Psychology PhD project opportunities

Find out more about our innovative, self-funded PhD projects in areas of psychology.

We already have supervisors active and engaged in the research topic in our School of Psychology and Sport Science.

Assessment of premorbid cognitive ability

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Prof Peter Bright (Psychology)

Dr Ian van der Linde (Computing & Information Science)

Theme

Neuropsychological Assessment

Summary of the research project

It is important for clinicians and researchers to be able to estimate a neurological patient's prior (i.e., pre-injury or ‘premorbid’) level of ability, typically their ‘full-scale’ IQ. This information is used to evaluate the impact of neurological damage on cognition, treatment planning and recovery monitoring. Standard tests for measuring IQ cannot be used for this purpose directly since a patient’s cognitive impairment will affect the scores obtained in one or more test components, yielding a full-scale IQ score that describes their current rather than premorbid cognitive ability.

Among several approaches proposed to address this problem evidence suggests that so-called ‘hold tests’ are particularly effective (Bright, Jaldow & Kopelman, 2002; Bright and van der Linde, 2018). Hold tests require evaluation of performance on cognitive functions that are both relatively resistant to neurological damage and known to correlate well with IQ in neurologically healthy participants. The estimated premorbid IQ is then compared with current IQ to judge the impact of the neurological condition on general cognitive ability. Other approaches for estimating premorbid IQ include the use of demographic information alone, or in combination with hold test performance.

The proposed research will focus on the development of alternative/novel approaches to increase the precision of premorbid cognitive ability estimates. We have recently published a promising evolutionary algorithm based approach for optimising the precision of hold test performance (van der Linde & Bright, 2018), and we would expect the successful applicant to extend this work. The overall objective of this research will be to successfully develop and publish new tools to benefit researchers and clinicians involved in the assessment of cognitive impairment following neurological injury, thereby improving (i) the clinical management of patients and (ii) the quality of patient-based academic research.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Compulsion and the self in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Sharon Morein-Zamir

Dr Emma Kaminskiy

Theme

Clinical and Wellbeing

Summary of the research project

We seek a PhD student to lead a mixed-methods project focusing on issues facing people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Those with OCD experience unwanted obsessive thoughts and are compelled to perform persistent and repetitive actions. There is increasing recognition that the lack of in-depth understanding of symptoms as they occur in everyday life, and their impact on the sense of self, is preventing development of better treatments. Another barrier to advancing understanding and treating OCD is insufficient interaction and integration between different research approaches, with considerable disparities between psychological, cognitive and neurobiological models.

This project will yield a systematic in-depth analysis of symptoms as they occur in everyday life and their resulting impact over the years on the sense of self. Qualitative data on experiencing OCD will be combined with attitudes, behaviours and personality characteristics to inform theorizing, treatment provision and outcomes. In-depth semi-structured interviews in multiple patient groups will explore the experience of living with OCD symptoms, and their impact on patient identity over time. Participants will also complete established questionnaires developed from disparate psychological approaches. The successful PhD student will also conduct a large online survey of diverse clinical and sub-clinical populations across the lifespan to assess replication of initial findings, and allow extensive quantitative analyses of convergence between research approaches.

To discuss the project informally prior to application, please contact Dr Sharon Morein-Zamir.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Construction and attentional control of complex thought and behaviour

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Prof Peter Bright (Psychology)

Dr Mike Pake

Dr Ian van der Linde (Computing & Information Science)

Theme

Cognitive control

Summary of the research project

Research implicates that the complex process of attending to and producing goal-relevant behaviours is sensitive to variations in psychometric intelligence (Spearman’s general factor or ‘g’; Bright, 1998; Duncan, Emslie, Williams, Johnson, & Freer, 1996). More recently, a series of investigations has indicated that g reflects ability to organize novel information into complex, effective task models (Carroll & Bright, 2016; Duncan, Parr, Woolgar, Thompson, Bright et al., 2008). The observation that it is mental representation of task rules rather than real-time task execution demands that most closely predicts variations in g is an important finding. Our data indicates that g reflects a ‘chunking’ function, in which task relevant information is manipulated towards more efficient representation, thereby reducing storage or attentional demands on working memory (Carroll & Bright, 2016).

On the basis of work carried out to date the following predictions will form the early focus of the proposed PhD work:

  1. Performance discrepancies between high and low g individuals will be greatest in earlier stages of novel task execution when initial modelling of task constraints may be subject to reorganisation and consolidation
  2. Effectiveness and time course of model stabilisation will be contingent upon task complexity
  3. Response conflict will be an important risk factor for engagement of g because it demands clear parsing of available but incompatible responses in line with task instructions.

These questions will be addressed with an existing paradigm developed by Bright and shown in multiple publications to be highly sensitive to variations in g (Bright, 1998; Duncan et al., 2008; Bandhari & Duncan, 2014; Carroll & Bright, 2016), but there will also be an expectation that the PhD student develops their own paradigm for investigating predictions and further developing theory. Therefore, the student will be expected to develop, run, analyse and interpret results from a coherent body of theoretically motivated experiments in an attempt to reveal individual differences in the ways in which task instructions are initially modelled and then remodelled over the course of preparation for, and execution of, goal-directed complex behaviours.

It is expected that the main body of data will be based on cognitive experimental studies of neurologically healthy participants. However, computational modelling may be required alongside behavioural data for a clearer understanding of how linguistic rules transform into effective conceptualisation of constraints. Contingent upon theoretical importance and direction of earlier findings, it may also be instructive to employ cortical stimulation techniques (transcranial direct current stimulation and/or transcranial magnetic stimulation, both available within the Department of Psychology) to address task modelling and performance from a neurological perspective.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Cross-cultural investigations of body image

Research Group

Centre for Societies and Groups

Proposed supervisory team

Prof Viren Swami

Theme

Body image, Cross-cultural, Test adaptation, Psychometrics

Summary of the research project

Body image research has experienced rapid growth in the past several decades, but much of this research remains limited to a small handful of social identity groups. Our research group has identified a need for body image research that gives voice to historically marginalised or neglected linguistic, cultural, and national groups. In response to that need, we have begun sustainable programmes of research that focus on the body image experiences in diverse national groups, particularly in Southeast Asia and Eastern Europe. We have also led international crowdsourced projects focused on issues of body image, such as the Breast Size Satisfaction Survey and the Body Image in Nature Survey. However, there is scope to build on these achievements and broaden the scope of research activities to include other social identity and national groups.

We seek a PhD candidate with an interest in cross-cultural psychology to develop new programmes of research on body image within and across national borders, particularly in nations that have not featured (or rarely feature) in the available body image literature. Such a research programme will examine the experience of body image in a localised setting, develop appropriate instruments to measure body image, and explore the extent to which existing models of body image are valid for diverse national, linguistic, and/or cultural groups. The successful candidate should be familiar with methods of test adaptation and should be proficient with methods of psychometric validation.

For more information, see Swami, V. & Barron, D., 2019. Translation and validation of body image instruments: Challenges, good practice guidelines, and reporting recommendations for test adaptation. Body Image, 31, pp.204-220.

To discuss the project informally prior to application, please contact Prof Viren Swami.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Empowering consumers in threatening market contexts

Research Group

Centre for Societies and Groups

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Magdalena Zawisza

Theme

Consumer Psychology, Gender and Sexualities, Identity and Social Issues, Prejudice and Advertising

Summary of the research project

This PhD project aims to test novel ways of protecting the audiences against the effects of (e.g. media-based) prejudice (be it sexism, racism, homophobia or ageism). As an example, the omnipresent gender-traditional advertising (Zawisza et al., 2016, 2018; Grau & Zotos, 2016) has been shown to exert numerous negative effects on women (e.g. on their self-esteem, leadership and maths performance, Dimofte et al., 2015; Van Loo & Rydell, 2014) including disengagement from gender threatening market contexts (Lee, Kim & Vohs, 2011). Similar effects may apply to other forms of media based prejudice.

The PhD project will test the concept of power as a useful buffering tool. For example, incidental ‘power-posing’ induced by working on small (iPod Touch) vs. bigger (iMac computer) device led to lower vs. higher assertiveness respectively (Bos & Cuddy, 2013) and slumped sitting led to lower work-related self-confidence than sitting straight up (Briñol, Petty, & Wagner, 2009). Could similar power manipulations literally empower consumers to reach their full economic potential in socially threatening market contexts?

The project will examine if and how power can be employed successfully to protect audiences against prejudice in the marketplace. The project will involve running series of quantitative experimental studies ranging from selection of appropriate stimuli through testing various manipulations of power and their usefulness in neutralizing the negative effects of the stereotypical marketplace situations. Moreover, relevant mediators and moderators will also be investigated.

The aim of the project is to produce practical recommendations for consumers, practitioners and advertising standards agencies alike and has consumers’ well-being at heart. It may form part of a bigger project run by Dr Zawisza in collaboration with Dr Simone Schnall, Cambridge University. Equipment and software such as online experimental testing platforms enabling use of Social Media will be available at ARU.

Interested candidates should come with background in social sciences, marketing and/or advertising, experience in running quantitative research projects (i.e. experiments) and conducting advanced statistical analyses. Interest in experimental social psychology is essential and in consumer psychology desirable.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Extending social perception theories to advertising context

Research Group

Centre for Societies and Groups

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Magdalena Zawisza

Theme

Consumer Psychology, Gender and Sexualities, Identity and Social Issues, Social Perception and Advertising.

Summary of the research project

This project aims to systematically test a proposed theoretical extension of social perception theories to advertising context (Zawisza & Pittard, 2015, Zawisza, 2016).

Social perception models posit that brands may be perceived as humans (Wojciszke & Abele, 2008; aka the Big Two, Abele & Bruckmüller, 2011). The transference of social perception models over emotions and then behaviours (Cuddy, et al., 2008) makes them promising for predicting consumer behaviour. However, while the models have been applied, though only formally, to the perception of brands (Kervyn et al., 2012) its predictive value for purchase intent in advertising context is limited (Zawisza & Pittard, 2015, Zawisza, 2016).

The PhD project will focus on testing and extending the current social perception models and their applicability to advertising context. The thesis may focus on representation of any social group in advertising (be it gender, race, country of origin, etc.), any product, service or brand categories and any channel of communication (e.g. print media, social media, the Internet) or persuasive communication types (including social advertising focused on attitude change). It will test the utility of social dimensions in determining advertising success.

The project will examine the proposed extension empirically through the use of quantitative experimental research methods. Study 1 will preselect appropriate advertising stimuli. A series of experiments will then follow to test the performance of these stimuli as a function of moderating and mediating variables potentially affecting the resultant purchase intent. These could be various product categories, consumer characteristics, cultures and different types of services.

The aim of the project is to produce impactful practical recommendations for marketing practitioners and advertising standards agencies alike. It may form part of a bigger collaborative project run by Dr Zawisza at Cambridge. Equipment and software such as online experimental testing platforms enabling use of Social Media will be available at ARU.

Interested candidates should come with background in social sciences, marketing and/or advertising, experience in running quantitative research projects (i.e. experiments) and conducting advanced statistical analyses. Interest in experimental social psychology is essential and in consumer psychology desirable.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

How young children remember and learn from collaborative activities

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Ruth Ford

Sarah Kuppen

Theme

Development and Lifespan

Summary of the research project

Outside of formal learning contexts, young children gain much of their knowledge through interactions with other people. Many such interactions involve collaborative behaviour in pursuit of a shared goal, for example, a child helping their sibling or parent to create a collage, complete a jigsaw puzzle or bake a cake. Because the child watches their partner during the activity, they can potentially learn how to carry it out independently. Importantly, research has shown that children learn more when they actively participate then when they are merely a passive observer throughout. Moreover, when children are asked later to recall who did what, they are prone to take credit for many of their partner’s actions. This phenomenon, known as the appropriation bias, occurs only following joint activities and is exaggerated among children who show higher levels of knowledge acquisition (e.g., Sommerville & Hammond, 2007). One explanation of these findings is that children’s learning is benefited during joint activities if they simulate and internalise their partner’s point of view.

While the appropriation bias is well documented, relatively little is known about individual differences variables that govern its magnitude. This PhD project will address this gap in the literature by exploring developmental effects and social-cognitive processes that either drive or oppose the bias. The research will be conducted in schools and will involve testing young children on a one-to-one basis using a variety of memory and cognitive tests presented as games. A further goal of the project will be to devise new tasks for demonstrating the appropriation bias.

Key reference: Ford, R. M., Lobao, S. N., Macaulay, C. & Herdman, L. M., 2011. Empathy, theory of mind, and individual differences in the appropriation bias among 4-and 5-year-olds. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 110, pp.626-646.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Improving the effectiveness of social advertising

Research Group

Centre for Societies and Groups

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Magdalena Zawisza

Theme

Consumer Psychology, Gender and Sexualities, Identity and Social Issues, Social Advertising

Summary of the research project

This PhD project aims to test novel ways of boosting the effectiveness of social advertising with the aim to change prejudiced attitudes to specific social groups, i.e. people with mental illness, women, sexual or ethnic minorities. For example, research shows that non- traditional female portrayals in advertising are less effective (Zawisza & Cinnirella, 2010), also cross-culturally (Zawisza et al., 2016, 2018), and less frequent (Grau & Zotos, 2016). Yet the more popular gender traditional ads reinforce stereotypes and have numerous negative effects on women (Dimofte et al., 2015; Van Loo & Rydell, 2014). Gender traditional marketing practices could be changed if the non-traditional ads could be made more effective. Design and testing of such boosting techniques is the aim of this project.

The novel ad effectiveness boosting tools will utilise social perception principles as these have been shown to apply to perception of brands (Kervyn, Fiske & Malone, 2012) and ads (Zawisza, 2016). For example, the lesser effectiveness of ads utilising non-traditional female portrayals is attributed to their lower warmth or likeability (Zawisza & Cinnirella, 2010; Zawisza et al., 2016, 2018).

The PhD project will examine if manipulation of relevant social perception dimensions can boost the effectiveness of social advertisements. It will involve a series of quantitative studies ranging from preselecting appropriate stimuli to testing manipulations of relevant dimensions of social perception and their effects on ad effectiveness, brand perception and attitude change. Moreover, relevant mediators and moderators will also be investigated.

The aim of the project is to produce practical recommendations for consumers, practitioners and advertising standards agencies alike and has consumers’ well-being at heart. It may form part of a bigger collaborative project run by Dr Zawisza in Cambridge. Equipment and software such as online experimental testing platforms enabling use of Social Media will be available at ARU.

Interested candidates should come with background in social sciences, marketing and or advertising, experience in running quantitative research projects (i.e. experiments) and conducting advanced statistical analyses. Interest in experimental social psychology is essential and in consumer psychology desirable.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Investigating how tactile cues can influence people’s perception of healthy food

Research Group

Centre for Societies and Groups

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd

Theme

Consumer Psychology

Summary of the research project

Making sensible food choices can be a difficult task for many consumers. The importance of a healthy diet is something that is commonly debated in the media. For a long time researchers have focused on using visual input to guide the decisions people make. However, one factor that has recently gained scholars’ attention, but also plays an important role in creating the impression of food, is texture. Texture is a sensory property and functional manifestation of the structural, mechanical and surface properties of foods detected through the sense of vision, hearing, touch and kinaesthetic (Szczesniak, 2002). Specifically, tactile properties has usually been investigated through texture-taste interactions. However, haptic information, through the hands, can also affect the perception of food and in particular texture (e.g. Barnett-Cowan, 2010). For example, the texture of a plate has been found to affect both taste and mouthfeel ratings of food (Biggs et al., 2016). This coupled with the fact that there are many other studies (e.g. Jansson-Boyd and Patel, 2018; Jansson-Boyd, 2011) that have found tactile input to be of utmost importance when it comes to influencing people’s perception means that touch may also influence how food is evaluated.

The research literature lacks work on how food information received through our hands may influence perceived healthiness of foods. Hence, this is the focal point of this research. The successful candidate will investigate whether textured haptic food information can help guide consumers to evaluate food as being healthy. Furthermore, you will explore if haptically based food cues have an important role to play in the likelihood of consumption.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Multilingualism, metacognition and cognitive control

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Prof Peter Bright

Dr Flavia Cardini

Dr Roberto Filippi (External - UCL Institute of Education)

Theme

Cognition

Summary of the research project

The claim that multilanguage acquisition directly drives performance advantages in executive function (the so called bilingual cognitive advantage) is currently an issue of vigorous debate in the literature. Attention in this area has broadened in recent years from a relatively narrow focus on inhibitory control to incorporate other cognitive domains such as visuospatial memory, theory of mind and rule-based learning.

In this project we will consider the impact of multilanguage acquisition on metacognition, a cognitive function incorporating (i) lower-level awareness or knowledge of one’s own thoughts, and (ii) higher-level regulation or control of our thinking. This notion of metacognition both as a comparatively passive (knowledge/awareness) function and an active (regulatory/control) function is problematic because it renders the term rather inseparable from the well‐established concept of executive function: both are concerned with top‐down monitoring and control of cognition in the service of ongoing goal‐directed behaviour (Bright, Ouzia, & Filippi, 2019).

Despite this conceptual overlap, the only studies to date that have directly and empirically compared metacognitive performance in multilingual and monolingual participants indicate either a multilingual disadvantage (Folke, Ouzia, Bright, De Martino, & Filippi, 2016) or comparable metacognitive performance in both multilingual and monolingual participants (Filippi, Ceccolini, Periche-Tomas, & Bright, 2020).

Your research will explore evidence for overlap and divergence in the neural and psychological basis of metacognition and executive function and consider implications for the current debate on proposed neurocognitive advantages associated with multilanguage acquisition. The research will incorporate established tests of cognition and the development of new tests exploiting the outstanding facilities available to you within our Science Centre. In addition to behavioural assessment, you will have the opportunity to incorporate EEG, cortical stimulation and/or functional near-infrared spectroscopy in your work.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Neurohormonal investigation of ASMR

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Flavia Cardini

Dr Jane Aspell

Dr Giulia Poerio (Essex University)

Theme

Body and Self

Summary of the research project

Background: Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) is a sensory-perceptual phenomenon characterized by reliable, involuntary and pleasurable tingling sensation. It typically originates at the top of the scalp and spreads down to the back in response to specific stimuli called “ASMR Triggers” such as auditory, visual and visuo-tactile stimuli. The feeling of ASMR is often associated with feelings of calm and relaxation.

Even though the popularity of this phenomenon outside the scientific domain is inconceivable - with millions of people not only consuming ASMR media but many top ASMRtists making it their full-time jobs to create ASMR content - the scientific community has only recently started exploring and researching the phenomenon.

Despite only few scientific results have shown that ASMR seems to have beneficial physiological effects, numerous anecdotal reports show how ASMR users actively engage with the ASMR media for the sole purpose of relieving negative mood, stimulating relaxation and inducing sleep.

Given the potential therapeutic applications of ASMR, a more in depth understanding of this phenomenon is much needed.

Aim, Methods, and Resources: The current project will develop along two parallel lines of research. The first research aim will be to shed further light on the neural networks involved in the experience of ASMR and its hormonal correlates, by taking advantage of the School of Psychology and Sport Science’s excellent resources, such as an Electroencephalography (EEG) lab and a Biomarker lab. The PhD student will be trained in using these resources with the aim to measure brain activity and hormones linked to the ASMR experience. The second line of research will be extremely novel and will be aimed at developing a method to assess ASMR propensity in children. Given the benefits that ASMR seems to have in the adult population, it is worth investigating if it can have similar beneficial effects in childhood.

Many ASMR experiencers report having their first experience of ASMR at around 5 years of age, but the phenomenology of this experience in childhood has not been explored yet.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

The social lives of people with severe and profound intellectual disabilities

Research Group

Centre for Societies and Groups

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Mick Finlay

Dr Emma Kaminskiy

Dr Lewis Goodings

Theme

Social Justice and Empowerment

Summary of the research project

For most people, what is considered a good life includes such things as social inclusion, a sense of belonging, social interaction and relationships. For many reasons, this can be hard for people with severe and profound disabilities, who may rely on others for mobility and access to activities and environments, and who may have little symbolic communication or use atypical means of interacting with others. Research has illustrated how opportunities for meaningful relations are often limited for this group, and how good quality encounters might require atypical patterns and modes of communication and interaction (e.g. Nicholson, Finlay & Stagg, 2021; Finlay et al, 2008). This project will investigate the opportunities and barriers to social relationships among this group, identifying the main relationships people have, what forms these take, and how people with severe and profound disabilities can be supported to have more extensive and better quality relations with others. Importantly, it will examine how people in this category interact socially with others.

A range of methods could be applied to this research, from surveys completed by supporters, services and family members, ethnographic observations in homes, day services, schools and clubs, video recordings of social encounters, and interviews with informants.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Tolerating uncertainty and mental health

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Sharon Morein-Zamir

Theme

Clinical and Wellbeing

Summary of the research project

The PhD student will be leading a multi-part project that will uncover determinants of coping with uncertainty and their contribution to mental health. Having to cope with uncertainty is inherent to everyday life, however there are considerable differences in people’s reactions to mild forms of uncertainty with intolerance of uncertainty believed to contribute to the development and maintenance of various mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, eating disorders and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Namely, people may differ in their tendency to avoid uncertain situations, seek more information to help them reduce uncertainty, or in their propensity to check previous actions or decisions. Most of the research to date has relied heavily on self-report measures, which whilst informative, has known limitations.

This project will employ multiple behavioural tasks to directly assess behaviour during well-controlled situations of uncertainty, coupled with self-report and physiological measures to provide an integrative view of intolerance of uncertainty and its role in different mental health conditions. In a series of experiments, the candidate will apply established cognitive paradigms and help develop novel behavioural assays to assess performance and behaviour under uncertainty. Interested candidates should have a psychology background with experience of running quantitative research projects. Willingness to work with clinical populations is desirable. Equipment and software is available and extensive training will be provided for all required skills.

To discuss the project informally prior to application, please contact Dr Sharon Morein-Zamir.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

Using interpersonal touch as a means to improve carer and patient relationship

Research Group

Centre for Societies and Groups

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Cathrine Jansson-Boyd

Dr Debora Antoniotti de Vasconcelos e Sa

Dr Jane Aspell

Theme

Consumer Psychology

Summary of the research project

The focus of this research is to explore relationships between carers and the people they look after. Specifically, the aim is to investigate if interpersonal touch can be used as a means to create a closer relationship between careers and those they care for. The existing literature predominantly focus on ‘practical’ carers touch, i.e. when touch is used to practically care for patients, such as moving them to change bed sheets, giving medication or alike, rather than what we deem a more positive ‘social’ interpersonal touch. Practically based tactile interaction (such as the aforementioned) is reportedly not viewed in a favourable light by either the carer or the person cared for [Watts, 1998] and may refrain carers from engaging in other more positive tactile interaction.

The use of interpersonal touch could help to improve long-term psychological well-being for the person cared for. The importance of tactile input is evident from a plethora of research showing that it can alter perception [Woods & Diamond, 2002; Peck & Childers, 2003; Jansson-Boyd, 2011] and have an important role to play when it comes to connecting emotionally [Rolls et al., 2003]. The link between touch and emotion may also account for the fact that interpersonal touch has been found to have a strong influence on generating responses to requests. This is particularly notable from a study [Eaton et al., 1986] when staff who worked in a care unit for older people were asked to combine verbal encouragement to eat with interpersonal touch. When doing so the older people ate more and consequently consumed more calories and protein. The effect lasted for several days after tactile contact had taken place.

Currently the research literature lacks work on how the role of interpersonal touch can have a positive impact on the relationship between carers and the people they look after. Thus the proposed research will focus on the development of using interpersonal touch as a means to improve carer - patient relationships.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.

What can pregnancy tell us about maternal behaviour? A neurohormonal investigation

Research Group

Centre for Mind and Behaviour

Proposed supervisory team

Dr Jane Aspell

Dr Flavia Cardini

Theme

Body and Self

Summary of the research project

Background: Maternal behaviour is a critical factor for the optimal emotional and psychosocial development of a child. Increasing evidence from animal studies suggest an epigenetic foundation of maternal behaviour, influenced by environmental as well as biological factors. Oxytocin (OT) is a uniquely mammalian hormone that plays a key role in socio-affiliative processes and it has been shown to be critical in the initiation of maternal behaviour. Pregnancy is a critical period in a woman’s life where profound psychophysiological changes suddenly occur. Such changes are likely underlined by neurohormonal changes, as confirmed by animal studies. What we know so far in humans is that variation in OT levels in pregnancy differentially affects the later caregiving maternal behaviour. However, methodological and technical limitations in testing pregnant women have hampered this line of research from progressing. Moreover, whereas animal studies suggest a direct link between neurohormonal changes in pregnancy and maternal behaviour, the complexity of human beings might suggest the involvement of another component in this interaction, i.e. the cognitive representation of the infant in the mother’s brain.

This leads to the following research question: Do the neurohormonal changes during pregnancy shape subsequent maternal behaviour?

Methods: A longitudinal study we will first assess the participants’ neurohormonal profile during pregnancy. After giving birth the mother’s mental representations of the baby will be measured. Finally an observational session will provide a quantitative measure of the maternal behaviour.

Dr Katarzyna Gajewska-Knapik, Consultant in Obstetrics and Foetal Medicine at Cambridge University Hospital will collaborate on this project. She has collaborated with Dr Cardini and Dr Aspell for a previously funded project on pregnancy. Their collaboration is still ongoing and she has agreed to assist in identifying suitable participants from the patient pool at Addenbrooke’s Hopsital, and help in the organisation of recruitment.

Where you'll study

Cambridge

Funding

This project is self-funded.

Details of studentships for which funding is available are selected by a competitive process and are advertised on our jobs website as they become available.

Next steps

If you wish to be considered for this project, you will need to apply for our Psychology PhD. In the section of the application form entitled 'Outline research proposal', please quote the above title and include a research proposal.