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

Dr Mark Haselgrove

Associative Learning: Properties, Mechanisms and Applications

Behavioural Neuroscience

Dr Paula Moran

Understanding the causes and treatment of schizophrenia

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 Riikka Mottonen

The neural basis of speech communication

Cognition & Language

Dr Andrew Reid

Neuromodulation of cognition, neurodegeneration, and brain connectivity

Cognition & Language

Dr Elizabeth Sheppard

  Social perception in people with autism and driver cognition 

Cognition & Language

Dr Richard Tunney

Judgement and decision-making, implicit learning and memory

Cognition & Language

Dr Walter van Heuven

Bilingualism, foreign language acquisition, and visual word recognition

Cognition & Language

Professor Ed Wilding

Brain Imaging studies of remembering and forgetting

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 Shiri Einav

The development of trust & scepticism                                                                          

Human Development & Learning

Professor Peter Mitchell

Inferring what others are thinking

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

Dr Nicholas Paul Holmes

Somatosensory perception and hand movements; transcranial magnetic stimulation

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

The neural representation of cognitive functions

Personality, Social Psychology & Health

Dr Peter Bibby

Cognition, Emotion and Culture: How do they fit together to explain human behaviour? 

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 Claire Lawrence

What makes people behave aggressively and violently?

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 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 Ben Webb

Perceptual learning

Visual Neuroscience

Professor Alan Johnston

Perception of motion, time and space 


Behavioural Neuroscience

Dr Tobias Bast

Behavioural Neuroscience Projects – Hippocampo-prefrontal-subcortical circuit in cognition and behavior

My research focuses on how a brain circuit consisting of the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex and connected subcortical sites mediates and integrates important cognitive functions, including everyday-type memory (e.g., memory for places and events) and attention, and other behavioural processes (emotional, motivational, sensorimotor). In addition, I study how dysfunction in this neural circuit causes cognitive and behavioural deficits. To address these questions I mainly combine sophisticated behavioural testing with a wide range of in vivo neurobiological methods to analyse and manipulate brain function in rat models (although, recently, we have also begun some studies involving human participants and ‘translational’ tests similar to our rat paradigms).
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).

Computational Neuroscience project – Neurocomputational models of hippocampus-dependent place learning and navigation (co-supervised with Steve Coombes, Mathematical Sciences)

Humans and other animals can readily remember significant places and associated events and return to these places as appropriate. From an experimental point of view, studies of the neuro-psychological mechanisms underlying place learning and navigation offer unique opportunities, because similar tests can be used in rodent models and human participants. Studies in rodent models have led to a detailed understanding of the neuro-psychological mechanisms of place memory, and the importance of the hippocampus for place learning and navigation in humans and other animals is well-established (Bast, 2011, Curr Opin Neurobiol; Hartley, Lever, Burgess, O’Keefe, 2014, Phil Trans Roy Soc B; also see 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine).

In this project, we aim to develop quantitative models describing how neurons in the hippocampus and associated brain areas give rise to place learning and navigation, and construct an in silico model for testing ideas about functional mechanisms. The project brings together behavioural neuroscience expertise on hippocampal function and place learning (Tobias Bast, Psychology) with expertise in mathematical and computational neuroscience (Steve Coombes, Mathematical Sciences). More specifically, we aim to adapt and further develop previous neurocomputational models of hippocampus-dependent place learning and navigation (e.g., Brown & Sharp, 1995, Hippocampus; Foster, Morris, Dayan, 2000, Hippocampus; Fremaux, Sprekeler, Gerstner, 2013, PLoS Comput Biol; Chersi & Burgess, 2015, Neuron), so that they accurately describe findings of recent and ongoing behavioural and neurobiological studies on the psychological characteristics and neurobiological substrates of hippocampus-dependent rapid place learning (e.g., Bast, Wilson, Witter, Morris, 2009, PLoS Biol; da Silva, Bast, Morris, 2014, Learn Memory). A particular emphasis will be on the hippocampal learning-behaviour translation: how place information (as encoded, for example, by hippocampal place cells) is related to decision making processes and, ultimately, translated into motor behaviour (for example, by way of interactions with prefrontal and subcortical circuits) (Bast, 2011, Curr Opin Neurobiol).

The project will be jointly supervised by Steve Coombes (Mathematical Sciences) and Tobias Bast (Psychology). Suitable candidates will have a strong mathematical background (preferentially a BSc or MSc in Maths, Physics, Engeneering or Computational Neuroscience) and a strong interest in applying mathematical tools to questions in neuroscience and psychology.


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

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 dopamine D1 and D2 receptor families through the use of pharmacologically selective receptor agents.

Suggested reading (freely available online):

  • 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., Fone, K.C.F. & Cassaday, H.J. (2015). Dopamine D1 receptor stimulation modulates the formation and retrieval of novel object recognition memory: role of the prelimbic cortex. European Neuropsychopharmacology, 25, 2145-2156.

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 developing a 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 (available via my web page):

  • Cassaday, H.J. (2015). What’s special about the ethical challenges of studying disorders with altered brain activity? In Ethical Issues in Behavioral Neuroscience: G. Lee, J. Illes & F. Ohl (Eds.) Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences, 19, 137-157. Springer-Verlag.
  • Davies, G.F., Greenhough, B.J., Hobson-West, P., Kirk, R.G.W., Applebee, K., Bellinghan, L.C., Berdoy, M., Buller, H., Cassaday, H.J. et al. (LASSH network). (2016). Developing a collaborative agenda for humanities and social scientific research on laboratory animal welfare. PLOS ONE, in press.

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.
  • He, Z., Cassaday, H.J., Bonardi, C. & Bibby, P.A. (2013).  Do personality traits predict individual differences in excitatory and inhibitory learning? Frontiers in Psychology: Personality Science and Individual Differences, 4, Article 245.


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 Paula Moran

Studies of learning and memory in patients with schizophrenia.

We have been investigating whether patients with Schizophrenia process information differently to healthy controls and whether these are related to their symptoms and their social function.  A number of studies suggest that schizophrenia patients as a consequence of brain dopamine abnormality have learning and memory problems that might originate from abnormal prediction error calculations in the brain. We test this hypothesis behaviourally using a variety of neuropsychological tasks that measure learning and memory processes. We are particularly interested in whether there is an association between the cognitive and the social problems that people with schizophrenia suffer from. If this is a general topic that interests you then do get in touch to find out more information about specific projects:

  • Rispaud et al., (2016) The relationship between change in cognition and change in functional ability in schizophrenia during cognitive and psychosocial rehabilitation. Psychiatry Res. 244:145-50.
  • Al-Uzri MM, Reveley MA, Owen L,  Bruce J, Frost S, Mackintosh D, Moran PM, (2006) The prevalence of memory impairment in schizophrenia: a case controlled study. British J. of Psychiatry, 189: 132-136. 

Studies investigating the biological basis of schizophrenia symptoms using animal models.

We have been using a multidisciplinary approach to investigate how the symptoms of schizophrenia might arise from early developmental insults to the brain using mouse models. We investigate how early life manipulations of the dopamine system using genetics or drug challenges lead to behavioural and cognitive changes in adulthood associated with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders. We use this information to try and identify new treatment strategies for symptoms and to understand how existing treatments work. If this is a general topic that interests you then do get in touch to find out more information about specific projects:

  • Kabitzke PA, Simpson EH, Kandel ER, Balsam PD (2015) Social behavior in a genetic model of dopamine dysfunction at different neurodevelopmental time points. Genes Brain Behav.14(7):503-15.
  • Moran PM, O’Tuathaigh CMP, Pappaleo F, Waddington JL (2014) Dopaminergic function in relation to genes associated with risk for schizophrenia: translational models for psychotic illness. Progress in Brain Research. 211 79-112.
  • Bay-Richter C, O'Callaghan MJ, Mathur N, O'Tuathaigh CMP, Heery DM, Fone KCF, Waddington JL and Moran PM (2013) D-amphetamine and antipsychotic drug effects on latent inhibition in mice lacking dopamine D2 receptors Neuropsychopharmacology, 38: 1512-1520.


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 Andrew Reid

 I have a number of lines of research, and am always interested in hearing from prospective students about their research ideas or questions. These research topics are described below. Bear in mind that there is a lot of overlap between each topic, so potential projects will likely involve parts of each (for example, investigating the influence of neuromodulation in age-related cognitive decline). Feel free to contact me for more details, or check out my personal website:

Neuromodulation of Cognition

My current research seeks to elucidate the role of the neuromodulator norepinephrine in the control of high-level cognitive processes such as decision making, sequential reinforcement learning, vigilance, and adaptation to changing environments. I have developed a realistic 3D highway driving simulator in which participants make decisions about traffic situations of varying difficulty. At the same time, I measure pupil diameter (a proxy measure for norepinephrine) and brain activity, using EEG. Projects in this topic would include designing experiments, collecting experimental data, and analyzing behavioural, pupillometry, and EEG results.

Brain Connectivity

I am interested using neuroimaging methods, including MRI, EEG, and MEG, to estimate how the human brain is connected, and how its connectivity changes under specific conditions or clinical disorders. In particular, my research focuses on combining information from many types of brain imaging, in order to get a picture of how brain structure and function coordinate to produce cognition. Projects in this topic would involve working with large neuroimaging datasets, using Python to process and analyze these datasets, and applying connectivity analysis software to experimental data.

Age-related Neurodegeneration

As our brains age, they begin to degenerate. For example, over 90% of people over the age of 60 have some degeneration of the brain's white matter (axonal wiring). Similarly, close to 30% of the world population over age 85 have some form of dementia, such as Alzheimer's disease. A major focus of my research is to better understand how the brain changes earlier in life, and whether these changes can be used to predict whether a person will go on to develop Alzheimer's or other neurodegenerative disease. Knowledge of this process can be very informative about how to prevent or stave off its effects later in life. Projects in this topic would include analyzing public databases of elderly cohorts, as well as people with genetic predisposition to Alzheimer's disease.

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 Riikka Mottonen

I am happy to supervise PhD students who are interested in investigating how the human brain enables us to communicate using speech. My research focuses on auditory-motor speech processing, i.e., how the motor and auditory systems interact during speech communication. I am also interested in multisensory interactions, i.e., how auditory speech signals are integrated with visual speech signals (i.e., speaker’s articulatory movements and gestures). I use both brain stimulation (e.g., TMS and tDCS) and imaging (EEG, MEG and fMRI) in my research. Possible topics include: 

How does aging and hearing loss affect auditory-motor speech processing?

Can training programs combined with brain stimulation boost speech perception skills?

How does the motor system contribute speech perception?

Please contact me if you would like to find out more about these topics or discuss your own ideas.


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 Richard Tunney

The learnability of embedded hierarchical structures in artificial languages

The cognitive processes involved in artificial grammar learning (AGL) have long been a source of controversy. Nonetheless as a paradigm AGL remains appealing because it allows the researcher to examine selected aspects of language in isolation. A large literature from the mid 1960s to the turn of the century settled on a consensus that AGL recruited similarity processes based on episodic memory that were relevant to the study of natural languages only if one took the position that language acquisition is statistical rather than symbolic in form (Pothos, 2007). However, this literature was largely restricted to simple finite-state languages that have very few properties of natural languages. A second wave of interest using languages with centre-embedded structures (AnBn grammars) using EEG and fMRI has apparently revealed evidence for language abstraction involving Broca’s area. These findings stand in stark contrast to the findings using finite-state grammars (Fitch & Friederici, 2012). Centre embedded structures are an important feature of natural languages because, unlike finite state grammars, they minimally require a context free grammar. However, a number of research groups have cast doubt on this interpretation and instead suggested that simpler non-linguistic mechanisms involving counting the number of A and B elements in each sentence might provide a more parsimonious model (de Vries, Monaghan, Knecht, & Zwitserlood, 2008). The aim of this project is to discriminate between these two models.

  • de Vries, M.H., Monaghan, P., Knecht, S., & Zwitserlood, P. (2008). Syntactic structure and artificial grammar learning: The learnability of embedded hierarchical structures. Cognition, 106, 763-774.
  • Fitch, W. T., & Friederici, A. D. (2012). Artificial grammar learning meets formal language theory: An overview. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 367, 1933-1955.
  • Pothos, E. M. (2007). Theories of artificial grammar learning. Psychological Bulletin, 133, 227-244.

Can pro-social behaviour be primed?

A number of recent studies have claimed that pro-social or altruistic behaviour can be elicited by means of social-priming. One classic study appeared to show that participants were more generous in a dictator game after they had unscrambled sentences with spiritual content than participants who had unscrambled sentences composed of neutral words (Shariff & Norenzayan, 2007). However, studies similar to this have been criticized because they might be the result of demand characteristics or because they fail to replicate (Shanks et al., 2013). I would be interested in supervising a series of tightly controlled experiments that would determine the boundary conditions for these effects and explore potential mechanisms.

  • Shanks, D.R., Newell, B.R., Lee, E.H., Balakrishnan, D., Ekelund, L., Cenac, Z., Moore, C. (2013). Priming intelligent behavior: An elusive phenomenon. PLoS ONE, 8(4), : e56515.
  • Shariff, A.F., & Norenzayan, A. (2007). God is watching you: priming God concepts increases prosocial behavior in an anonymous economic game. Psychological Science, 18, 803-809.

Surrogate utility estimation

The aim of the project is to quantify the extent to which people are able to estimate another person's utility for a decision outcome. That is, how good are we at making decisions for other people (Ziegler & Tunney, 2012). The principle aim is to compare next of kins' predicted utilities for their partner with the partners' actual stated utilities. This study will determine whether health-based utilities differ when estimated on behalf of other people, by comparing what the other person would estimate compared to what the person would estimate for themselves when asked the same series of hypothetical health state questions (Wendler & Rid, 2011). The results will go beyond research that has been conducted before in that previous work on self-other decision-making has been restricted to binary end-of-life decision accuracy (Shalowitz, Garrett-Mayer, & Wendler, 2006), and there exists as of yet no research on health states in surrogate decision making. We will be able to quantify the extent to which utility estimation differs when compared between the surrogate and the wishes of the
recipient. This will allow some theoretical predictions about the cognitive processes that we use to estimate another person's utilities. For instance, whether we attempt to simulate the other person's decision or hypothetically place ourselves in their position, and to explore what factors affect the degree of error in surrogate decision-making.

  • Shalowitz, D.I., Garrett-Mayer, E., & Wendler, D. (2006). The Accuracy of Surrogate Decision-Makers: A Systematic Review. Archives of Internal Medicine, 166, 493-497.
  • Wendler, D., & Rid, A. (2011). Systematic Review: The effect of surrogates of making treatment decisions for others. Annals of Internal Medicine, 154, 336-346.
  • Ziegler, F.V., & Tunney, R.J. (2012). Decisions for Others Become Less Impulsive the Further Away They Are on the Family Tree. PLoS ONE, 7(11).


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.


Professor Ed Wilding

I am interested in human long-term memory. A fundamental challenge for our memory system is to select currently relevant memories from among many similar competing memories. We accomplish this in a variety of ways by using top-down control operations and knowledge of how our memories work. I am keen to supervise projects that fall broadly in this field of enquiry, which can be described loosely as ‘cognitive control over memory’. In pursuing research into memory and memory control I use behavioural assessments alongside measures of neural activity. These neural measures include electroencehalography (EEG), magnetoencehalography (MEG) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Students working with me will gain a deep knowledge of the psychology of human memory, as well as conceptual and practical skills in cognitive neuroscience approaches to understanding the neural and functional basis of human cognition. Examples of topics I am currently pursuing include: how unintentional retrieval has negative as well as positive consequences1; how preparation to retrieve influences subsequent retrieval processing2; the accuracy of dual-process accounts of recognition memory3; how we use our knowledge about our memories to guide behaviour (metacognition)4, and how memory as well as memory control suffers when cognitive resources are compromised5. I am also interested in contributing to projects where memory problems are to be investigated, for example in studies of healthy or pathological aging, and in other conditions such as schizophrenia and depression.

Please do contact me should you wish to know more about these topics, or indeed any others that fall broadly within my interests.

  1. Evans, L.H., Herron, J.E. & Wilding, E.L. (2015). Real-time neural evidence for task-set inertia. Psychological Science. 26, 284-290.
  2. Evans, L.H., Williams, A.N. & Wilding, E.L. (2015). Electrophysiological evidence for retrieval mode immediately after a task switch. Neuroimage, 108, 435-440.
  3. Evans, L.H. & Wilding, E.L. (2012). Recollection and familiarity make independent contributions to memory judgments. Journal of Neuroscience, 32, 7253-7257.
  4. Skavhaug, I-M., Wilding, E.L. & Donaldson, D.I. (2013). Immediate judgments of learning predict subsequent recollection: Evidence from event-related potentials. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory & Cognition, 39, 159-166.
  5. Elward, R.L., Evans, L.H. & Wilding, E.L. (2013). The role of working memory capacity in the control of recollection. Cortex, 49, 1452-1462.


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? 


Dr Shiri Einav

1. Trust & Scepticism: Children's selective learning from others

Young children learn about many aspects of the world from others. Although for the most part the information that people offer is true, testimony is not always reliable and some sources are more knowledgeable than others. So, to balance effectively the benefits and risks of accepting information from others, children need to evaluate the reliability of informants’ testimony, rather than show blind trust. Moreover, given the huge amount of testimony that children encounter every day, an efficient learning strategy would be to assess the value of such information not only in terms of its likely accuracy but also in terms of its relevance or utility. I’m interested in how these critical skills develop in early childhood. Doctoral research in this area would involve experimental studies to investigate empirically a range of questions on children’s trust and scepticism in the testimony of others and how this impacts on their learning from others 

2. Trust & Scepticism: Children’s critical evaluation of online information                                                                                                                                                          

In this age of “fake news”, it is crucial that children are equipped with the skills to identify unreliable information online. A recent survey of UK teachers found that 35% of teachers reported “pupils citing clearly false information online as fact within their work”. It is therefore both important and timely to examine why children might rely on unreliable online sources. Research on children’s perception of website reliability and critical evaluation of online content is scarce, particularly in the UK. Doctoral research in this area would involve developing experimental studies to investigate children’s skills at spotting unreliable information online, as well as examining the factors underlying individual differences in doing so.  

For further information please e-mail:


Professor Peter Mitchell


How effective are people in guessing what others are thinking and feeling? Can people effectively interpret the clues in facial expressions and body language to guess another person’s thoughts? Can people guess what happened to another person by observing facial expressions and body language? Can people guess another person’s character from facial expressions and body language? What do we know about individual differences in these abilities? Specifically, are people with autism spectrum disorders severely disadvantaged in being able to interpret facial expressions and body language? When people succeed in making accurate inferences based on facial expressions and body language, how do they do it? What features in particular do they attend to? When people are not so effective in making accurate inferences, what features are they attending to? In other words, which are the informative features and which features are not so informative?

These research questions can be investigate in participants of various ages and with different kinds of clinical status. How do children develop in their ability to make educated guesses about the content of other people’s minds? How does this ability change over the lifespan? What are the prospects in this area of socio-cognitive functioning for people with clinical disorders?

The illusion of transparency (Co-supervised with Dr Claire Lawrence).

People tend to think their inner states are more ‘visible’ to others than they really are and this is known as ‘the illusion of transparency’. For example, if we coax a participant into falsely describing the scene in a photo they are looking at, he or she will probably overestimate the likelihood that the listener will detect his/her lie. Similarly, people tend to think that their nervousness is more apparent than it really is when public speaking and they (especially boys) tend to overestimate how entertaining they are when relating an amusing story. Generally, people seem to think that their inner states are more accessible than they really are. However, there might well be individual differences here, where some traits may be less prone to this illusion. For example, there are theoretical reasons to suspect that those who score high on measures of psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism (sometimes known as The Dark Triad) are less preoccupied with their apparent nervousness or feel more confident in their ability to deceive others. Being able to judge accurately that others can’t detect when we are lying could help to explain why certain individuals are more capable of being manipulative.


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.

Impairments to dorsal stream processing in the brain

Co-supervised with Tim Ledgeway and Neil Roach

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. Doctoral research in this area will involve psychophysical experiments and/or computational modeling with groups of people with specific difficulties, e.g. dyslexia, preterm birth etc.


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).


Dr Nicholas Paul Holmes

The Hand Laboratory uses a range of techniques to study tactile perception and the control of hand movements. We mostly use transcranial magnetic stimulation, electromyography, and motion tracking. Projects related to ‘the hand’ using these techniques would be a good fit for us. Here are my two ongoing projects: 

Tickling the brain and body: Interfering with touch perception using magnetic brain stimulation

How does the brain process tactile stimuli, and can we use brain stimulation methods to interfere with tactile perception in the healthy brain? Projects in this area will use transcranial magnetic brain stimulation (TMS) to interfere with healthy participants' perception of simple tactile stimuli. TMS works by applying a brief, rapidly-changing magnetic field over a target brain area. This stimulates neurons directly, and can affect the way that brain area processes information.

We will use TMS to interfere with participants' perception of brief tactile stimuli. Compared to vision, relatively little is known about how the human brain processes touch. TMS provides an ideal method to begin an exciting series of experiments. Full training in TMS and somatosensory perception will be provided.

  • Tamè L, Holmes NP (2016) Involvement of human primary somatosensory cortex in vibrotactile detection depends on task demand. NeuroImage138:184-196

The development and neural basis of 'online control' of movement

Online control is your ability to change direction during a movement, for example when catching a ball, swatting a fly, or trying to avoid a collision. Over the past three years, the HandLaboratory has collected data from about 400 participants aged 7-63 on a simple reaching-and-grasping task. This has shown that the 'online control' of reaching and grasping is the best predictor of aiming and catching ability, and is strongly affected by age. Projects in this area could go in many directions – into schools or other organisations to screen large samples on this task, or running smaller higher-tech studies recording muscle activity or interfering with the movements using MRI-guided TMS.

  • Blanchard CCV, McGlashan HL, French B, Sperring RJ, Petrocochino B, Holmes NP (2017) Online control of prehension predicts performance on a standardised motor assessment test in 8-12 year old children. Frontiers in Psychology8:374


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

The functional specialisation and integration of hemispheric activity during cognitive skills

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 Peter Bibby

My research has two separate strands: The relationship between emotions and decision making and cross-cultural studies of learning behaviours in students.

What is the relationship between emotion processing, loss aversion and reward sensitivity?

Research has shown that people who are poor at processing emotional information are less loss averse. In other words, they are willing to tolerate greater losses when making risky decisions. However, this may well not be less loss aversion but greater reward sensitivity. The aim of this research is to develop behavioural measures of both loss aversion and reward sensitivity and use them to exam the role of emotions in risky decision making.

Why is alexithymia a precursor to problem gambling?

People who are high in trait alexithymia are more likely to be problem gamblers. At the same time, people high in alexithymia as less loss averse. Perhaps lower loss aversion is one mechanism through which people become problem gamblers. Problem gamblers may well be less sensitive to negative emotional events due to alexithymia. The aim of this research is to further examine the mechanisms that underly the relationship between problem gambling and alexithymia.

What effect do different cultural attitudes to learning have on students’ learning behaviour?

It has been argued (e.g. Li, 2003) that the ideal Chinese learner can be described as having 好学心 (hào-xué-xīn), that is, seeking knowledge and maintaining passion for unceasing learning, persisting through hardship, perseverance, concentration and the spirit of never giving up. At the same time, the ideal Western learner learns by doing, is free thinking, practices critical reflection, is socratic in their approach to knowledge and is individualistic. Given these striking differences what can the West learn from Chinese learners and what can the Chinese learn from Western learners?


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 Ben Webb

Perceptual Learning; neural plasticity; visual adaptation; individual differences; sensory integration; neural computation;

My research asks how humans learn and adapt to sensory experiences in the environment and sensory impairments caused by acquired brain injury and stroke. We measure the limits of perception on immersive full field and head-mounted displays, record eye movement patterns with a video-based eye tracker and image the structure and function of the brain using magnetic resonance imaging. We are currently offering PhD projects in the following areas.

Recruiting functional brain networks to improve sight after stroke

In the UK, approximately 150,000 people a year have a stroke. Twenty to thirty percent of stroke survivors are left with sight loss on one side of the visual field, and have difficulty reading, driving and navigating unfamiliar environments. Currently, there are no effective rehabilitations for treating these visual field scotomas. Sight loss after stroke is caused by injury to visual brain pathways. We therefore need to identify brain networks that survived the stroke and which have the capacity to generate visual perception in the visual field scotoma. We have developed a multidisciplinary approach that ensures perceptual retraining is targeted at functional visual brain networks that survived the stroke. To stratify the capacity of stroke survivors for visual rehabilitation, we use anatomical and functional magnetic resonance imaging to estimate the visual field regions covered by functional visual brain networks. These estimates of visual field coverage are used to target retraining of visual detection and discrimination at locations inside the scotoma with stimuli that we know elicit responses from visual cortex. To develop this targeted approach for clinical benefit, we need to apply it to a heterogeneous group of stroke survivors with different patterns of visual and cortical loss.

Multisensory recalibration in immersive and natural environments

Human perception of an external event is typically a coherent multisensory experience. When another person speaks, we simultaneously see their mouth move and hear the sound of their voice, originating from the same location. To keep the senses in register, the brain appears to monitor the correspondence of different sensory inputs and correct for any consistent discrepancies between them. However, we do not understand how the brain maintains coherent perception of multisensory signals over longer timescales. One possibility is that the senses are recalibrated over longer timescales by a unitary brain mechanism that grows in strength over time. But, in natural environments, inter-sensory discrepancies arise from a range of sources that change at different timescales. An alternative possibility therefore is that multisensory recalibration is controlled by distinct mechanisms that gradually activate over time. We have developed an ‘altered multisensory reality’ device and a behavioural method to test these hypotheses in natural environments, We will combine these methods to characterise the dynamics of recalibration over timescales lasting from two minutes to eight hours. 

School of Psychology

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