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  Mechanisms of Interoception and Stress in Medically Unexplained Symptoms


   Applications accepted all year round  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

Throughout history, the interrelatedness of mind and body has been known to physicians and patients for millennia. Despite this, treating conditions that involve complicated iterations of this relationship has proved difficult and continues to constitute a barrier to the effective care of many patients in the medical system. One contributing factor is that many physicians and mental health professionals still have a dichotomous view of medical conditions as belonging to either pathologies of the "body" or of the "mind" .

Medically Unexplained Symptoms refers to physical symptoms or conditions that do not have an identifiable organic cause or clear disease classification. Multiple psychological and biomedical theories have been proposed to explain MUS, highlighting dysfunctional stress responses across various physiological axes (such as the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, inflammatory responses, and cardiovascular responses) and interoceptive dysregulation. The knowledge regarding the interaction between these mechanisms is still incomplete. Existing research often focuses on a single mechanism, stress test, physiological stress axis, or a specific MUS condition, leading to fragmented understanding.

The overall aim of this project is to investigate mechanisms of MUS by means of multimodal data, by combining MRI, EEG and ECG, and behavioural paradigms which will aim to explore Interoceptive mechanisms and attentional biases. We will use an 'emotional stress induction' procedure, to explore Interoception, central brain networks and attentional bias before and during emotional stress.

The PhD student will play a crucial role in conducting in-depth research on the interplay between mind and body in conditions like Medically Unexplained Symptoms. Their responsibilities will include:

- Conducting a comprehensive review of existing literature on MUS, related psychological and biomedical theories, and multimodal data research methods.

- Assisting in the design and development of experimental protocols, particularly those involving MRI, EEG, and ECG data collection, as well as behavioural paradigms for exploring interoceptive mechanisms and attentional biases.

- collecting and analysing multimodal data from study participants. This may involve operating MRI and EEG equipment, processing, and interpreting data

- Preparing research papers and reports based on the findings of the study for publication in scientific journals and conferences.

The PhD student's work will be critical in advancing our understanding of MUS and may potentially contribute to the development of more effective treatment approaches for patients with these conditions. The project offers an exciting opportunity for the student to gain valuable research experience and make meaningful contributions to the field of medical science and patient care.

Prospective PhD students with a background in Neuroscience, Psychology, or Neuroimaging are strongly encouraged to apply for the project. However, having this specific background is not an absolute requirement for consideration. The selection process will involve an interview with the Supervisor, during which candidates will have the opportunity to showcase their enthusiasm and interest in the topic of the project.

If you are interested in applying for the aforementioned PhD topic, follow these steps:

Contact the supervisor: Reach out to the supervisor via email or phone to express your interest in the project. The supervisor's contact details can be found on the topic page. During this communication, you can discuss your enthusiasm for the research and inquire about your suitability for the position. The supervisor will also guide you in developing a topic-specific research proposal, which will be a part of your application.

Apply online: Click on the 'Apply here' button on the topic page, which will redirect you to the relevant PhD course page. There, you will find an online application form. Complete the application, making sure to indicate your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have chosen.

Biological Sciences (4) Psychology (31)


Schulz, André, et al. "Distinctive body perception mechanisms in high versus low symptom reporters: A neurophysiological model for medically-unexplained symptoms." Journal of Psychosomatic Research 137 (2020): 110223.
Rief, Winfried, and Elizabeth Broadbent. "Explaining medically unexplained symptoms-models and mechanisms." Clinical psychology review 27.7 (2007): 821-841.
Schulz, André, et al. "Higher cardiovascular activation, but normal heartbeat-evoked potentials and cardiac interoceptive accuracy in somatoform disorders and major depressive disorder." Psychiatry Research Communications 2.3 (2022): 100052.
Deary, Vincent, Trudie Chalder, and Michael Sharpe. "The cognitive behavioural model of medically unexplained symptoms: a theoretical and empirical review." Clinical psychology review 27.7 (2007): 781-797.

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

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