School of Psychology

PhD supervisors

We welcome applications for research in any of our research areas.

Before applying for a PhD place, applicants should have decided on the area of their research and agreed this with a potential supervisor. Please contact staff directly, full details can be found in the staff directory.

All the people listed as 'academic staff' are potentially appropriate as PhD supervisors, though not all will necessarily want to take on additional research students in the coming year. Some of the staff listed as 'research staff' may also be able to supervise or co-supervise PhD students. Please contact them directly to check before naming them as a potential supervisor.

N.B. Before making a PhD application it is very important that you contact the supervisor to discuss your application in detail. On most cases you will be required to submit a detailed research proposal as part of your application. This must be agreed with the supervisor otherwise your application will not be successful. 



Research Opportunities

 Research Group Staff Research Area

Behavioural Neuroscience

Dr Tobias Bast

Hippocampo-prefrontal-subcortical circuit in cognition and behaviour

Behavioural Neuroscience

Dr Charlotte Bonardi

Associative learning, and how it is impaired in conditions such as schizophrenia, Alzheimer's disease and addiction

Behavioural Neuroscience

Professor Helen Cassaday

Brain substrates of associative learning: animal models, individual differences

Behavioural Neuroscience

Professor Claire Gibson

Neuroscience - brain injury and disease

Behavioural Neuroscience

Dr Mark Haselgrove

Associative Learning: Properties, Mechanisms and Applications

Behavioural Neuroscience

Dr Jasper Robinson

Associative accounts of psychological processes

Cognition & Language

Dr Peter Chapman

The Psychology of Driving

Cognition & Language

Dr Claudia Danielmeier

Cognitive neuroscience of error processing, performance monitoring and adaptive behaviour

Cognition & Language

Dr Jan Derrfuss

Cognitive control, attention and working memory

Cognition & Language 

Dr Ruth Filik

Investigating theoretical and applied aspects of language comprehension

Cognition & Language

Dr Matias Ison

Understanding the formation of declarative memories: From single neuron recordings in the human brain to macroscopic brain dynamics

Cognition & Language

Dr Christopher Madan

  Motivated memory and inter-individual differences in brain morphology

Cognition & Language

Dr Elizabeth Sheppard

  Social perception in people with autism and driver cognition 

Cognition & Language

Dr Walter van Heuven

Bilingualism, foreign language acquisition, and visual word recognition

Cognition & Language

Dr Nicholas Myers

Neural Mechanisms of Goal-directed Working Memory

Cognition & Language

Dr Roni Tibon

The Cognitive Neuroscience of Human Memory

Cognition & Language

Dr Leonardo Cohen

Decision-making and behavioural finance

Human Development & Learning

Dr Harriet Allen

How attention, distraction, development and ageing affect sensory processing

Human Development & Learning

Dr Lucy Cragg

The development of executive functions

Human Development & Learning

Dr Nicola Pitchford

Psychological, neurological, and environmental factors that influence cognitive development and learning

Perception & Action

Dr Markus Bauer

The integration of bottom-up and top-down aspects in human information processing 

Perception & Action

Professor Stephen Jackson

Developmental neuroscience

Perception & Action

Dr Martin Schürmann

Shared representations in the brain studied with neuroimaging  

Perception & Action

Dr Debbie Serrien

Brain Laterality, handedness, and motor dexterity.

Personality, Social Psychology & Health

Dr Laura Blackie

When does overcoming adversity, challenge or failure lead to personal growth?

Personality, Social Psychology & Health

Professor Eamonn Ferguson

Human altruism, pro-sociality and cooperation in the lab and in the field

Personality, Social Psychology & Health

Dr Chuma Owuamalam (Malaysia Campus)

The influence of social perceptions on the attitudes, behaviour and well-being of members of historically disadvantaged/stigmatized groups 

Personality, Social Psychology & Health

Dr Alexa Spence

Public perceptions of climate change and energy futures 

Personality, Social Psychology & Health

Professor Ellen Townsend

Psychological constructs associated with self-harmful thoughts and behaviours 

Visual Neuroscience

Professor Alan Johnston

Perception of motion, time and space 

Visual Neuroscience

Professor Tim Ledgeway

The psychological, neural and computational mechanisms underlying our ability to perceive the visual world 

Visual Neuroscience

Dr Jonathan Peirce

Detection of particular combinations of edges by the visual system when recognising objects

Visual Neuroscience

Dr Neil Roach

Neural mechanisms of visual perception and sensory decision making

Visual Neuroscience

Dr Denis Schluppeck

How do we use our senses of vision and touch to gather information about the world? And how does that information lead to decisions that are critical for our personal survival and well-being?

Visual Neuroscience

Dr Elisa Zamboni

 Neural pathways integrating vision and touch – how do multi-sensory illusions change how we perceive and represent our body and the world surrounding us?

Behavioural Neuroscience

Dr Tobias Bast

Hippocampo-prefrontal-subcortical circuit in cognition and behaviour

The brain circuit consisting of the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and connected subcortical sites mediates and integrates important cognitive and behavioural functions, including memory, attention, cognitive control, emotional, motivational and sensorimotor processes. This circuit may play a key role in enabling the translation of every-day memories (e.g., of where you parked your car), which depend on the hippocampus, into adaptive behaviour (e.g., getting back to the car), for which prefrontal-subcortical circuits are vital (Bast, 2011, Curr Opin Neurobiol). Moreover, dysfunction within this hippocampo-prefrontal-subcortical circuit, especially within the hub regions – hippocampus and prefrontal cortex – may disrupt the wide range of cognitive functions integrated within this circuit. Consistent with this, dysfunction within this circuit has been implicated in key cognitive and behavioural impairments characterizing neuropsychiatric disorders (Bast, 2011, Curr Opin Neurobiol; Bast et al., 2017, Brit J Pharmacol).

Research questions

PhD projects would broadly examine the role of the hippocampo-prefrontal-subcortical circuit in adaptive and dysfunctional behaviour and cognition. The specific research questions can be determined depending on the student’s interest. Two main topics of our research include:

• Hippocampal learning-behaviour translation: Which prefrontal and subcortical regions contribute to behaviour based on hippocampus-dependent place learning, and by which mechanisms?

• Importance of balanced neural activity: Imbalanced neural activity within the hippocampal-prefrontal-subcortical circuit, caused by changes in inhibitory GABA transmission, have come to the fore in important brain disorders, including age-related cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia (Bast et al., 2017, Br J Pharmacol). How do such imbalances affect distinct cognitive and behavioural functions? Can they explain symptoms characterizing these disorders?


To address these questions, we will combine a wide range of neuroscience methods in rats. We will combine neuropharmacological modulation of specific brain regions by intracerebral drug microinfusions, with translational tests of specific cognitive and behavioural functions (including learning and memory, attention, behavioural flexibility, fear, sensorimotor processes). In vivo electrophysiological methods will be used to characterise changes in neural activity patterns and interactions between relevant brain sites. A good overview of key methods can be found in our recent papers (Pezze et al., 2014, J Neurosci; McGarrity et al., 2017, Cereb Cortex; Gwilt et al., 2020, Hippocampus). Additionally, depending on interest and specific project objectives, students will have the opportunity to work with computational neuroscientists to synthesise experimental findings into neuro-computational models to formalise neurobiological mechanisms (e.g., see Tessereau et al., 2021, Brain Neurosci Adv); to apply ‘translational’ brain imaging methods to characterise neuronal network changes in a way that enables direct comparison to human brain imaging studies; to apply modern neural tract tracing methods (involving ‘clarity’ and light-sheet microscopy) and pharmacogenetic methods for neuron-type specific manipulations (which we are currently setting up).

 More details on my current main lines of research and some key references can be found here at, under the ‘Research’ tab. If you are interested in this research and would like to work towards a PhD in this area, please email me. Suitable candidates would typically have some relevant research experience (e.g., from undergraduate or MSc projects).


Dr Charlotte Bonardi

I am happy to consider proposals on any topic relating to associative learning, including in how associative learning is impaired in psychopathological conditions. My past research has examined this in schizophrenia, personality disorder, Alzheimer's disease and addictive behaviour.

Early cognitive deficits in AD

A crucial problem in Alzheimer's disease (AD) management is how to diagnose the disease at an early stage when treatments might be effective. Our previous work has examined, in a genetically modified mouse expressing the features of AD, learning abnormalities that develop prior to the onset of brain damage, and the potential mechanisms for these deficits. Future work could aim to identify the precise way in which learning in these animals fails, develop analogue tasks in human participants, and identify the underlying neural mechanisms. The ultimate aim is the development of sensitive predictive tests for early diagnosis.

Conditional learning

This project aims to investigate the function of conditional cues – stimuli which signal the presence of an associative (i.e., predictive) relationship between two further stimuli (for example, two beers only give you a hangover when you have been smoking). Explaining conditional learning is a challenge for associative theories, and disruption of performance on conditional tasks has also been implicated in schizophrenia. This project could analyse the associative mechanisms underlying conditional learning, or use theories of conditional learning to explore how it is impaired in schizophrenia.

Associative learning and addiction

Human drug seeking has been analysed in terms of classical conditioning: the ability of environmental cues to become associated with the effects of the drug can make them provoke drug-seeking behaviour. The mechanism underlying this process has been modelled by an effect called Pavlovian-instrumental transfer (PIT): if you have two outcomes, chocolate and tobacco, each produced by a different (drug-seeking response), then a conditioned stimulus that signals e.g. chocolate, will increase the level of the chocolate-seeking response more than the tobacco-seeking response (and vv). However, there is still relatively little understanding of how this effect is mediated, and this project would address this.


Professor Helen Cassaday

I’m always interested to hear your ideas about associative learning processes, their underlying brain substrates and/or their role in psychological and psychiatric disorder. I’m also interested in the wider implications of what I do, and you’re also very welcome to contact me about PhD options in any area in which I’ve published, see  The majority of recent articles are freely available online or via the university repository -

Brain substrates of associative learning

To investigate the underlying biology of associative learning mechanisms fundamental to normal cognition we use laboratory rats. The brain substrates under study are key to our understanding of addiction, age-related cognitive decline and schizophrenia. Currently available projects compare the effects of localised treatments within nucleus accumbens or medial prefrontal cortex on different aspects of associative learning and memory. For example, we are addressing the distinct roles of the different receptor families through the use of pharmacologically selective and non-selective (‘benchmark’) receptor agents.

Suggested reading:

  • Pezze, M.A, Marshall, H.J. & Cassaday, H.J. (2015). Dopaminergic modulation of appetitive trace conditioning: The role of D1 receptors in medial prefrontal cortex. Psychopharmacology, 232, 2669-2680.
  • Pezze, M.A., Marshall, H.J. & Cassaday, H.J. (2017). Scopolamine impairs appetitive but not aversive trace conditioning: Role of the medial prefrontal cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 37, 6289-6298.

Attitudes to animal use in relation to purpose

The use of animals for any purpose raises ethical concerns and the use of animals for basic science research is particularly controversial. The hypothesis to be examined is that public support for the use of animals in basic science research is less than the level of support which might be predicted based on public agreement with other forms of use. There are a number of scales which measure attitudes to animal use but none specifically designed to systematically compare attitudes to animal use across diverse purposes. The present project will address this gap by further validating a new scale to measure the levels of agreement/disagreement with the use of different types of animal for different purposes. As part of the validation process, the questionnaire will be used in outreach activities designed to promote the understanding of animal research.

Suggested reading:

  • Bradley A., Mennie, N., Bibby, P.A. & Cassaday, H.J. (2020). Some animals are more equal than others: Validation of a new scale to measure how attitudes to animals depend on species and human purpose of use. PLoS ONE, 15, e0227948.

  • Higgs, M.J., Bipin, S. & Cassaday, H.J. (2020). Man’s best friends: Attitudes towards the use of different kinds of animals depend on belief in different species’ mental capacities and purpose of use. Royal Society Open Science, 7, 191162.

Associative learning anomalies: individual differences and disease

Animal learning theories are applied to human diseases in which associative processes are disordered, as well as to our understanding of individual differences. For example, in cases of schizophrenia and in schizotypy, we find that learning occurs inappropriately, about stimuli that would normally be treated as irrelevant, redundant or in some other way indistinct. We have successfully established associative learning procedures suitable for use with human participants. Taking this work forward may involve testing participants with disorder of the dopaminergic system, in cases of ADHD, Tourette syndrome, schizophrenia or drug addiction. Another line of approach is to examine individual differences in learning in relation to personality measures and other scales designed to measure behavioural variation within the normal range.

Suggested reading (freely available online):

  • He, Z., Cassaday, H.J., Park, S.B.G. & Bonardi, C. (2012). When to hold that thought: An experimental study showing reduced inhibition of pre-trained associations in schizophrenia. PLoS ONE, 7, e42175.
  • Pickett, C., Cassaday, H.J. & Bibby, P.A. (2017). Overshadowing depends on cue and reinforcement sensitivity but not schizotypy. Behavioural Brain Research, 321, 123-129.


Professor Claire Gibson

Cerebral ischaemic stroke – mechanisms of injury and potential treatment strategies

Cerebral ischaemic stroke, in the UK, is the third leading cause of mortality, the leading cause of morbidity and estimated to cost the NHS £2.8 billion per year in direct costs. There is a real need for basic research to identify potential neuroprotective strategies in order to determine whether clinical investigation is warranted. My lab has a long standing research interest in the role of steroid hormones as potential protective factors following ischemic stroke. Biological sex also influences pathology and outcome following stroke – we are also beginning to explore the sex-specific mechanisms of injury that may be relevant following ischaemic stroke.

Key mechanisms of injury following ischaemic stroke involve apoptosis and inflammation. We are investigating molecular mechanisms that may underlie the breakdown of the blood brain barrier and treatment strategies to promote its repair. In order to pursue these research questions we utilise a range of in vitro, ex vivo and in vivo experimental stroke models complimented with a number of behavioral, imaging (immunocytochemistry, MRI) and molecular biology techniques. We are also interested in the refinement of existing experimental stroke models and increasing the translational relevance of experimental data to the clinical setting. We have an ongoing interest in refining experimental stroke models in order to improve the robustness of data obtained from them.

If you are interested in pursuing a PhD project relevant to the above then please get in touch.


Dr Mark Haselgrove

My research investigates the principles and properties of learning. In general, I am interested in examining whether learning in humans can be explained by the kinds of associative models that have been developed to understand conditioning in non-human animals. I welcome discussions with potential students who have research ideas in this broad field. More specifically, I have research interests in the following areas:

Learning and stimulus processing.

The amount of processing that is devoted to stimuli can change as a consequence of learning. Recent studies have begun to understand the circumstances in which this change takes place. For example, establishing predicative relationships between stimuli can result in a bias in the processing of these stimuli – as measured by their associability or the amount of overt attention that they capture. However, significant challenges remain, particularly in terms of understanding the relationship between uncertainty and learned changes in attention, as well as the influence of temporal variables in learned attention.

Suggested reading:   

  • Haselgrove, M., Tam, S. K. E., & Jones, P. M. (2013). Enhanced unblocking from sustained post-trial surprise. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, 39, 311-322.
  • Esber, G. R. & Haselgrove, M. (2011) Reconciling the influence of predictiveness and uncertainty on stimulus salience: A model of attention in associative learning. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 278, 2553-2561

Navigation based upon environmental geometry.

There is now substantial evidence to show that the shape of an environment can serve as a salient cue for navigating towards a hidden goal. Experiments conducted in my, and other, laboratories have revealed that this form of learning is susceptible to the sorts of manipulations that influence associative learning (e.g. cue competition). However, the circumstances that favour one representation frame (e.g. global encoding) over another (e.g. local encoding) during navigation remains to be determined, despite emerging evidence that both play a role in navigation.

Suggested reading:

  • Buckley, M. G., Smith, A. D., & Haselgrove, M. (2016). Thinking outside of the box: Transfer of shape-based reorientation across the boundary of an arena. Cognitive Psychology, 87, 53-87.
  • Buckley, M. G., Smith, A. D., & Haselgrove, M. (2016). Blocking spatial navigation across environments that have a different shape. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition,42, 51-66

Interactions between learning and individual differences.

Learning provides individuals with the opportunity to understand the structure of their environment, and to adapt to changing situations. However learning can sometimes go wrong, and be less adaptive. For example, learning can promote anxiety and fear when events or actions cause aversive outcomes; learning can also support the acquisition of unusual beliefs in cases of schizophrenia. Studies conducted in my lab have investigated the relationship between individual differences (e.g. schizotypy, anxiety, AQ) and learning – in particular in terms of how individual differences may influence learned changes in attention and stimulus configuration. Further studies will better specify the relationship between learning and individual differences, and investigate their co-morbidity.

Suggested reading:

  • Haselgrove, M., Le Pelley, M. E., Singh, N. K., Teow, H. Q., Morris, R. W., Green, M. J., Griffiths, O., & Killcross, A. S. (2016). Disrupted attentional learning in high schizotypy: Evidence of aberrant salience. British Journal of Psychology, In press
  • Haselgrove, M., & Hogarth, L. (2012). Clinical applications of learning theory. Psychology Press.


Dr Jasper Robinson

Much is known about the rules and characteristics of associative learning. The information appears quite general, being derived from both human and non-human experimental psychology. I am interested in testing the feasibility of associative accounts in psychology using predictions from associative models and describe two projects here. I'd be delighted to discuss these projects (or your own ideas) with you.

New views on recognition memory

We are using eye tracking to investigate the mechanisms underlying people’s learning in different forms of recognition task. There are several variations in the tasks but all involve the presentation of stimuli on a computer screen (e.g., pictures of faces with adults or movie of pets with young children) during an exposure-learning stage. During a subsequent test, recognition memory can be assessed by eye-tracking measurement of a bias in gaze toward a new face/pet relative to the original face/pet.

A theoretical conflict exists in explanations based on declarative- and associative-memory accounts of recognition (Robinson & Bonardi, 2015). Work on your PhD will be designed to test predictions derived from the two classes of account.

Acquired equivalence

If we learn to behave toward a specific cue in a particular way, that same behaviour can often be seen to other, physically similar cues. For example, a rat learning that a high tone predicts food delivery will also anticipate food delivery to tones of lower frequencies. This physically-based stimulus generalisation has been studied extensively by experimental psychologists and is well accommodated by theories of associative learning.

However, 'acquired equivalence' is a form of stimulus generalisation that is based, not on physical similarity, but on cues having the same training histories. In the conditioning example above, a rat might be more inclined to 'incorrectly' generalise food-related responding from the high-tone that was actually paired with food to a lower tone, if both tones had previously signalled presentation of the same light. Acquired equivalence has been demonstrated in a broad range of species and has been used to explain a diverse range of processes, including group behaviour and perceptual learning.

Your PhD would involve testing accounts based on a well-developed model of acquired equivalence (Honey et al. (2010) using established, computer based procedures (Robinson & Owens, 2013) and could involve work with colleagues in two other universities in developing a formal, computational simulation.



Cognition & Language


Dr Peter Chapman

I am happy to supervise any research that looks at aspects of traffic and transport psychology, though my particular interests are in cognitive influences (perception, attention, memory, decision making) on car drivers’ behaviour. The research group is currently developing an instrumented car and a full motion driving simulator that would be available for recording driver behaviour (including physiological responses and eye movements) both in simulated environments and while driving on real roads.

Emotion and Memory

I supervise PhD students with interests in cognitive aspects of emotion-memory interactions. Recent PhD students have looked at – Facial EMG as a predictor of autobiographical memory and laboratory-presented emotional material; Influences at encoding and retrieval on memory for emotional material; Directed forgetting of emotional material.

Visual Search and Memory in Dangerous situations

Memory for dangerous situations is systematically distorted in terms of the amount of information remembered, the type on information remembered, and in other ways such as memory for the duration of events. This research explores attention (e.g. via eye movements recordings) in dangerous situations and relates this to subsequent memory. So far we have looked at memory in dangerous driving situations, and also for roller coasters.


Dr Claudia Danielmeier

My research is focused on various aspects of human errors, performance monitoring and cognitive control. I am interested in research questions investigating behavioural and neural consequences of errors, for instance addressing questions like “How do people adapt after having committed an error to ensure that the same mistake does not happen again?” Additionally, I am interested in exploring different types of errors (action slips, memory errors, etc.) and various contexts in which errors are committed.

To address these questions, I have been employing various neuroimaging (functional magnetic resonance imaging, diffusion-weighted imaging) and electrophysiological methods as well as behavioural experiments. Below are some examples for potential projects:

Attentional adjustments after errors

This project will aim to identify those brain structures that are involved in increasing selective attention after errors. To avoid further errors, individuals increase their selective attention after error commission. While we know which brain areas are associated with error detection, the mechanisms of how these error detection signals are translated into increased attention are unknown. This will be the focus of this project.

Effects of errors on memory performance

Errors might not always have detrimental effects. One previous study suggested that errors in an unrelated task can actually improve memory for words. This project will explore this effect further and try to identify circumstances under which memory improvements occur. Functional connectivity changes between relevant brain areas will be measured with fMRI and EEG.

Error awareness

Some errors are consciously perceived by individuals (aware errors) while other errors go unnoticed (unaware errors). This project will investigate differences between aware and unaware errors, especially with respect to subsequent behavioural and neural adjustments.

Electrophysiological correlates of different error types

The error-related negativity (ERN) is an event-related potential that can be observed after errors. However, the ERN has mainly been investigated in action slips that represent only one type of errors. This project will require to review different error types in everyday life and develop tasks to study these in a more controlled setting. We will also address the question whether the ERN and other electrophysiological measures are also associated with different error types. Results of this project will contribute to the ongoing debate about the functions of the medial frontal cortex.


Dr Jan Derrfuss

My research focusses on cognitive control, working memory, attention, and error processing. Paradigms that I have been using include task switching, attentional blink, attentional capture, the Stroop task, the flanker task, and the n-back task. In my research, I use fMRI, transcranial direct current stimulation, and behavioural methods.

I am particularly interested in the functional and structural organisation of the prefrontal cortex. Within the prefrontal cortex, the focus of my research is the inferior frontal junction area (IFJ). This area lies at the junction of the inferior frontal sulcus and the inferior precentral sulcus and has been implicated in all of the paradigms mentioned above. I investigate what the IFJ contributes to these paradigms and how it interacts with other brain regions.

Please contact me to discuss possible projects if you are interested in the cognitive functions and/or brain regions outlined above.


Dr Ruth Filik

Investigating the cognitive and neural processes underlying language comprehension

I would be interested in supervising projects examining the comprehension of figurative language (such as irony and metaphor), or in the influence of context on language comprehension more generally. I am also interested in how readers construct a mental representation of what they are reading, in particular, in relation to the processing of emotional information in text, or the processing of anaphoric reference. Methods that could be used to investigate these issues include eye-tracking and cognitive neuroscience techniques (mainly EEG).

Applied issues in the Psychology of Language

I would also like to supervise projects investigating more applied issues. Recent topics that I have worked on include:

  • Communication in a healthcare setting (e.g., in relation to medical errors).
  • Understanding individual differences in language processing, and how these may relate to certain disorders (such as eating disorders).
  • How people process textual devices such as emoticons.


Dr Matias J. Ison

My research focuses mostly on human declarative memory, the type of memory involved in remembering events like what we did last summer, how to find our way back home or the connection between our friends’ faces and their names (Ison et al., Neuron 2015). Patients with pharmacologically intractable epilepsy are sometimes implanted with depth electrodes for clinical reasons. We have the extraordinary opportunity to collaborate with some of the few hospitals in the world capable of recording the simultaneous activity of several individual neurons while subjects (epilepsy patients) perform visual perception and memory tasks.

More broadly, I am also interested in other aspects of visual perception and memory using a variety of different techniques (computational modelling, multielectrode recordings, non-invasive EEG, concurrent EEG and eye tracking).

You are welcome to contact me about PhD possibilities that fall within my expertise and interests.

Declarative memories and single neuron recordings from the human brain

This project requires the use of a variety of tools essential to analyse in vivo extracellular brain recordings. For further information, please email me:

More info:

Brain dynamics during free viewing

Brain signal recordings have been almost exclusively studied in situations where eye movements are precluded. This is because ocular movements produce large signal artefacts that can “hide” real brain activity. Yet, we have recently shown that it is possible to obtain robust brain potentials in situations including eye movements, thus paving the way for future studies. This project aims at characterising electrophysiological and eye tracking signals recorded simultaneously in a real-world task and examine possible applications, such as target detection and its potential application to Human Computer Interaction.

More info:


Dr Christopher Madan

I study memory using a combination of cognitive psychology, neuroimaging, and computational modeling methods. I am particularly interested in what factors makes some experiences more memorable than others and how these influences can manifest in future behavior, such as decision making. I also specialize in characterizing inter-individual differences in brain morphology. More information about my current research can be found on my website,

Motivated Memory

Memory does not serve as a veridical recording of prior experiences that can be ‘played back.’ Instead, many factors can lead some experiences to be more memorable than others. For instance, some experiences are more valuable in informing future behavior and should be selectively prioritized. Such experiences include those that automatically evoke reward-, emotion-, or motor-related processes. Biases in memory are particularly relevant if they manifest themselves in future behavior, such as decision making.

  • Madan, C. R. (2017). Motivated cognition: Effects of reward, emotion, and other motivational factors across a variety of cognitive domains. Collabra: Psychology, 3, 24.
  • Madan, C. R., Ludvig, E. A., & Spetch, M. L. (2017). The role of memory in distinguishing risky decisions from experience and description. QuarterlyJournalofExperimentalPsychology, 70, 2048-2059.

Brain Morphology

Structural MRIs make it apparent that there are both clear inter-individual differences in brain structure, while also general population consistencies. Examining brain morphology can serve as a complementary neuroimaging approach to fMRI that is not influenced by some systematic biases (e.g., age-related changes in vasculature) while also potentially directly providing novel insights into brain-behavior relationships. Current projects are examining the influences of aging, cognitive abilities, and dementia on brain structure, as well as differences between humans and non-human primates (particularly chimpanzees).

  • Madan, C. R., & Kensinger, E. A. (2016). Cortical complexity as a measure of age-related brain atrophy. NeuroImage, 134, 617-629.
  • Madan, C. R. (2017). Advances in studying brain morphology: The benefits of open-access data. FrontiersinHumanNeuroscience, 11, 405.


Dr Elizabeth Sheppard

Autism spectrum disorders

I have a wide range of research interests relating to Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and visual perception, and would consider proposals in this area. At the moment I am particularly interested in impression formation in ASD – how skillful are individuals with ASD in forming accurate impressions of others? Conversely, how do typical adults form impressions of those with ASD? What type of perceptual information do people rely on to make these judgments? More generally, what kind of beliefs do people in the population hold about ASD, and does this differ across cultures?

Psychology of driving

I’m interested in cognitive processes involved in driving, including perceptual, attentional and decision-making processes. I’m particularly interested in how these processes differ between individuals who have learned to drive in environments where driver behaviour, accident and fatality rates dramatically differ: for instance, comparing drivers from the UK with drivers from Malaysia. I’m also interested in how other individual differences may influence performance within the driving domain, including how having an Autism Spectrum Disorder affects aspects of driving skill.


Dr Walter van Heuven

My research focuses on visual word recognition in monolinguals and bilinguals, linguistic and non-linguistic implications of bilingualism, the processing of subtitles, and the acquisition of foreign language vocabulary. I use in my research behavioural (RTs, eye-tracking), neuroimaging (EEG, fMRI) and computational modelling techniques. Please contact me to discuss project ideas that you have that fall within my research expertise.

Bilingual visual word recognition

Research has revealed that when bilinguals recognize words in one of their languages words of the other language also influence this recognition process. A key question is whether and how bilinguals can control their visual word recognition process in order to minimize the influence of the other language. Projects could, for example, focus on the role that script similarity of the two languages plays in bilingual visual word recognition.

Processing of subtitles

Subtitles are nowadays available for many films and television programs. A key question is to what extent subtitles are processed when these are transcriptions of the spoken language that viewers can hear. These intralingual subtitles are redundant for English native speakers watching an English spoken film. However, non-native English speakers might have more difficulties with processing the spoken English and therefore focus more on the subtitles. Projects could, for example, investigate the role of language proficiency on the processing of subtitles, foreign language vocabulary acquisition when people watch subtitled foreign language films, and on how people divide their attention between the visual action and the subtitles.


Dr Nicholas Myers

Research Summary-

My overall research focus is the cognitive neuroscience of working memory, and what its neural representation can tell us about goal-directed behavior. How is memory used in the service of pursuing new goals? How may the current goal shape how memories are represented? These questions relate to our understanding of the neural basis of working memory and how it underpins decision-making. I use invasive and non-invasive electrophysiological measures of neural activity to assess the context-dependence of working memory representations. My current research consists mainly of two larger topics: 1) The role of different representational formats of working memory in sequential, extended behaviours towards a distant goal. 2) Task-dependent and task-independent forms of working memory maintenance during learning. In general, I aim to show that the adaptability of memory representation to current task demands allows humans to be flexible, efficient problem solvers.

 PhD Opportunities

Feel free to email me to get in touch about potential PhD projects.

Selected Publications-

Muhle-Karbe, P. S., Myers*, N. E., & Stokes*, M. G. (2021). A hierarchy of functional states in working memory. Journal of Neuroscience, 41(20), 4461-4475.

Stokes, M., Muhle-Karbe, P., and Myers, N. (2020). Theoretical distinction between functional states in working memory and their corresponding neural states. Visual Cognition.

Myers, N., Chekroud, S., Stokes, M., and Nobre, A. C. (2018). Benefits of flexible prioritization in working memory can arise without costs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 44(3), 398-411.

Myers, N., Stokes, M., and Nobre, A. C. (2017). Prioritizing Information during Working Memory: Beyond Sustained Internal Attention. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 21(6), 449-461.

Myers, N., Rohenkohl, G., Wyart, V., Woolrich, M., Nobre, A. C., and Stokes, M. (2015). Testing Sensory Evidence Against Mnemonic Templates. eLife, e09000.


Dr Roni Tibon

I study the neurocognitive mechanisms that shape our memories, and how they change throughout the lifespan. I’m particularly interested in the interactions between different memory systems, the large-scale brain networks that are involved in these interactions, and the dynamics of these processes and their underlying neural mechanisms.

I use a variety of behavioural methods, neuroimaging methods (including EEG, MEG and fMRI), and analytical methods. I conduct controlled experiments, and also interrogate large scale datasets.

More details about my core research interests are below, and I am always happy to talk with prospective students and consider other related research topics and ideas.  

Episodic Memory

Crucial to our lives is our ability to remember events from our past. Such memories, termed “episodic memories”, allow us to mentally travel back in time, re-experience and reflect on our past, and imagine the future. Once episodic information is stored (encoded), a retrieval cue interacts with this stored information to yield a memory. But what happens beyond this basic interaction? Our memories rely on a wide ensemble of cognitive processes, that determine if, how, and what we remember. My research looks into these multifaceted aspects that shape our episodic memories.

​Key Publications:

Tibon, R., Greve, A., Humphreys, G., Quent, J. A., & Henson, R. (Stage 1 Registered Report). Do activations and representations differ during successful retrieval from episodic versus semantic memory? Nature Human Behavior.

​Han, M., Li, B., Guo, C., & Tibon, R. (preprint). Effects of emotion and semantic relatedness on recognition memory: Behavioral and electrophysiological evidence. 

Tibon, R., Fuhrmann, D., Levy, D.A., Simons, J., & Henson, R. (2019). Multimodal integration and vividness in the angular gyrus during episodic encoding and retrieval. Journal of Neuroscience.

​Tibon, R., Greve, A., & Henson, R. (2018). The missing link? Testing a schema account of unitization. Memory & Cognition.

Cognitive Ageing

With the increasing proportion of older adults in the worldwide population, there is a pressing need to understand the neurobiology of cognitive ageing. Current times provide unique and exciting opportunities in this respect. In particular, with large-scale datasets becoming increasingly available, we can now explore non-linear relations, look further into individual differences, and employ advanced computational methods to gain insights into the complex relations between ageing, cognition, and the brain. In my research, I interrogate large-scale datasets, in order to tackle broad questions related to cognitive ageing and dynamic functional connectivity.

Key Publications:

Tibon, R., & Tsvetanov, K. A. (2022). The "neural shift" of sleep quality and cognitive ageing: A resting-state MEG study of transient neural dynamics. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

Tibon, R., Tsvetanov, K. A., Price, D., Nesbitt, D., Cam-CAN, & Henson, R. (2021). Transient resting-state network dynamics in cognitive ageing. Neurobiology of Aging.


Dr Leonardo Cohen


 My research explores how individuals evaluate risks and make decisions in an uncertain world. I’m interested in the subjective psychological processes of both judgements and preferences, and how they can be biased – resulting in worse decisions.

 For example, we often misunderstand and misrepresent risks – our subjective judgements of risks rarely match the true statistical risk, which can lead to biased behaviour, such as excessive risk-taking (or not enough risk-taking sometimes).

 There are several applications to this type of research, for example:

  • Consumer decision-making – how marketing is used to influence what we buy and how much we spend.
  • Nudging – small changes to the environment to sway our decisions.
  • Risk communication – how governments can communicate risks more effectively.

 I would be happy to supervise any projects or ideas on judgement, decision-making, and risk perception. Recent research topics I have supervised:

  • How perception of risks of diseases influences the willingness to get vaccinated.
  • How companies used “probabilistic discounts”, for example, “5% chance to win your money back” to increase sales.
  • How poor financial decision-making can lead to large financial losses.

 Recently I have been particularly interested in the risk-reward heuristic, and how being told that there is a 10% chance of winning vs a 90% chance of winning can change how much reward we would expect to win (or lose). I would like to explore how this can be used in advertising to create a false feeling of large potential rewards available.

 I’d also be happy to hear from students with other ideas in the field of decision-making research.

 Behavioural Finance

 Recently, there has been an explosion of mobile trading platforms, where individuals can quickly and easily trade stocks using their phones (think, Robinhood, eToro, Plus500). This has led to an increase in trading by unsophisticated investors, also fuelled by social media and influencers promoting such apps. Most users lose money when trading with mobile apps.

 These platforms attract users by exploiting tactics also used by gambling apps. The trading products being offered more closely resemble gambles than investments. I propose further exploration of the relationship between gambling and trading. For example, by showing that individuals perceive gambling as negative, but trading and investing as positive. Therefore by offering gambling-like products disguised as investments, mobile trading apps can avoid negative associations with gambling - “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

 I’d also be happy to hear from students with other ideas on behavioural finance.


 Newall, P. W., & Weiss-Cohen, L. (2022). The gamblification of investing: how a new generation of investors is being born to lose. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health19(9), 5391.

 Barber, B. M., & Odean, T. (2002). Online investors: do the slow die first?. The Review of financial studies15(2), 455-488.

 Barber, B. M., & Odean, T. (2000). Trading is hazardous to your wealth: The common stock investment performance of individual investors. The journal of Finance55(2), 773-806.


Human Development & Learning

Dr Harriet Allen

I research the links between vision, attention and ageing. How does an instruction to attend to an item get translated into the visual system? How do changes in goals (for example, to do with food, or clinical state) change this? Attention might enhance vision in a number of ways. Attention might simply speed up how quickly we respond to a stimulus, it might make us more likely accept that a stimulus is present, it might reduce the noise associated with the stimulus or increase the signal perceived from the stimulus.
I’m particularly interested in what happens when we ignore things. Is ‘attend to this’ really the opposite to ‘don’t attend to that’? As well as being interested in the effects of attention on vision, I’m interested in how these change with age. If we try to look for our friend arriving at the station, we could enhance the representation of any new person arriving on the scene, we could suppress the representations of people and things already visible, or both.

As we grow older both our perceptual and attention systems change. There are changes at the level of the eye (glasses wearing gets more common), the visual system and the attention systems (ignoring distractions gets harder). Can attention be used to compensate for visual changes?


Dr Lucy Cragg

My main research interest is the typical and atypical development of executive functions which I study using behavioural and neuroimaging methods, particularly electroencephalography (EEG). Executive functions are the skills that allow us to regulate our thoughts and behaviour, also known as cognitive control. I am interested in how executive functions and the underlying brain systems change during childhood and adolescence as well as the relationship between executive functions and other areas of development such as social cognition, language and maths. I am open to any topic that falls within my research expertise - some possible topics include:

How do the cognitive and brain systems for ignoring distractions develop? Do all types of distraction follow the same developmental trajectory? 

What is the influence of media multi-tasking on the development of executive functions?

Do you need good executive functions to be good at maths? 



Professor Nicola Pitchford

Using tablet technology to support development of early scholastic skills

Co-supervised with Anthea Gulliford

The use of tablet technology to support the development of early scholastic skills, such as literacy and mathematics, is increasing in schools across the developed and developing world. Hand-held tablets have many benefits that make them suitable for use with young children in a range of different contexts. When coupled with software that is grounded in a solid curriculum, and incorporates interactive child-centered features, tablet technology could be an effective classroom aide for delivering high-quality instructional education to all children, regardless of ability or location. Yet very few formal evaluations of tablet technology have been conducted in different educational settings/countries or with different pupil groups (e.g. typically developing pupils, low and high achievers, deprived backgrounds, multilingual speakers) or different methods of implementation (such as individual interaction or collaborative learning pairs). Thus, it is currently unknown if tablet technology can effectively support early scholastic development better than conventional teaching/instructional methods. Doctoral research in this area will involve comparing the use of tablet technology to conventional teaching and learning methods in the early primary school years and determining the factors that are necessary for successful implementation.


Perception & Action

Dr Markus Bauer

The topics suggested here can easily be combined; they reflect different aspects of my work that can be studied in isolation or in various combinations. The particular PhD project can either be developed by the student (with the help of the supervisor) or can be more structured in advance.

Neuronal mechanisms of attentional selection

An abundance of empirical evidence shows that only a fraction of our sensory environment is actively processed. Instead, we select information according to their relevance for current goals, a process termed ‘attentional selection’. It is well established that fronto-parietal brain areas are involved in the control of this selection process1 and these are thought to modulate activity in sensory brain areas to enhance the neuronal representation of attended stimuli. The goal of this project is to elucidate the neuronal mechanisms through which this occurs.

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) or Electroencephalography (EEG) will be used to measure the activity in these brain regions and their mode of communication as a function of cognitive task demands. One focus will be on the analysis of oscillatory brain activity, thought to be instrumental in regulating the flow of information through the brain2,3,4. This will be pursued by using advanced source analysis and connectivity analysis techniques, also in collaboration with my colleagues at the Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre (SPMMRC). A particular focus could be the role of exogeneous vs endogeneous attention components and their potential relation to different frequency bands4,5.

  1. Corbetta M, and Shulman GL (2002) Nat Rev Neurosci 3, 201-215.
  2. Bauer M, Kennett S, Driver J (2012) Journal of Neurophys. 107, 2342-2351.
  3. Bauer M, Kluge C, Bach D, Bradbury D, Heinze HJ, Dolan RJ, Driver J (2012) Curr Biol 22,397-402.
  4. Bauer M, Stenner MP, Friston KJ, Dolan RJ (in press) Journal of Neurosci.
  5. Friston KJ, Bastos AM, Pinotsis D, Litvak V (2014) Curr Opin Neurobiol. 28;31C:1-6.

Pharmacological manipulation of brain oscillations and signal routing in the brain

In animal in-vitro studies particular cell-types and synaptic currents have been associated with the generation of brain rhythms at specific frequencies1. To date, relatively little is known about how these principles transfer to cortex or different cortical areas. Using non-invasive electrophysiological recordings (particularly MEG) in humans, recent studies have aimed to investigate these principles by using psychopharmacological interventions to probe the role of specific neuro-transmitter and - modulator systems in human cortex2,3. This has the advantage that the impact of the given drugs can be assessed on event related changes in oscillations whilst the participant performs a cognitive task and correlations to behaviour4 can be assessed simultaneously. A parallel approach is to combine electrophysiological and neurochemical measurements using Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (MRS)5, enabled by the excellent facilities available at the SPMMRC.

A more advanced option is to relate this approach directly to accompanying studies with in-vivo animal preparations. These provide a window to study the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the pharmacologically induced changes more specifically. The University of Nottingham offers the unique opportunity to combine these different levels of experimentation in a translational research approach, in collaboration with Dr Tobias Bast6,7. The combination of the human and animal approach is facultative and depends on the student’s preference.

  1. Whittington MA, Traub RD, Kopell N, Ermentrout B, Buhl EH (2000) Int J Psychophysiol 38(3):315-36.
  2. Bauer M, Kluge C, Bach D, Bradbury D, Heinze HJ, Dolan RJ, Driver J (2012) Curr Biol 22,397-402.
  3. Muthukumaraswamy SD (2014) J Psychopharmacol 28(9):815-29
  4. Vossel S, Bauer M, ... Friston KJ (in press) Journal of Neurosci.
  5. Gaetz W, Edgar JC, Wang DJ, Roberts TP (2011) Neuroimage, 55(2):616-21.
  6. Bast T, da Silva BM, Morris RG. (2005) J Neurosci 25(25):5845-56.
  7. Pezze M, McGarrity S, Mason R, Fone KC, Bast T (2014) J Neurosci 34(23):7931-46

How predictions and prior information guide perception and behavior

In order to interact successfully with the world, humans rely heavily on making use of contextual information or prior knowledge1. This becomes evident in various scenarios from elementary perception to complex decision making under uncertainty. One aspect of such contextual information are prior probabilities. It has been shown that humans are (in certain circumstances2, but not others3) very capable of integrating these prior probabilities with available sensory information to draw optimal inferences about the state of the world. The aim of this project is to elucidate the neuronal mechanisms through which the integration of prior information and sensory driven information occurs4 (predominantly using MEG or EEG) and/or using behavioural paradigms to investigate the crucial criteria under which such ‘Bayes-optimal cognition’ applies or breaks down. The experiments can therefore involve behavioural/psychophysical studies or focus more on the neuronal aspects. With respect to the latter, one hypothesis to be tested is the presumed role specific brain rhythms play in conveying predictive top-down and sensory bottom-up signals5,6 and investigate their interaction.

  1. Clark A (2013) Behav Brain Sci. 36(3):181-204.
  2. Ernst MO, Banks MS (2002) Nature 15(6870):429-33
  3. Kahneman D (2003) Am. Econ. Rev. 93,1449–1475.
  4. Lee TS, Mumford D (2003) J Opt Soc Am 20(7):1434-48.
  5. Bauer M, Stenner MP, Friston KJ, Dolan RJ (in press) Journal of Neurosci.
  6. Friston KJ, Bastos AM, Pinotsis D, Litvak V (2014) Curr Opin Neurobiol. 28;31C:1-6.

The impact of brain stimulation techniques on cognitive performance and brain waves

During recent years rhythmic brain stimulation has been used to alter brain waves (oscillations at specific frequencies) and thereby enhance cognition1,2. However, relatively little is known about the mechanisms how external brain stimulation interacts with ongoing brain activity. For instance, we have recently shown3 that applying TMS over motor cortex leads to classical resonance phenomena when stimulated at individual beta-frequencies, but these effects were surprisingly short-lasting, particularly when compared to the effects of entraining brain rhythms through flickering stimuli4. Furthermore, for higher frequency gamma-oscillations, it is less clear whether enhancing these rhythms can alter cognitive performance5,6. The aims of this project will be to investigate on the one hand under which circumstances rhythmic brain stimulation leads to changes in cognitive performance and how precisely different brain stimulation techniques (TMS, tACS/tDCS and rhythmic sensory stimulation) affect ongoing brain activity. The student will be trained in the use of brain stimulation techniques as well as psychophysics and EEG or/and MEG recordings.

  1. Marshall L, Helgadóttir H, Mölle M, Born J (2006) Nature 444(7119):610-3.
  2. Romei V, Gross J, Thut G (2010) J Neurosci, 30(25):8692-7.
  3. Bauer M, Romei V, Brooks J, Economides M, Penny W, Thut G, Driver J, Bestmann S (under review) Neuroimage.
  4. Spaak E, de Lange FP, Jensen O (2014) J Neurosci. 34(10):3536-44.
  5. Bauer F, Cheadle SW, Parton A, MŸller HJ, Usher M (2009) PNAS, 106(5):1666-71.
  6. Bauer M, Akam T, Joseph S, Freeman E, Driver J (2012) J Vis. 12(4). 


Professor Stephen Jackson

Neural basis for unwanted thoughts and actions

Understanding the nature of the brain mechanisms that allow us to regulate our behaviour is a fundamental problem for neuroscience and is of considerable clinical importance in understanding and treating the consequences of mental illness. This is because behavioural dysregulation and/or disorders of cognitive control are strongly associated with a number of common mental illnesses including: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD]; Tourette syndrome [TS]; and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder [OCD]. In this project we will use magnetic resonance imaging to investigate the functional anatomy of unwanted actions.

Neural circuits involved in the suppression of tics in Tourette syndrome

Tourette syndrome (TS) is a developmental neuropsychiatric disorder characterised by the presence of chronic vocal and motor tics. Tics are involuntary, repetitive, stereotyped behaviours that occur with a limited duration. The neurological basis of TS is unclear at this time however it is agreed that the basal ganglia, including circuits that link the striatum to the frontal lobes, are dysfunctional. It has been suggested that individuals who learn to successfully control their tics do so by recruiting an enlarged or enhanced network of cortical areas that are involved in the cognitive control of behaviour. In this project we will use neuroimaging techniques (e.g., functional MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation) to investigate and quantify this hypothesis.

Brain plasticity and functional re-organisation in the adolescent brain

During adolescence the brain undergoes considerable change and may impact upon important behaviours such as impulse control, aggression, risk taking, etc. The aim of this project will be to investigate this hypothesis using behavioural measures and multimodal brain imaging and brain stimulation techniques (e.g., functional MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, transcranial magnetic stimulation, magnetic resonance spectroscopy).

Neural representation of movement and updating of the ‘body-schema’

Damage to the posterior parietal cortex can lead to a disorder of visually guided reaching movements known as optic ataxia (AO). We have previously suggested that the brain area most often associated with optic ataxia – the medial aspect of the posterior parietal cortex - is important for maintaining a dynamic, up-to-date, representation of the postural configuration of the body [i.e., the body ‘schema’]. We will investigate this hypothesis by studying reaching movements to visually defined and posturally defined targets in neurologically healthy individuals and patients with optic ataxia. This project will make use of kinematic analyses of reaching movements and fMRI. My lab is equipped with 2-joint robot arm for measuring movement and also an MRI-compatible 2- joint robot for measuring movements in the MR scanner.

Neural basis for the modulatory effects of motor intention on perception

Psychophysical studies have repeatedly demonstrated that visual stimuli presented close to the onset of a saccadic eye movement are mislocalised spatially and temporally. Similarly, psychophysical and electrophysiological studies have demonstrated that the intention to execute a limb movement leads to reduced tactile sensitivity on the limb that is about to be moved. This project will use magnetic resonance imaging and/or transcranial magnetic stimulation techniques to investigate how motor intention influences tactile perception.


Dr Martin Schürmann

A single brain area can represent multiple aspects of the environment or of the individual’s body. For example, stimuli of two sensory modalities can converge on one brain area, as in the case of auditory and vibrotactile stimuli that share a representation in auditory belt areas. Similarly, in certain motor areas the representation of the individual’s own actions overlaps with areas activated during the observation of other individuals’ movements. To study shared representations in the brain, the following projects will be pursued using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI, for optimal spatial resolution) and whole-head magnetoencephalography (MEG, for millisecond temporal precision).

Crossmodal activation of auditory brain areas by tactile stimuli has been observed with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in healthy subjects (Schürmann M, Caetano G, Hlushchuk Y, Jousmäki V, Hari R, NeuroImage 2006; 30: 1325-1331). Such co-activation could be related to facilitated hearing when sounds co-occur with vibrotactile stimuli delivered to the subject’s palm. Future studies need to explore to what extent auditory brain areas contribute to the analysis of sound-like temporal patterns in vibrotactile stimuli.

Shared representations in the brain have also been suggested as a correlate of social perception: the observer’s motor areas are activated during the perception of other persons’ movements or postures. For example, we searched for brain correlates of the exceptional perceptual salience of abnormal postures. In an fMRI study, subjects viewed computer-generated pictures of distorted hand postures. Cortical activation sensitive to distorted (vs. natural) finger postures was found in the primary motor cortex, postcentral somatosensory areas, and amygdala. This activation pattern suggests that the instantaneous “gut feelings” during the observation of bodily distortions in others are related to embodied percepts that also involve affect-related brain areas (Schürmann M, Hlushchuk Y, Hari R, Human Brain Mapping, 2011; 32: 612-623). Future studies will explore brain activation patterns during the observation of normal and abnormal hand postures, including postures related to tool use.

Social perception is also relevant to decision making. We studied brain activation patterns in an economic game with multiple players where competition imposes constraints on subjects’ decisions.

The setup was developed from a game where subjects typically accept equal-share offers but reject unduly small offers. Using fMRI, we studied adjustment to competition in this game: subjects competed against another person for the share of the stake. For medium-sized, but not for minimum offers, competition increased the likelihood of acceptance and was associated with increased brain activation bilaterally in the temporo-parietal junction, a region associated with mentalizing. The results suggest a network of brain areas supporting decision making under competition, with incentive-dependent mentalizing engaged when the competitor's behavior is difficult to predict and when the stake is attractive enough to justify the effort (Halko ML, Hlushchuk Y, Hari R, Schürmann M, NeuroImage 2009; 46: 542-548).

Facilities for the required methods, fMRI and MEG, are available in the Sir Peter Mansfield Magnetic Resonance Centre on the campus of the University of Nottingham.


Dr Debbie Serrien

Mechanism of hemispheric specialisation. 

The prevalent view is that specialised functions of the cortical hemispheres are essential for behavioural performance. That is, both hemispheres have different functional capacities that provide distinct contributions to skilled behaviour. However, little is known about how the hemispheres cooperate to achieve an optimal outcome. This PhD project will study the neural correlates of skilled behaviour in order to identify domain-general and domain-specific characteristics that guide performance outcomes across the lifespan.

The neural dynamics of motor dexterity

In right-handers skillfulness associates with left hemisphere dominance; a prioritisation that has been attributed to anatomical and functional asymmetries of cortical brain regions. Whereas right-handers have been extensively studied in the literature, limited data are available from other handedness groups. This PhD project will evaluate and contrast the neural dynamics of motor behaviour in different handedness groups.


Personality, Social Psychology & Health

Dr Laura Blackie

Post-Traumatic Growth

We live in a world where environmental adversity is an unfortunate and persistent reality – global health threats, natural disasters, spiralling conflict and forced displacement of people – threaten countries and individuals around the world. My research into post-traumatic growth investigates when and how the experience of adversity may lead to lasting positive personality change. Research into post-traumatic growth has been limited by cross-sectional studies that ask individuals to retrospectively report how they have changed after an adverse event has already occurred. These studies tell us little about how reports of perceived change are correlated with trajectories of actual personality change over time or about the role that personality, social, cognitive and cultural factors play in the process. I would be interested in supervising PhDs that aim to both improve the measurement of post-traumatic growth and examine the factors that make it more or less likely to occur.

Mortality Awareness, Well-Being & Prosocial Behaviour

There is extensive research demonstrating that subtle reminders of mortality can increase an individual’s anxiety and propensity to react defensively. However, research in recent years has started to demonstrate that mortality awareness manipulations can also encourage individuals to engage in less greedy and more charitable behaviour. Thus, although the psychological mechanisms that trigger defensiveness are well researched, there is currently very little research dedicated to understanding the conditions and personality characteristics that enable some individuals to respond more positively to reminders of their own mortality. I would be interested in supervising PhDs in the area of mortality awareness more broadly, but I am particularly interested in projects that seek to understand the factors that promote more life-affirming responses to mortality awareness.


Professor Eamonn Ferguson

Altruism, charitable donations and blood donation

Why do we help others, especially strangers or give to charity? I am interested in exploring the underlying mechanism associated with human altruism. I am interested in integrating theory from psychology, economics and biology to understand altruism towards strangers and kin, and in particular with respect to charitable donations especially blood and organ donation. I am interested in testing competing theories form economics (e.g., inequality aversion, warm glow and strong reciprocity), psychology (emotional response such as empathy, guilt, gratitude, shame, pride etc.) and biology (reciprocity and reputation building) within this domain.

Personality and altruism

I am interested in the role of individual difference with respect to emotional regulation and understanding (e.g., empathy & alexithymia) to understand behaviour in economic games designed to explore human altruism (e.g., ultimatum games, dictator games, public good games). Emotions (anger, spite) are seen as one key proximal determinant of departure from the standard selfish model in these games. Those with an inability to understand emotion (e.g., alexithymics) should therefore, be less susceptible to such effects. There is great behavioural heterogeneity in these types of games and I am interested in the way in which personality may help us to understand some of this heterogeneity.

Altruism and Sexual Selection

Altruism may survive in the population because it is sexually selected trait when people are choosing partners for long-term relationships. I am interested in how and when people choose to make displays of altruism and other characteristics that may be seen as desirable in the opposite sex. I am particularly interested in the role of displays of punishment of unfair behaviour. For example, if an agent punishes someone who has harmed them or others does this make them attractive to the opposite sex or not.

Health communications

I am interested in the ways in which people respond to public health information designed to improve their health. In particular I am interested in cases where well intentioned strategies results in counter-productive and detrimental effects. We have recently been developing a line of work in the area of counter-normative messaging (messages that are deign to improve health behaviour, by expressing a belief that is counter to the accepted norm: e.g., stress is good for you). The rise of evidence based medicine is resulting in counter-normative messaging being used more and more. We are interested in exploring if such messages result in counter-productive outcome such worse health (symptom reporting, health care utilization) and identifying the mechanism that contribute to this effect.


Dr Claire Lawrence

My work broadly seeks to contribute towards answers to the question: What makes people behave aggressively and violently? This leads me to examine social processes, individual differences, cognition and brain structure and function. I would be happy to supervise PhDs in any aspect of these areas but in particular:

Under what circumstances are people triggered to act aggressively?

I am particularly interested in the effects of frustration and provocation together with individual differences in sensitivity to different external triggering factors. Can we take this knowledge in designing strategies to reduce aggression? I use a variety of methods to measure aggressive behaviour in the lab, and I am interested in supervising PhDs developing new methods.

  • Lawrence, C. (2006). Measuring individual responses to aggression-triggering events: Development of the Situational Triggers of Aggressive Responses (STAR) Scale. Aggressive Behavior, 32, 241-252.
  • Lawrence, C. & Hutchinson, L. (2013). The influence of individual differences in sensitivity to provocations on provoked aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 39, 212-221.
  • Yusainy, C. and Lawrence, C. 2014. Relating mindfulness and self-control to harm to the self and to others. Personality and Individual Differences, 64, 78-83.

Who is more likely to behave aggressively?

Despite received wisdom identifying those with low self-esteem being more likely to act aggressively, the wealth of evidence shows that it is those with very high self-esteem who are prone to act aggressively in the light of provocation. I am interested in supervising work which examines the role of personality variables that increase (e.g. psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism) as well as reduce (e.g. empathy, agreeableness) the likelihood and intensity of aggressive behaviour.

  • Heym, N., Ferguson, E. & Lawrence, C. (2013). The P-Psychopathy continuum: Facets of Psychoticism and their associations with psychopathic tendencies. Personality and Individual Differences, 54, 773-778.
  • Kyler, R. (2016). Entitled vengeance: A meta-analysis relating narcissism to provoked aggression. Aggressive Behavior, 42, 362-379.

Are antisocial and aggressive traits evolutionarily functional?

Recent approaches to individual differences suggest that the variation seen in personality traits have evolved via a balancing-selection mechanism. As such, extreme levels of any trait may be adaptive in extreme contexts. This may explain, in part, why some ostensibly negative or antisocial traits remain present in populations, despite being otherwise undesirable. There is also evidence for a (limited) sexual selection advantage for some of these antisocial traits. However, on the face of it, there is little advantage of these traits from a sexual selection perspective. Using a mixture of psychometric and economic games, I am collecting data currently to examine when people are attracted to individuals who have demonstrated negative or antisocial behaviours. I would be interested in developing this work further.

  • Jonason, P. (2015). Birds of a bad feather flock together: The Dark Triad and mate choice. Personality and Individual Differences, 78, 34-38.
  • Penke, L., Denssen, J.J.A. & Miller, G. (2007). The evolutionary genetics of personality. European Journal of Personality, 21, 549-587.
  • Wallum, H., Westberg, L., Henningsson, S. et al., Genetic variation in the vasopressin receptor 1a gene (AVPR1A) associates with pair bonding behaviour in humans. PNAS, 105, 14153-14156.


Dr Chuma Owuamalam (Malaysia Campus)

My current interest is on the influence of social perceptions on attitudes, behaviour and well-being of members of historically disadvantaged/stigmatized groups (such as ethnic minorities, women and mental health patients, and single mothers). I am particularly interested in the processes underlying people’s beliefs about the impressions they make on others (i.e., meta-perceptions) and, how these beliefs in turn impact mental health, as well as behaviours that may be adopted to bring about social change. I would be especially interested in supervising projects that aim to explore interventions that could enhance harmony between conflicting groups, especially when such conflicts are rooted in meta-perceptions. Being at the cross-road of Western influence and collectivistic cultural orientations of the East, Malaysia, with its diverse ethnic mix, offers a unique opportunity to examine these ideas and to test the efficacy of some Western-style interventions for promoting intergroup harmony.

Other topics that are closely related to the research programme outlined above are also welcome.


Dr Alexa Spence

My research focuses on attitudes, broader related perceptions (particularly risk perceptions) and how these translate into behaviour. I am particularly interested in environmental psychology and specifically public perceptions and behavior in relation to energy and climate change. My work continues to explore the abstract nature and overall psychological distance of climate change, and how experiences or imagination may influence these perceptions (e.g. through experiences of events such as flooding). Much of my research also focuses on new smart energy technologies and services and acceptance, engagement and cooperation around these technologies. The future orientated focus of my research means that I spend a lot of time thinking about how to examine attitudes towards things that people are not necessarily familiar with and also feeding that back to industry and policy makers in order to feed into research and strategy involving these things. Below are some current research directions (all suitable for international and home students).

Planning sustainable behavior change

The intention behavior gap is well known across fields in Psychology and similarly whilst most people would like to behave sustainably (e.g. not many people really wants to waste energy), many do not. Implementation intentions in particular are a planning tool that have been highly impactful in Health Psychology and to date have been little used within Environmental Psychology.  Initial investigations indicate that this is a very useful tool in enacting behavior change but further research is needed in order to examine the conditions under which these tools may be most usefully employed.

Acceptance, engagement, and cooperation around new energy technologies

With the current rollout of smart meters, I’m exploring how and when people are engaged by associated devices and smart energy technologies and services that build on the increased information provided by smart meters (e.g. smart washing machines, electric cars as grid storage). I’m interested in when and why people will accept new energy technologies and what benefits are perceived from interacting with these. I’m also interested in interactions and cooperation around new energy technologies and systems.  There may be unintended consequences of introducing new energy technologies to social situations and environments (e.g. the workplace), that have not been considered.

Policy acceptance

To date, behavior change models do not deal with policy acceptance; it is an area generally ignored within theoretical models.  However there are good reasons (coming from surrogate decision making and construal level theory in particular) to consider that policy acceptance and its drivers may differ from individual behavior change. I’m interested in examining how acceptance of policy may be different from individual changes in behavior and what this means for using behavior change data to understand policy acceptance and vice versa.

How location and context may influence digital engagement

I’m interested in how spatial location and activity may influence people’s interactions with technologies. Might people perceive information differently, and therefore also respond to this differently, when this is received when they are travelling, or when they are in a spatially distant environment compared to a static office or home environment?


Professor Ellen Townsend

The Self-Harm Research Group investigates psychological constructs associated with self-harmful thoughts and behaviours such as attachment style, attitudes (implicit and explicit), hopelessness, defeat and entrapment. We use a variety of quantitative and qualitative methods including the Card Sort Task for Self-Harm (CaTS), sequence analysis, experiments, semi-structured interviews, vignettes, questionnaires and Audio Computer Assisted Self-Interview.  Trying to capture and understand the complexity of self-harm is a central feature of our work. We are passionate about Public Engagement with research and our work, published in high impact journals,  has received many citations.


Visual Neuroscience

Professor Alan Johnston

My research focusses on the perception of motion, time and space. The work ranges from detailed models and experiments on motion in early vision to the representation of dynamic change in faces. I am happy to consider supervising projects in the following general areas:

Motion Perception

In this area we seek to understand the computations involved in local velocity encoding, motion prediction and integrative “mid-level” processes, in which local motion estimates are combined to encode the motion of objects and textures, through experiments on the perception of the global motion of patterns of simple moving lines and gratings.

  • Roach, N.W., McGraw, P.V. & Johnston, A. (2011) Visual motion induces a forward prediction of spatial pattern. Current Biology, 21 (9) 740-745

Time Perception

It is possible to adapt visual mechanisms involved in time perception using local motion patterns leading to a reduction in perceived duration of around 20%. This shows we don’t have a single central clock but that there are many disparate routes to a perception of duration. We are working to understand the mechanisms of these clocks.

  • Johnston, A., Arnold, D.H. and Nishida, S. (2006) Spatially localised distortions of event time. Current Biology, 16, 472-477.

Space Perception

Although we have good models of the perception local visual information such as brightness, colour, motion and pattern orientation we have little understanding of how we encode the distance between points or geometric figures. Recently we have found a way to adapt spatial separation and paradoxically a reduction in spatial separation between pairs dots is accompanied by an increase in separation for dots in textures. This provides a new tool for the study of spatial vision.

  • Hisakata, R., Nishida, S. and Johnston, A., 2016. An Adaptable Metric Shapes Perceptual Space. Current Biology : CB. 26(14), 1911-5.

Faces and Voices

How do we encode and represent subtle facial expressions? The motion of faces may be the key to how we encode faces in general. In this area we are interested in: recognition from motion cues, dynamic feature interactions, how we encode expressions and how we link facial action and facial speech.

  • Cook, R., Aichelburg, C., & Johnston, A. (2015). Illusory Feature Slowing: Evidence for Perceptual Models of Global Facial Change. Psychological Science, 1–6. doi:10.1177/0956797614567340


Professor Tim Ledgeway

How is texture-defined motion detected by the visual system?

Moving objects typically differ from their surroundings in terms of their textural properties (e.g. surface markings), but how these cues are extracted by the visual system to encode movement is still little understood.

[uses: psychophysics/computer models/TMS]

How are the direction and speed of global object motion encoded?

We know a great deal about how the visual system extracts velocity information from individual (localised) edges in the visual world, but rather little about how that information is subsequently combined to reveal the overall movement of complex objects.

[uses: psychophysics/computer models/TMS]

Detection of spatially-extensive image contours and shapes.

How the visual system is able to detect the outlines/boundaries of arbitrary spatial objects in cluttered visual scenes, by linking local measurements of edge orientation is an unresolved issue.

Impairments to dorsal stream processing in the brain

The dorsal pathway in the brain projects from primary visual cortex to the parietal lobes and is often referred to as the “where” pathway, as it is involved in motion processing, spatial cognition and visual motor planning. The ventral pathway projects from visual cortex to the temporal lobes and has been termed the “what” pathway, as it is involved in shape perception, visual memory and recognition of familiar objects/faces. Impairments to dorsal pathway functioning have been suggested as a defining characteristic of many developmental disorders, as well as healthy ageing. However the selectivity of this deficit is equivocal and its underlying nature is currently unknown.

[uses: psychophysics/computer models].


Dr Jonathan Peirce

My work investigates the way in which the visual system detects particular combinations of edges when recognising objects.

Are dyslexics incapable of detecting particular edge combinations?

A number of studies have aimed to find a low-level, visual cause of dyslexia. One possibility is that dyslexics may be unable correctly to detect the precise relative locations of particular edge combinations.

[uses: psychophysics with dyslexic and ‘normal’ populations]

How groups of edges are detected by the visual system?

We know a great deal about how the visual system extracts information about individual edges in the visual scene, but rather little about how that information is used and combined.

[uses: psychophysics/fMRI/computer models].


Dr Neil Roach

My research aims to understand perceptual phenomena in terms of the underlying neural mechanisms. This typically involves a combination of psychophysical experimentation and physiologically motivated computational modeling. I am interested in supervising projects that apply this approach to address questions concerning normal and abnormal sensory processing. Potential research topics include, but are not limited to:

Learning priors for Bayesian perception and action

We rely heavily on our senses when navigating and interacting with the world. However, sensory information is often noisy and incomplete. How the brain deals with this uncertainty when forming decisions and planning actions is a fundamental question in contemporary sensory neuroscience. An influential idea is that the brain performs a form of Bayesian inference, integrating noisy sensory information with prior knowledge to optimise performance on a given task. In some instances, these ‘priors’ likely reflect innate knowledge of stable statistical regularities in the environment. However, it is clear that humans can also rapidly learn and exploit regularities in recent sensory input. 

Current work in my laboratory aims to understand the rules governing how priors are learned. We have recently shown that the structuring of priors is dynamic - human subjects rapidly form singular priors of temporal statistics by generalising across distributions coupled with distinct sensory signals, but sensory-specificity emerges with extended training. In contrast, priors appear to be coupled to their associated motor outputs from the outset of learning. We now aim to develop Bayesian updating models capable of capturing these learning dynamics and refine our understanding of how priors are represented in the brain.

 Roach et al (2018). Generalisation of prior information for rapid Bayesian time estimation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 114, 412-417.

How does the brain code the timing of sensory events?

Being able to perceive the flow of time is essential to just about every aspect of our lives. However at present, we don’t have a clear understanding of how our brains manage to keep track of time. One way of getting insight into this process is to study situations in which our perception of time is distorted. Interestingly, this seems to occur rather frequently - for example, in the laboratory the perceived duration and temporal order of auditory and visual stimuli can be distorted via adaptation. Roach et al (2011), Asynchrony adaptation reveals neural population code for audio-visual timing, Proceedings of the Royal Society, B, Biological Sciences, 278, 1314-1322.


Dr Denis Schluppeck

The aim of my research is to understand how we use our senses of vision and touch to gather information about the world and how sensory information is retained in memory on the timescale of seconds. In the visual domain, I study how humans perceive the colour, form, and motion of visual objects, how they remember different aspects of visual information, and how they make decisions based on those perceptions.

In the somatosensory system, my primary interest is how the sensory sheet of the body surface is topographically mapped onto cortical (and subcortical) areas and how other basic stimulus properties are encoded in the brain, as well as how this mapping can change over time.

I use a combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), psychophysics, and computational modelling. Most recently, I have conducted MRI experiments at ultra high field (7 T) in collaboration with colleagues at the Sir Peter Mansfield MR Centre at the University to explore the use of functional and anatomical imaging at very high spatial resolution.

  1. Functional imaging of the human visual system (working towards measurements at columnar and cortical layer level)
  2. Mapping the human somatosensory system with high-resolution fMRI.
  3. “Mind-reading” – trying to understand the signals that allow multivariate pattern classification to decode perceptual and sensory states from functional imaging data.

[methods: functional MRI at 3 T and 7 T in normal subjects, computational modelling, psychophysics, data analysis]

If you have other possible projects in mind, don’t hesitate to contact me to discuss your idea.


 Dr Elisa Zamboni

My research is driven by an interest in understanding our senses, both as individual processes as well as how information from multiple senses are integrated to generate experiences and meaningful representations. In the visual domain, I study how different features (e.g., orientation, curvature) are functionally organised in specific regions of the brain and how these domains interact with each other. I am also looking at the brain pathways integrating visual and touch information, with a specific interest at the effects that abnormal sensory inputs (i.e., visual illusions/distortions) might have in the topographical representation of body parts in the cortex and how these manipulations could potentially provide alternative treatments in chronic pain conditions.

In my research, I combine behavioural (psychophysics) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) techniques, with a specific focus on ultra-high field imaging (using scanners at 7+ Tesla) in collaboration with colleagues at the Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre at the University, to explore functional and structural brain organisations at very high spatial resolution that would otherwise only be possible invasively. I also collaborate in developing imaging acquisition sequences for Direct Imaging of Neuronal Activity (DIANA) using Real Time fMRI with colleagues at the Institute of Sport at Manchester Metropolitan University.

  1. Functional imaging of the columnar and laminar organisation of the visual system using standard (BOLD) and non-BOLD high resolution acquisition techniques
  2. Understanding the brain circuits integrating vision and touch in ordinary environments
  3. Multisensory illusions: do altered sensory information (through Virtual Reality techniques) change neurorepresentation of body parts? What are the mechanisms underlying the plastic changes? Could these plastic changes provide analgesic effects in individuals suffering from chronic pain conditions?

If you have other projects in mind, don’t hesitate to get in touch to discuss your idea. 

School of Psychology

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