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Exploring facial motion production and recognition in Parkinson’s Disease

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  • Full or part time
    Dr K Lander
    Dr E Poliakoff
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

Parkinson’s disease involves a slowness of movements with a progressive loss of amplitude and/or speed (Jankovic, 2008; Poliakoff, 2013). This is important as we often communicate how we are feeling by moving our faces; we smile when we are happy and frown when sad or upset. Communication through movement may be reduced in people with Parkinson’s, leaving them feeling isolated and reducing their quality of life. Indeed, previous work has established that people with impoverished movements may be perceived as unfriendly or disinterested (Tickle-Degnen & Doyle Lyons, 2004). In the proposed PhD work, we investigate how communication using facial motion is affected by Parkinson’s.

Specifically, we will video-tape general and expressive facial movements of people with Parkinson’s and age-matched healthy controls. We will ask our participants and independent raters to assess the scale and type of facial motion changes observed in Parkinson’s. We will relate motion parameters to each other and to other indicators of Parkinson’s disease progression.

Previous work indicates that people with Parkinson’s are particularly impaired at recognising static negative facial expressions (see Péron et al., 2012 for review; also see Lander & Butcher, 2015 for review on dynamic faces). This PhD will investigate the recognition of identity and expression from both static and moving faces. Embodied cognition theories suggest that humans decode each other’s expressions partly by simulating the perceived expression in the motor areas of their brain. Thus, because people with Parkinson’s have reduced motion, they may be less able to use motion as a cue to identity and expression.

Finally, we investigate the implications of face animation loss on judgements of expressiveness and use eye tracking to investigate where people look during these judgements. This work could lead to intervention strategies to improve communication with people with Parkinson’s.

The successful candidate will be trained in a wide range of research skills including designing behavioural experiments, measuring eye movements, reaction times and physiological responses, as well as public engagement.

Candidates are expected to hold, or about to obtain, a minimum upper second class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neuroscience, sports science or another related subject. A Masters degree in a relevant subject would be an advantage.

This 3-year full-time PhD is open to candidates able to provide evidence of self-arranged funding/ sponsorship and is due to commence from January 2017 onwards.

Any enquiries relating to the project and/or suitability should be directed to Dr Lander ([Email Address Removed]). Applications are invited on an on-going basis but early expression of interest is encouraged.

Funding Notes

This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website ( For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website ( Informal enquiries may be made directly to the primary supervisor.


Jankovic, J. (2008). Parkinson's disease: clinical features and diagnosis. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 79, 368–376.

Lander, K. & Butcher, N. (2015). Independence of face identity and expression processing: Exploring the role of motion. Frontiers in Emotion Science.

Péron, J., Dondaine, T., Le Jeune, F., Grandjean, D., & Vérin, M. (2012). Emotional processing in Parkinson’s Disease: A systematic review. Movement Disorders, 27, 186-199.

Poliakoff, E. (2013). Representation of action in Parkinson's disease: Imagining, observing and naming actions. Journal of Neuropsychology, 7, 241-254.

Tickle-Degnen, L. & Doyle Lyons, K. (2004). Practitioners’ impressions of patients with Parkinson’s disease: the social ecology of the expressive mask. Social Science & Medicine, 58, 603–614.

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