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From learning to creativity: the neural mechanisms of flexible learning

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  • Full or part time
    Dr C Di Bernardi Luft
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

Applications are invited for a fully funded PhD studentship in Psychology at the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences (SBCS) at Queen Mary, University of London. This project is within the Cognitive Neuroscience field and targets the understanding of the neural mechanisms of learning and creativity, especially the relationship between the two. The student will be supervised by Dr Caroline Di Bernardi Luft.
The aim of the project is to investigate the neural correlates of learning and how it translates into creativity by making use of advanced EEG and brain stimulation techniques during music learning and production. A series of experiments will be conducted in order to understand the apparent contrast between learning, e.g. playing music automatically or with ease, and creativity, e.g. being able to generate new appropriate compositions. In the first stage, the experiments will target the understanding of syntax learning and creativity by monitoring the EEG during the exposition to stochastic sequences of tones and during the generation of new sequences by the participants (variations using artificial grammar paradigms will also be tested). In the second stage, the objective is to boost creativity by administering transcranial current stimulation (tCS) especially the alternating current modality (tACS) during learning on the regions and frequencies found to constitute relevant neural mechanisms for learning and creativity (found during the first stage of research). tCS is a non-invasive brain stimulation technique which consists of passing a low current through two (or more) electrodes positioned in specific locations on the scalp. The brain stimulation will be conducted along with EEG in order to track possible oscillatory and connectivity changes resulting from the tCS. Furthermore, the tACS stimulation parameters will be customised according to the EEG, which will require a lot of computational skill from the candidate. In addition, the candidate will have a high-definition 20 channels EEG/tCS device available for her/his experiments. This device allows the recording of EEG signals using the same stimulation electrodes, as it also allows real time interfacing with Matlab.
The successful PhD candidate will be involved in planning/programming the experiment, collecting and analysing the data, and reporting the results for publication and writing a thesis. Candidates must have a Master degree in Psychology or in a neuroscience related field. Considering that EEG advanced methods and the interface between EEG and tCS is nontrivial, the candidate must have experience with EEG data analysis in Matlab (Matlab programming is required). Brain stimulation experience would be an advantage. This project requires motivation and a broad interest to improve skills in various fields (e.g. signal processing, psychophysiology, data analysis, programming, etc.). A basic knowledge and interest in music is also desirable as this is the learning the project is focused on.
For informal enquiries please email Dr Caroline Di B. Luft at [Email Address Removed] ( ). To apply, please follow the online process at Queen Mary website. The candidates are required to provide a CV (including two references) and a research statement which addresses the following questions: 1) Why do you want to research on this topic? 2) What experiences do you have which are appropriate for the project? 3) What aspect of this project motivates you the most?

Funding Notes

The studentship will cover tuition fees and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at Research Councils UK rates (£16,054 in 2015/16).


Luft, CDB., Pereda, E., Banissy, MJ., & Bhattachayra, J. (2014). Best of both worlds: Promise of combining brain stimulation and brain connectome. Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience, 8:132. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2014.00132.
Reverberi, C., Toraldo, A., D'Agostini, S., & Skrap, M. (2005). Better without (lateral) frontal cortex? Insight problems solved by frontal patients. Brain, 128(Pt 12), 2882-2890.
Woods, A., Antal, A., Bikson, M., et al. (in press). A technical guide to tDCS, and related non-invasive brain stimulation tools, Clinical Neurophysiology,

How good is research at Queen Mary University of London in Biological Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 23.39

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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