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Construction and attentional control of complex thought and behaviour

   School of Psychology and Sport Science

  , ,  Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Cambridge United Kingdom Bioinformatics Data Analysis Neuroscience Medicine Psychology

About the Project

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)


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



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.

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