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EASTBIO: Seeing meaning in others’ behaviour: neurocognitive mechanisms revealed by EEG


   School of Psychology

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  Prof P Bach, Dr Joost Rommers  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the BBSRC EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership.

People intuitively see the meaning and purpose in others’ behaviour. We see the excitement in our child running towards the shop window, the disgust when our friend brushes away a spider, or the exhaustion when our workout partner reaches for a drink. And while such inferences guide all social interactions – and may be responsible for their breakdown in conditions such as autism in schizophrenia – the underlying brain mechanisms are unclear.

This PhD project will combine psychophysical methods with state-of-the-art EEG techniques to identify the neurocognitive mechanisms underpinning these inferences. It relies on recent tasks of 1st supervisor Bach that reveal the attribution of meaning to others’ behaviour and make it visible as a perceptual confirmation bias that subtly distorts observed behaviour. In these tasks, participants see the onset of an action, such as a hand starting to reach for an object until it suddenly disappears. When participants report the hand’s exact last seen location, judgments are systematically biased, towards the implied goals: hands seem to have reached closer towards objects that the actors seem to want, and further away from obstacles they wanted to avoid.

These distortions to perceptual judgments reveal how the meaning attributed to another’s actions shapes its visuospatial representation. This project will identify the brain mechanisms that underlie this integration, by combining these tasks with the EEG expertise of 2nd supervisor Rommers, who has developed novel methods to trace such interactions in the understanding of language. The goal is to: (a) uncover the EEG brain correlates that reflect the integration of meaning and perception (time & time/frequency domains), (b) develop new (computational) frameworks that describe how these brain responses relate to the illusory changes to people’s perception, and (c) to their ability to revise (or not revise) their inferences about others’ behaviour in the light of new, potentially conflicting, evidence.

By uncovering the brain mechanisms that characterize the integration of expectations and perception, this PhD program takes the first steps towards a new account of how humans understand each other’s behaviour. The project would be suitable for candidates with a background in psychology, neuroscience, or biology with interests in social perception and electrophysiology. In their work, the PhD candidate will combine psychophysical methods with temporal/spectral analyses of electrophysiological data, as well as computational modelling/machine learning. They will develop expertise in digital signal processing and programming (Matlab, R), skills highly useful in industry and academia.

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ELIGIBILITY:

  • Applicants should hold a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Those with a 2:2 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) may be considered, provided they have (or are expected to achieve) a Distinction or Commendation at master’s level.
  • All students must meet the eligibility criteria as outlined in the UKRI guidance on UK, EU and international candidates. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions, esp. TGC 5.2 & Annex B.

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APPLICATION PROCEUDRE:

  • Please visit this page for full application information: How to apply | eastbio (eastscotbiodtp.ac.uk)
  • Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison Innes at: [Email Address Removed]
  • Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form. References should be sent to [Email Address Removed]
  • Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications.
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.

Funding Notes

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students (The proportion of international students appointed through the EASTBIO DTP is capped at 30% by UKRI BBSRC).
EASTBIO studentships includes a UKRI doctoral stipend (estimated at £17,668 for the 2023/2024 academic year), plus a training grant of £5,000 per annum (year 1-3; £1,500 year 4) and a travel/conference grant of £230 per annum.
EASTBIO does not provide funding to cover visa and associated healthcare surcharges for international students.

References

1. Hudson, M., McDonough, K. L., Edwards, R., & Bach, P. (2018). Perceptual teleology: expectations of action efficiency bias social perception. Proc. R. Soc. B, 285(1884), 20180638.
2. Bach, P., & Schenke, K. C. (2017). Predictive social perception: Towards a unifying framework from action observation to person knowledge. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 11(7), e12312.
3. Rommers, J., & Federmeier, K. D. (2018). Predictability’s aftermath: Downstream consequences of word predictability as revealed by repetition effects. Cortex, 101, 16-30.
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