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(MRC DTP) Observation and Imagery of Action in Parkinson’s

Project Description

Parkinson’s disease is a neurodegenerative condition affecting around 1 in 500 people, with significant impact on movements, which are typically slower and smaller. In healthy people, the brain areas that control the person’s own movements are also involved when watching other people moving (action observation), or even when just imagining actions (motor imagery). Furthermore, recent research has shown that observation and imagery are even more effective when combined; that is, if you imagine yourself making the action at the same time as watching someone else perform the action (Eaves et al., 2016). This project will investigate how Parkinson’s affects these abilities since it has been hypothesised that combined imagery and observation may provide a strategy for improving movements in Parkinson’s (Caligiore et al., 2017; Bek et al., 2018). We have preliminary findings that combined observation and imagery is effective for simple pointing movements in Parkinson’s (Bek et al, 2019). However, further research is needed to understand whether different cognitive processes are involved and to extend and replicate this finding.
This project will involve comparing people with mild to moderate Parkinson’s to healthy participants of the same age. In the first part, the effect of observation of actions, imagery of actions and combined imagery and observation on the performance of simple hand actions will be investigated. Eye movements will also be tracked during the task, to shed light on how participants attend to and simulate the observed actions. In the second part, the same three action conditions will be used, but the participant will not be asked to move. Electroencephalography will be used to measure the underlying brain processes involved in these covert action processes to investigate whether people with Parkinson’s use compensatory strategies. Finally, virtual reality will be used to investigate the effect of environmental context on these processes.
The project will inform our understanding of how Parkinson’s affects the observation and imagery of actions. Moreover, it will inform the design of interventions to facilitate movement in Parkinson’s.

Body Eyes and Movement Lab:

Entry Requirements:
Applications are invited from UK/EU nationals only. Applicants must have obtained, or be about to obtain, at least an upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a relevant subject.

Funding Notes

This project is to be funded under the MRC Doctoral Training Partnership. If you are interested in this project, please make direct contact with the Principal Supervisor to arrange to discuss the project further as soon as possible. You MUST also submit an online application form - full details on how to apply can be found on the MRC DTP website View Website

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Caligiore D et al. (2017) Action observation and motor imagery for rehabilitation in Parkinson’s disease: A systematic review and an integrative hypothesis. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 72:210–22.
Eaves DL et al. (2016) Motor imagery during action observation: A brief review of evidence, theory and future research opportunities. Front Neurosci. 10:514.

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