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Expecting Thunderclaps then Lightning Strikes: How do we integrate sound and light in a complex world?

  • School: School of Social Sciences
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2023
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2023

Project ID: S3 10

The experience of hearing the sound of thunder after seeing lightning is familiar to everyone. This perception of a single multisensory event as two separate events is caused by the difference in relative speed and arrival times of sound versus light. Yet, when we perceive stimuli in our immediate vicinity, the effect sometimes reverses. Why? Part of the explanation is that the ear turns sound into nerve impulses faster than the eye turns light into nerve impulses. However, most of the time our brain somehow compensates, and we perceive light and sound synchronously.

Correctly integrating visual and auditory sensory information is essential if the world is to make sense. For example, seeing lips move provides important timing information which helps us to understand speech. But although the timing delays of our eyes and ears are fixed, the delays in the world vary not only with distance but with the type of movement (slow, fast, big, small) and the type of sound (sudden like a bang or slowly growing like a car approaching). Does our brain correct for this variability? If so, how? Perhaps on the basis of recent experience? The real-world implications of this work are wide-ranging. For example, hearing loss and hearing aids change and delay sound. How do people cope with these changes?

This project will address these questions using a multidisciplinary approach; combining behavioural methods (psychophysics) to measure perception, brain imaging (electroencephalography; EEG) to uncover the underlying neural processing and Bayesian computational models to interpret these data. You will devise experiments which test how we integrate sight and sound as they vary in their properties and timing.

We are looking for a motivated, numerate student to do high-impact integrated neuroscience, using computational models and neuroimaging. Based in NTU Psychology, this interdisciplinary project would suit graduates of a wide range of quantitative disciplines (psychology, maths, physics, engineering) who are interested in studying the ultimate computational device: the brain.

Di Luca, M., & Rhodes, D. (2016). “Optimal Perceived Timing: Integrating sensory information with dynamically updated expectations”, Nature Scientific Reports, 6, 28563

Stacey P.C., Kitterick P.T., Sumner C.J. (2016). “The contribution of visual information to the perception of speech in noise with and without informative temporal fine structure,” Hearing Research, 336. 17-28.

Lanting C., Briley P., Sumner C.J., Krumbholz K. (2013). “Mechanisms mediating adaptation in human auditory cortex,” Journal of Neurophysiology. 110, 973-83.

Supervisory Team:

Director of Studies: Dr Darren Rhodes, Senior Lecturer of Computational Neuroscience & Statistics, NTU Psychology

2nd Supervisor: Dr Chris Sumner, Associate Professor of Auditory Neuroscience, NTU Psychology.

3rd Supervisor: Dr Kate Roberts, Senior Lecturer, NTU Psychology

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

To make an application, please visit our studentship application page.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2023 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Application guidance can be found on our studentship application page.

Still need help?

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