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Body movements, social interactions and autism

   School of Social Sciences

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  Dr Bahar Tunçgenç, Dr L-S I Iao, Prof Bridget Waller  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

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)? 
  2. How much does movement coordination signal liking to interaction partners? 
  3. 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.

** Feel free to direct informal enquiries to: Dr Bahar Tunçgenç ([Email Address Removed]) **

Funding Notes

To maximise your chances of success, please email the lead supervisor Dr Bahar Tunçgenç ([Email Address Removed]) your CV and 2-page PhD proposal by 30th November 2022.
Proposals outside of the advertised project description will be considered as long as they are focussed on: social interactions, affiliation and body movements. Check out the lead supervisor's website for details on research areas: http://www.bahartuncgenc.com
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