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Doll Play in the Brain

   Cardiff School of Psychology

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  Dr S Gerson, Dr Ross Vanderwert  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

If parents were asked what toys they think help their children learn, they’d likely default to games and toys that involve predefined problems and solutions. Many think that STEM-focused toys are the most educational and toys that don’t directly involve science or mathematics are “just for fun.” Doll play is often viewed this way, as not having an educational benefit. Recent research by our lab challenges that perception, indicating that doll play uniquely activates brain regions associated with social processing and empathy relative to other creative play. This suggests that playing with dolls could have benefits that improve social skills and emotional processing. The causal role of doll play and the limitations and scope of these potential benefits have yet to be explored in detail. In this research, the PhD student will systematically investigate the potential individual and societal benefits of doll play across a series of studies.

The successful candidate will carry out a series of experiments on how children process and benefit from different forms of play. You will help design, recruit, collect data, analyse, and write up the research. Data collection will involve a mix of lab-based and online behavioural paradigms and the use of functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS). The project will take place at the Cardiff University Centre for Human Developmental Science (CUCHDS) and the student will work as part of a research team and be expected to engage with the research group.

 Experience working with children and their families and/or using and analysing neuroimaging is considered beneficial. As the research involves collaboration with an industry partner, a postdoctoral researcher, multiple faculty members, and interns, experience working with a team and communication skills are critical. 

Funding Notes

Full awards are open to UK Nationals, and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements. To be eligible for the full award, EU Nationals must have been in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the course for which they are seeking funding, including for the purposes of full-time education.
EU students who do not meet the residency requirements, a ‘Fees only’ award may be offered but we have been able to offer full awards if funding available.
International candidates are welcomed but they would need cover the difference in Home/EU and Overseas fees.


You can apply online - consideration is automatic on applying for a PhD in Psychology, with an October 2022 start date (programme code RFPDPSYA).
Please use our online application service at
and specify in the funding section that you wish to be considered for School funding.
Please specify that you are applying for this particular project and the supervisor.
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