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Effects of exercise on brain function, food cravings, and appetite


   Department of Psychology

   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Unhealthy dietary choice is one of the major causes of obesity, cardiovascular disease (CVD), and Type 2 diabetes (T2D). Despite evidence suggesting that a healthy diet reduces the risk of obesity, CVD and T2D, the impulse to consume highly palatable foods is difficult to be inhibited. This is complicated in the current environment where highly palatable foods are plentiful and food related cues (e.g., food related pictures and ads) are ubiquitous. To that end, cognitive control, a prefrontal-mediated cognitive process that regulates our behaviors, is essential to reduce our automatic urges to consume highly palatable foods.

Research has suggested that exercise is feasible in modulating cognitive control and prefrontal brain activity. Studies further indicated that effects of exercise on cognitive control and prefrontal activity might transfer to eating behaviors, such as better inhibition to images of high-calorie food during a food-cue task. However, several research threads remain underexplored: 1) the underlying neural and biological mechanisms explaining the effects of exercise on eating behaviors, 2) whether intervention-induced changes in brain function can reflect on changes in appetite and desire to eat, 3) the optimal protocols of exercise for healthier brain and eating, and 4) are the effects of exercise differed across different populations (e.g., normal weight, obese)?

To this end, this project will focus on the effects of exercise on neuroelectric correlates (e.g., EEG) of general and food-specific inhibitory control, as well as different measures of appetite in individuals with normal weight and/or obesity. We will also explore the underlying biological mechanisms by measuring tonic and phasic shifts in heart-rate variability (HRV), a measure of cardiac-autonomic regulation and is closely related to modulations in inhibitory control and self-regulation. By measuring EEG, HRV, and appetite, we can begin to establish the complex and multi-dimensional nature of eating behavior and its association with exercise.

The project will provide expertise in a range of techniques that will assess physical fitness and the impact of exercise, and a range of biological (e.g., HRV) and neuroelectric biomarkers (e.g., EEG). Students may also have opportunities to learn other lab skills, such as how to prepare experimental meals to measure food intake and/or other neuroscientific interventions (e.g., non-invasive brain stimulation), by collaborating with other research staffs to further expand the project. In addition, depends on funding opportunity, the project may also provide expertise in biochemical techniques (e.g., collecting and processing blood/salivary biomarkers).

The research will be conducted in a multi-disciplinary team across the Department of Psychology and Department of Applied and Human Sciences at Kingston University, as well as potential internal and external collaborators. The exact program of work will be established between the candidate and the supervisory team following selection.

Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree (at least an upper-second class degree [2:1] or equivalent [e.g., GPA > 3.3]) in a relevant area to the project, such as sport science, nutritional science, experimental psychology, and cognitive neuroscience. Applicants will have excellent practical lab skills and interpersonal skills for working with human volunteers and colleagues across different research disciplines. Interest in working with different cohorts of participants, from children, young adults, to clinical populations, and committing to extensive laboratory works are highly desirable. A Master’s degree or equivalent or other evidence of research skills and experience is preferred but not essential. Also, experience in EEG, coding writing using MATLAB, and a valid first-aid certificate is desirable but not essential.

Applications are accepted all year around. Prospective students should email Dr. Hsieh () with your CV and a brief summary of your research experience and interests. Such communication will allow for clarification of issues regarding research opportunities, funding, and other issues that you might have questions about.


Funding Notes

No funding is directly related to this project. Students can speak with Dr. Hsieh for information about research assistant opportunities. Alternatively, students should work with the supervisory team in seeking external funding.

References

Dr. Hsieh's lab webpage (Brain, Resilience, Exercise, and Development Lab)
https://sites.google.com/view/breadlab/home?authuser=0

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