PAM Group PhD Projects
We welcome enquiries from applicants who are interested in completing a PhD in the Perception, Attention and Memory Group. Below you will find details of specific projects and topic areas, along with contact names and email addresses. If you are interested in a particular project or topic, please contact one of us in the first instance for an informal discussion.
Developing the understanding of audiovisual person perception
Contact: Dr Harriet Smith
Co-Supervisors: Andrew Dunn, Paula Stacey (Advisor: Thom Baguley)
Faces and voices provide overlapping identity information. People can match a face to a voice with above-chance accuracy, even if they have never been exposed to the face and voice at the same time. Our previous research shows that face-voice matching accuracy varies across different procedures. This project will focus on improving performance using methods and procedures informed by the wider literature. Examples include speeded responses, cropping and masking facial and vocal features, and presenting average images and recordings. The findings will inform theories of audio-visual integration in person perception. The findings will also have forensic relevance, supporting the development of novel methods of biometric identification, particularly in situations when a perpetrator is heard but not seen. This is an under-researched area. We are open to any strong proposals aimed at developing the understanding of audio-visual person perception.
Understanding human gaze behvaiour; pupilometry; eye tracking in VR environment
Contact: Dr Filipe Cristino
Relating motor skills and speech in autism, from subphenotyping to targeted therapy
Contact: Dr Matthew Belmonte
Autism spectrum conditions affect approximately 1% of the population, and about a quarter of autistic people are nonverbal or minimally verbal (N/MV) (Lord et al., 2004; Anderson et al., 2007; Norrelgen et al., 2015). Thus in England alone there may be about 32,500 N/MV under-15s with autism who neither speak nor compensate with gesture, and about 130,000 over-15s. Our and others' research has revealed a subtype of autism in which language impairment is associated with motor dysfunction (Amato & Slavin, 1998; Bhat et al., 2012; MacDonald et al., 2013, 2014; Leonard et al., 2014; Bedford et al., 2016). In our own clinical sample, fully one third of autistic children who lack communicative speech manifest a distinctive pattern in which motor and particularly oral motor skills are impaired whilst expressive language is impaired disproportionately to more intact receptive language (Belmonte et al., 2013); this is the reverse of the pattern in the autism spectrum in general, in which age-equivalent expressive language scores tend to exceed receptive scores (Weismer et al., 2010; Hudry et al., 2014). The straightforward hypothesis is that the reason that these people aren't speaking is that they haven't the motor control requisite for speech. We welcome PhD proposals rigorously and critically examining communication methods tailored to this and other phenotypically defined subpopulations of people with autism, and/or examining psychometric, behavioural and/or physiological measures that might help define and characterise such subpopulations. Such projects may take advantage of methods and/or data from our current clinical trial.
Examining the relationship between sustained attention, mind wandering and learning in the classroom
Contacts: Dr Christina Howard & Dr Daria Kuss
Factors contributing to juror decision making
Contact: Dr Lucy Justice
Co-Supervisors: Harriet Smith, Thom Baguley.
Often court cases involve victims, witnesses and/or defendants describing events that they have experienced. In such cases jurors then have to make judgments about the credibility of memory accounts. The judgments can have a significant impact, contributing to a verdict of innocence or guilt. Such memories often constitute the primary or even sole evidence on which a judgement is based, so the outcome of these judgements is pivotal not only to those individuals involved but also to society as a whole. We know that there are a number of factors, from multiple sources, that influence juror judgements, these include the language used to describe a memory, characteristics of individuals, juror beliefs about memory and guidance given by the judiciary. However, how these factors contribute to juror decision making is under-researched. We therefore welcome strong proposals that aim to further work in this area.
Investigating audio-visual integration in people with hearing loss
Hearing-impaired individuals receive important benefits from seeing the faces of talkers, especially in noisy listening situations. This project is interested in how much ‘visual speech’ benefit individuals receive in different listening situations. Including an assessment of audio-visual speech perception abilities will provide a superior estimate of the real-world benefits of hearing aids and cochlear implants compared with current methods. Projects can readily be tailored to suit students wishing to engage in empirical testing of clinical populations, or to suit highly numerate students interested in theory-driven study of the nature of audio-visual speech perception.
Evaluating multisensory stimuli as a mechanism to boost memory in old age
Our supervision team is looking to support potential students through the application system for a PhD based on multisensory stimuli (e.g., audio-visual videos), with an aim to establish if age-related cognitive deficits can be alleviated by combining audio and visual information during attention and memory tests:
With advancing healthcare and increased standards of living, the proportion of older adults in society is now higher than ever and is set to rise further over the coming decades. A key focus of research is to ensure that individuals maintain their cognitive abilities and quality of life into an extended old age. A variety of recent research has shown that older adults perform better in tasks that utilise multimodal stimuli (e.g., audio-visual). The current project will aim to explore successful coping with age-related declines in sensory ability, by finding out how combining sensory information from multiple sources may compensate for impairments in hearing and vision, and support cognitive processing.
In consultation with potential applicants we hope to support the development of a PhD programme of research that will support our ongoing research in this field. This research will have the potential to inform how older adults communicate and memorise information; and may help older adults improve their quality of life and retain independence in old age. Please email Stephen.firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to discuss planning and applications on this topic.
Wellbeing and motivation in over-and under-achieving children in Key Stage 2
Education policy has changed in recent years to emphasise inclusive education and a mastery approach to mathematics. This project will investigate how these changes impact on the wellbeing and motivation profiles of children who are over- or under-achieving in Key Stage 2.
The Wellbeing and Attitudes to Learning Survey will be used to assess students’ positivity, self-efficacy, motivation, resilience and persistence. The research will ask how these measures of wellbeing and learning attitudes are influenced by students’ current levels of achievement in reading and maths, cognitive ability, demographic factors, and any mismatch between the child’s ability and the teaching resources available to them.
We welcome enquiries from applicants who are interested in completing an PhD in this area.
Exploration of the relevance of Theory of Mind to cognition or social cognition in children or adults.
Contact: Dr Barlow Wright
This project will relate Theory of Mind to aspects of cognition (e.g., attention, language, dyslexia) or social cognition (e.g., person perception, self image, understanding of legality). The student will determine which directions to follow here. This is a project that will be based on a series of experiments, at least some of which will be run on computer.
Explorations of Dual-Process Theory for accounts of deductive reasoning in children or adults.
Contact: Dr Barlow Wright (firstname.lastname@example.org)
This project will explore linear syllogistic reasoning (Transitive Reasoning) using computer-based tasks. These tasks will investigate whether there are two or more ways of reasoning transitively and whether one of these relates to each side of a generic dual-process theory. Some tasks will investigate the role of memory in transitive reasoning, whereas other tasks will use a paradigm not reliant on memory to determine whether transitive reasoning proceeds in a different way when memory is not required for reasoning.
The role of theory of mind in personal wellbeing
Contact: Dr Barlow Wright
This project will consider adolescence or adulthood. It will investigate the ways in which Theory of Mind may be causally implicated in aspects of wellbeing such as happiness, mood disorder, self-esteem, substance use and abuse, or feeling victimised. These would then be investigated in terms of their impact on ability to live a productive life in work, education and within the local community.