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Eye movements as behavioural markers of cognitive development in infancy

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  • Full or part time
    Dr H Ballieux
    Dr S Getting
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Motor action in infants can be a marker of brain organisation and function. Recent research indicates that sequential eye movements and regions of focal observation of stimuli can be markers of cognitive development. For example, Infants as young as 9 months of age show robust looking patterns associated with objects and faces. Specifically, infants appear to understand the goal-directed nature of hand-object interactions, even before they are capable of imitating those actions themselves. This project seeks to investigate the use of motor patterns and proficiency as indicators of typical and atypical (e.g. autism) cognitive development in infants. The project will employ eye-tracking, cognitive diagnostic testing and quantitative behavioural coding of video footage.

Dr Ballieux has experience in designing and implementing a research paradigm using eye-tracking equipment for screening purposes in infancy1,2, and Dr Forrester3,4 has recently developed a Multidimensional Method (MDM) for quantitative coding of naturalistic behaviour that will be used with infants for the first time. The combination of an eye-tracking screening tool in combination with fine-grained behavioural coding makes this project ground breaking. The project will exploit synergy with the ongoing research on visual attention in adults by 3rd supervisor Dr Gardner5. Finally, the project will enable the prospective student to develop skills in conceptual framing, methodological development, quantitative data analyses, critical interpretation, and written and oral dissemination of results.

For this project we seek a PhD student with a background in cognitive psychology or neuroscience and excellent technical skills. The successful candidate will use state-of-the-art laboratory equipment and become a member of the Cognitive & Comparative Research Group, facilitating future collaborations and employability. The student will attend scientific conferences, participate in the University’s Graduate School training programme and have the opportunity to obtain a Postgraduate Certificate in teaching and learning.

Funding Notes

The Studentship consists of a fee waiver and a stipend of £16,000 per annum. Successful candidates will be expected to undertake some teaching duties.


Related publications
1. Ballieux, H., Tomalski, P., Kushnerenko, E., Johnson, M. H., Karmiloff-Smith, A., & Moore, D. (2015). Feasibility of undertaking off-site infant eye-tracking assessments of neuro-cognitive functioning in early-intervention centres. Infant and Child Development.

2. Ballieux, H., Wass, S., Tomalski, P., Kushnerenko, E., Karmiloff-Smith, A., Johnson, M. H., & Moore, D. (2015). Applying gaze-contingent training within community settings to infants from diverse SES backgrounds. J. of App. Dev Pscyh (Accepted for publication, Nov 2015).

3. Forrester, G.S. (2008). A multidimensional approach to investigations of behavior: Revealing structure in animal communication signals. Animal Behavior, 76, 1749-1760.

4. Pegler, R., Thomas, M.A., Mareschal, D., Forrester, G.S. (2014). Handedness as a marker of cerebral lateralization in children with and without autism. Behav Br Rsrch, 268, 14-21.

5. Gardner & Potts (2011). Domain general mechanisms account for imagined transformations of whole body perspective. Acta Psychologica, 137, 371-381.

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