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Positive body image in autism: Understanding the links and development of a health-promoting intervention

   Vice Chancellor's PhD Studentships

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  Dr Jane Aspell, Prof V Swami, Dr Jennifer Todd  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterised by difficulties with social interaction. Research suggests autistic individuals experience more mental health difficulties than neurotypical peers. including more negative body image (i.e., negative body experiences). However, no research to date has examined associations with positive body image (PBI), or “an overarching love and respect for the body”. Our research team has pioneered work in this area, including demonstrating robust associations between PBI and psychological well-being and healthy weight management in neurotypical adults.). 

The successful candidate will: (a) explore, for the first time, lived experiences of PBI in autistic individuals; (b) examine the psychometric validity of existing PBI instruments in autistic individuals; (c) examine associations between autistic traits and PBI, and; (d) develop a novel intervention to promote PBI in autistic adults.  

Following from our published research investigating with marginalised communities, the candidate will use photo-elicitation techniques where individuals will be asked to share difficult-to-articulate experiences by taking photographs and then talking about them. A “sensitive research protocol” will be employed in these interviews and data analysed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. It is also anticipated that the project will include use of two key positive body image instruments: the Body Appreciation Scale-2 and the Functionality Appreciation Scale and, in large samples, multiple indices of validity and reliability of these instruments in autistic adults will be examined. The final aim will be to develop a tailored intervention aimed at promoting PBI in autistic individuals that will leverage our work with neurotypical adults, where we have shown that mindfulness-based interventions promote healthier body image 

The supervisory team for this project include Dr Jane Aspell, Professor Viren Swami and Dr Jennifer Todd. Dr Aspell is an experienced researcher and supervisor who has previously supported projects on body perception in autism. She is an international expert in bodily self-consciousness.

Prof Viren Swami (VS) is a world-leading expert in positive body image and is ranked in the top 2% of the most-cited scientists in the world. He has in-depth experience of the methodologies proposed in this project, including in historically marginalised communities. 

Dr Jennifer Todd conducts research into body image and has in-depth knowledge of psychometric methodologies and has experience with clinical groups. 

If you would like to discuss this research project please contact Jane Aspell (jane.aspell(@)

Candidate requirements

Applications are invited from UK fee status only. Applicants should have (or expect to achieve) a minimum upper second-class undergraduate degree (or equivalent) in a cognate discipline. A Masters’ degree in a relevant subject is desirable.

Applicants must be prepared to study on a full-time basis, attending at our Cambridge campus. The Vice Chancellor’s PhD scholarship awards are open to Home fee status applicants only.

Application Procedures

Applications for a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship are made through the application portal on our website:

We will review all applications after the submission deadline of 27th February. We will contact shortlisted applicants in the week commencing 14th March. Interviews will be held between 21st March – 1st April. The interview date for this project can be found on our website.

If you have any queries relating to the application process or the terms and conditions of the scholarships, please email vcphdscholarships(@)

Documentation required

You will need the following documents available electronically to upload them to the application portal (we can accept files in pdf, jpeg or Word format):

  1. Certificates and transcripts from your Bachelor and Masters’ degrees, (if applicable)
  2. Your personal statement explaining your suitability for the project
  3. Passport and visa (if applicable)
  4. Curriculum Vitae

Funding Notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s scholarship award which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship Terms and conditions which can be found on our website:
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