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Developing touchscreen-based tasks for assessing affective state: a translational approach

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Friday, February 07, 2020
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Supervisory team: Dr Laura Lopez-Cruz, Dr. Christopher Heath and Dr. Paola Fuentes-Claramonte
Ref: LHCS/STEM PhD Studentship
Based in The School of Life, Health and Chemical Sciences (LHCS), The Open University, Milton Keynes
Three years from October 2020
Stipend: £15,009 per year (2020 rate)

Major obstacles to the effective exploration of mood-related symptoms in neuropsychiatric illness include the lack of animal models that comprehensively recapitulate human symptom presentation, the limited number of assessment tools to evaluate affective state in non-human species and, where such tools do exist, the lack of similarity between them and the methods used in the clinic or in human research. This has led to the conceptualisation of a “translational gap” between animal and human studies which may contribute to the considerable levels of clinical trial failure in the neuropsychiatric therapeutic development area. However, recent research has suggested that commonality in a construct referred to as ‘Cognitive Affective Bias’ (CAB) exists between species and that this can be used as a platform for translational studies of mood. This process has been recently assessed in rodents and non-human primates using touchscreen-based tasks. In contrast, current CAB tests used in humans are typically based on the presentation of words with different emotional valences and on the recognition of facial expressions, processes which are not accessible in rodent model systems.

In this project, we therefore aim to develop a series of touchscreen-based tasks for assessing CAB in humans. These tasks will mimic the available preclinical touchscreen CAB task designs to maximise their translational potential. Once developed, these tasks will then be validated through comparison against questionnaires and other measures of mood that reliably detect CAB in humans.

Further information

The project is supervised by Drs Laura Lopez-Cruz, Christopher Heath and Paola Fuentes-Claramonte. The student would be required to live in the UK and within commuting distance of The Open University in Milton Keynes.

Applicants will be expected to have a good undergraduate degree (upper second class or higher) in Psychology, Neuroscience or a related discipline.
It would be advantageous to have some experience with:
• Applying quantitative methodologies (e.g. cognitive tasks and questionnaires) to evaluate cognition (particularly affective state-related constructs).
• Cognitive task design and programming (e.g. using Python, Psychopy, Matlab or other relevant software)
• Research involving animal models (rodents) and/or neuropsychiatric patients.
Informal enquiries relating to the project should be directed to Dr Laura Lopez-Cruz ( ).

How to Apply

Please send an email with your CV, a completed application form and a personal statement (outlining your suitability for the studentship, what you hope to achieve from the PhD and your research experience to date) to
The application form can be accessed here: http://www.open.ac.uk/postgraduate/research-degrees/how-to-apply/mphil-and-phd-application-process

You can find more information in the following link: http://www.open.ac.uk/science/life-health-chemical-sciences/phd-studentships-vacancies

Closing date: 5pm on 7th February 2020

Interview date: Interviews will be arranged promptly after the closing date and can be conducted via Skype if appropriate.

LHCS holds Athena Swan Bronze Status. We promote diversity in employment and welcome applications from all sections of the community.

Funding Notes

This three-year research studentship is funded by the Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) at The Open University and provides a stipend of £15,009 per year (2020 rate) and all academic fees (at UK/EU level) are covered.

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