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It takes two to tango: Understanding autistic people’s mental states and facial expressions


Project Description

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three-year PhD or four-year Masters and PhD studentship to commence in October 2020.

The studentship is funded by the ESRC South Coast Doctoral Training Partnership (SCDTP), a collaboration between the universities of Portsmouth, Southampton and Brighton.

The supervisors are Dr Beatiz Lopez, Dr Steven Kapp and Prof. Bridget Waller.

This PhD presents a unique opportunity to the successful candidate to be part of the SCDTP cohort as well as the University’s Department of Psychology, the Autism Centre for Research on Employment and the Centre of Situated Action and Communication.

The work will aim to:
Document potential differences in autistic people’s facial expressions in controlled and naturalistic settings and, investigate how any differences may impact on how they are being understood

Autistic people have difficulty interacting socially with others. Traditionally, this has been explained by impairments in their ability to understand the mental states and facial expressions of others. However, recent research has shown that non-autistic people may be contributing to failures in social interactions as they may also have difficulty interpreting autistic people’s facial expressions, part of a phenomenon autistic researcher Milton (2012) frames as the ‘double empathy problem’. This project aims to document how the facial expressions of autistic people may differ and how we can help non-autistic people to better interpret them. The project will employ experimental methods in both controlled and naturalistic settings, and focus on both the production and perception of facial expressions.

General admissions criteria
All candidates must be a UK resident and hold a good honours degree (2:1 and above) from a recognised higher education institution. Please note, students applying without a Master’s qualification containing a substantial Social Sciences methods component may be required to complete such a Master’s beforehand. The Master’s will be fully funded by the SCDTP and will be run from the University of Southampton.

English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements
Applicants are required to have a BSc in Psychology (at least 2:1) and demonstrable knowledge of multivariate statistics and SPSS or R. Ideally the candidate would also have knowledge of the topic area, either autism or facial expressions, or both and experience working with autistic people.

How to Apply
The first thing you will need is a University supervisor to support your SCDTP application -- so you’ll need to contact the project supervisors before you submit an application.

The project will require you to discuss possible methods and research design as well as detailing how your skills, background and research interests match the project. It is therefore very important that you discuss the project with the supervisor.

Full instructions are given on the SCDTP application form and there are different word limits depending on whether you are applying for a 1+3 (ie Masters in Social Research Methods plus PhD) or +3 (PhD only).

Please note: you will need to submit an online application to the University of Portsmouth plus an application for funding to the SCDTP. For more details, visit the SCDTP website.

When applying to the University, please quote project code: PSYC4930120

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to students living in the UK only and covers tuition fees and an annual maintenance grant of £15,009 (2019/20 rate).

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