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The role of coordinating body movements in autistic and non-autistic social interactions

  • 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 24

Social interactions at all levels – from cuddles with family members to digital contracts with corporations – are critical for survival and wellbeing. Experimental social and developmental psychology research shows that non-verbal movements and gestures critically influence how much people like each other. Studies from our team have shown that coordinating body movements with someone else improves social bonds and interactions1-3, and people with more pronounced facial expressions4 are perceived as more likable. Yet, we do not know how body movements dynamically influence social interactions, and if any of this is different for autistic individuals5.

This project will uniquely combine advancements in two areas that have started to revolutionise our understanding of human social interactions in the past decade. First, by using eye-tracking and motion-tracking technologies, this project will provide fine-grained assessment of what people do and how they dynamically adjust their movements during an interaction. Second, moving away from the deficits-based medical model of autism towards the difference-embracing neurodiversity model, this project will examine how sharing an autism identity contributes to social interactions.


This project aims to discover how coordinating body movements influences autistic and non-autistic people’s social interactions. In a series of studies, the project will answer:

  1. How much do people coordinate movements in different interaction settings (e.g., when cooperating vs competing)?
  1. How much does movement coordination signal liking to interaction partners?
  1. How much do questions (1) and (2) differ for autistic people when they have a shared identity with their interaction partner (e.g., both autistic) vs not?

Student Learnings:

This project would suit students interested in social, cognitive and developmental psychology. Studies be developed together with the supervisory team (Dr Bahar Tunçgenç, Dr Lai-Sang Iao and Prof Bridget Waller) and can be done with adults and/or children. Methods used can involve eye-tracking, motion-tracking, physical or computer experiments and online surveys. Prior experience with quantitative psychology research is essential.

The PhD student will gain a wealth of research and technical skills on their chosen methods. In addition, the student will engage with autism organisations, charities, schools and present work in academic conferences and public science events.

Suggested Reading:

1 Tunçgenç, Fawcett, Cohen. 2015. Child Dev.

2 Tunçgenç, Cohen. 2016. Frontiers in Psych.

3 Howard, … Tunçgenç. 2021. Nature Sci Rep.

4 Whitehouse, … Waller. 2022. Evolution and Human Behavior.

5 Iao et al., Atypical child development in Essential Psychology.

Supervisory Team:

Dr Bahar Tunçgenç

Dr Lai-Sang Iao

Prof Bridget Waller

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?

+44 (0)115 941 8418