This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the ‘GW4 BioMed MRC Doctoral Training Partnership’ which is offering up to 18 studentships for entry in September 2020.
The DTP brings together the Universities of Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter to develop the next generation of biomedical researchers. Students will have access to the combined research strengths, training expertise and resources of the four research-intensive universities.
Lead supervisor: Dr Karin Petrini, Department of Psychology, University of Bath
Co-supervisors: Dr Daniel Finnegan (Cardiff), Dr Michael Proulx (Bath) and Prof Eamonn O’Neill (Bath)
In the last few decades, our view of human brain organisation has changed drastically; while not long ago we thought of the brain as organised in sensory modality specific areas (e.g., visual primary area processing visual information), now we think of it as “metamodal” (with areas executing a given function/task regardless of the sensory input; Kim & Zatorre, 2010; Pascual-Leone & Hamilton, 2001).
Several studies with blind and sighted adult participants have exploited different sensory substitution devices (which translate one sensory input such as vision into another such as sound or touch) to show this sensory independent brain organisation. For example, research shows that visual brain areas respond to tactile written language (Reich, Szwed, Cohen, & Amedi, 2011), that participants trained to learn novel stimuli with auditory or tactile sensory substitution devices would transfer this knowledge to the visual information (Kim & Zatorre, 2008; Kim & Zatorre, 2011), and that participants can code spatial layouts in a sensory-independent manner (Wolbers et al., 2011). Yet, it is still unknown how this sensory-independent neuroplasticity develops as there are no studies exploiting sensory substitution devices as research tools in children and testing the behavioural and neurophysiological changes occurring before adulthood after training with such devices.
With this PhD project we aim to examine whether:
1) sensory-independent neuroplasticity is adult-like in children;
2) Compare the extent of this rapid plasticity in adults and children with short multisensory and unisensory training.
Study 1 will address aim 1 by using the vOICe (a device that translates visual information into sound) and the BrainPort (a device that translates the visual information into touch) in navigation/spatial representation tasks previously used by the lead supervisor with children and adults when using vision (e.g. Petrini et al., 2016).
Study 2 and 3 will address aim 2 by using a similar spatial task as in Study 1 and a generalised learning task similar to that of Kim & Zatorre (2008) respectively, to test the effect of short training with the vOICe and BrainPort on behavioural and brain responses. Behavioural and neurophysiological data will be obtained through 3D motion capture system and wireless EEG and predictions will be tested within the Bayesian framework (e.g. Ernst and Banks, 2002; Petrini et al., 2014).
Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an area appropriate to the skills requirements of the project.
IMPORTANT: In order to apply for this project, you should apply using the DTP’s online application form: https://cardiff.onlinesurveys.ac.uk/gw4-biomed-mrc-doctoral-training-partnership-student-appl
You do NOT need to apply to the University of Bath at this stage – only those applicants who are successful in obtaining an offer of funding form the DTP will be required to submit an application to study at Bath.
More information on the application process may be found here: https://www.gw4biomed.ac.uk/doctoral-students/
APPLICATIONS CLOSE AT 17:00 ON 25 NOVEMBER 2019.