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EPSRC DTP studentship in “Rapid information integration in support of situational awareness and spatial behaviour”

Cardiff School of Psychology

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Dr Jacques Grange , Prof R Honey , Dr S Cohen-Hatton No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Studentship Summary.

Situational awareness and spatial behaviour are highly dependent on the reliability of perceived environmental stimuli and on any pre-conceptions or expectations (e.g. mental maps) about the environment. Robots, drones or body-worn topography-scanning technologies (e.g. LIDAR) are being developed to assist humans in safety-critical emergency situations in dark/smoky/contaminated environments. This project aims to (1) understand how humans (including those in the emergency services) combine information from perception, memory and technological sources to engender situational awareness, and thereby (2) support spatial behaviour.

Members of the emergency services (e.g., firefighters) can now be provided topographical information or form an expectation of a building’s internal layout prior to entering it. They may have had little time to build trust in or establish the reliability of such ‘priors’ and their breathing apparatus duration is at most 20 minutes after they enter a smoke-filled building. Under such pressures, human resilience relies on refined standard operating procedures and practices to safeguard them against conflicting recalled and perceived information. The project aims to establish how the degrees of spatial information degradation, the amount/reliability/complexity of prior information provided, and live access to new information, contribute to spatial behaviour. As new assistive technologies emerge in support of incident command and fire crews, how can new, potentially complex information be effectively communicated without further increasing a firefighter’s cognitive load?

Anticipated methods.

A systematic literature review will inform research conducted using immersive simulated emergencies, with participants from our panel and firefighters. The Centre for Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Human-Machine Systems (IROHMS) Simulation Lab (with 6-meter-diameter immersion cylinder and VR capacity) will be used alongside Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) facilities, e.g. Fire Service College.  Simulations will be differentiated by manipulating (i) prior-information complexity or accuracy, (ii) scene-topography (iii) the degradation of perceptual cues and (iv) additional, live information (assistive technology and command). Measures of spatial behaviour, self-reported stress and resilience (blood-based, Shelton-Rayner et al., 2010, Cellular Immunology) will be taken.

Student development.

The student will be part of an interdisciplinary research environment that is rich in qualitative and quantitative methodological expertise and utilises a broad range of theoretical perspectives (naturalistic decision making, socio-technical systems, assistive technologies). In addition to developing a unique research skillset, the student will naturally develop team-working and project management skills, which will enable a variety of future careers, in research, industrial and third-sector domains.

Joint meetings at the IROHMS centre and site visits (e.g. FRS HQs) will punctuate open communication between the researchers and key stakeholders to facilitate the sharing of knowledge. The supervisory team, external experts and PhD student will co-produce and demonstrate the theoretical underpinning and applied significance of the research. The student will gain a thorough methodological, theoretical and practitioner grounding and experience in grant writing (e.g., the Fire Service Research and Training Trust) and policy development.

The project sits at the intersection of physical, natural and social sciences. The development of a unique, interdisciplinary, transferable skillset will be supported directly through training involving: (1) the virtual reality (VR/simulation) research capability of the IROHMS Simulation Laboratory; (2) the Human Factors Excellence Group (HuFEx), led by the School of Psychology; and (3) the extant collaboration between Cardiff University and the UK FRS and National Fire Chiefs Council.

Research perspective.

Situational awareness and spatial behaviour are dependent on the reliability of perceived environmental stimuli and on pre-conceptions or expectations (e.g. mental maps) about the environment. Degraded situational information makes an observer more reliant on expectations, which are contingent on memory. Adding time pressure can generate high cognitive loads that may impair rational decision making, especially when expectations, perceived reality and assistive information conflict.

This research requires the development and integration of expertise across a broad range of domains: knowledge of pure perception (visual and auditory, as well as effects of stimulus degradation); the use of highly advanced simulated environments (VR and audio-visual immersion cylinder); and the latest developments in assistive technologies and how their information can be transmitted (e.g., via augmented reality tools) in challenging environments. The studentship will draw on and provide a focus for expertise across the supervisory team and for the broader expertise across HuFEx and IROHMS in human factors, cognitive psychology, ergonomics, engineering and assistive technologies.

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to Home, EU or international students.
The award offered will cover Home/EU fees and maintenance stipend.
Students must meet the eligibility criteria, outlined in the terms and conditions. There have been recent changes to UKRI eligibility, for details see the UKRI Website. Studentships are available for Home and International students, with up to 30% of studentships being available for international applicants. This will be managed on a first-come first-serve basis. Successful international applicants will receive a fully funded studentship and will not be charged the international fee difference.


The studentship will commence in October 2021 and will cover your tuition fees (at UK/EU level) as well as a maintenance grant. In academic year 2020-21 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £15,285 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students will have access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.
As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.
You can apply online - consideration is automatic on applying for a PhD in Psychology, with an October 2021 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.
Application deadline: March 26th, 2021, with interviews (either in person or by Skype) being held on or around Apr 1, 2021.
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