, but not obstructive/competitive behaviour between adults, and adults and children engaging in game play has been shown to elicit synchronized activation in the frontal and temporal cortices. Further, brain-to-brain synchrony is linked to longer gaze and positive affect. A few mechanisms of brain-to-brain synchrony have been proposed. Neuro-computational accounts propose that synchronization can be explained by reducing prediction error between the ‘actual’ state/representation in one brain, and the other brain’s ‘predicted’ state/representation. At the brain network level, synchronization is proposed to be the outcome of the integration of brain areas involved in mentalizing (predictions of beliefs and intentions), the mirror neuron system (imitating motor action), and reward-systems between individuals in joint interactions. The current longitudinal project aims to build on these accounts by investigating brain-to-brain synchrony in infant-mother dyads and follow how it develops over the first few years of infants’ lives.


The studentships are funded as part of a Research Project Grant by the Leverhulme Trust. The successful candidates will be supervised by a team consisting of Dr. Sobana Wijeakumar (School of Psychology, University of Nottingham), Dr. Line Caes (School of Psychology, University of Stirling) and colleagues at the University of Nottingham and University of East Anglia. The positions will be based in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham. They will provide a stipend to cover living costs and will cover Home/EU University fees (Stipend £15,285, Home/EU fee £4,407). It is important that the successful candidates must be in a position to commence their doctoral study in December 2020. Candidates with experience collecting data using fNIRS on infants (preferably) and/or young children are encouraged to apply. In particular, candidates with experience running hyperscanning studies in children and parents are welcomed. In addition, expertise in Matlab and software packages such as PsychoPy is desirable.


10th May 2020

How to apply:

Suitably qualified candidates are invited to apply by email following the instructions below.
Please email your application to clearly marked with the header ‘Brain-to-brain synchrony PhD application’. The application should consist of one document, no more than three pages in length. The first two pages of the application should detail the candidate’s CV and the third page must contain a personal statement about why the candidate wants to do the PhD (for eg. how previous research experience is relevant and applicable to the advertised studentship and how the candidate will develop ideas outlined in the advert). Short-listed candidates will also be required to provide two academic references.

Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr. Sobana Wijeakumar (
Posted on Monday 30th March 2020

School of Psychology

University Park
The University of Nottingham
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

For all enquires please visit: