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Sensorily Stressed: Using Virtual Reality Technology to Examine the Relationship between Sensory Sensitivities and Anxiety

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  • Full or part time
    Dr D Simmons
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About This PhD Project

Project Description

Anxiety is one of the most common psychiatric conditions in the western world, with lifetime incidence estimates of up to 25%. Anxiety acts as a barrier to educational, vocational and societal engagement and is estimated to cost the US economy $38 Billion annually. One of the most consistent causal factors of anxiety are sensory sensitivities, usually over- and/or under-responsivity to everyday sensory stimulation such as noises, lights and smells. Research into sensory sensitivities and anxiety originated in the autism literature, but evidence, partly from our laboratory, has emerged that sensory sensitivities strongly impact typically developing individuals as well. Whilst there is a robust empirical and theoretical literature looking at the interactions between autism, sensory sensitivities and anxiety, unfortunately it is largely questionnaire-based and/or correlational. The aim of this project is to use the methodological advantages of Virtual Reality (VR) technologies to experimentally test the key relationships which form the basis of these theoretical frameworks and then apply these findings in the form of environmental accommodations. In previous research, immersive environments have been used both to treat and induce anxiety. It is clear that VR can therefore be used to manipulate the anxiety levels of participants in a safe and controlled manner. The first step in this project will be to construct a virtual environment in which the participant’s anxiety level can be closely controlled, whilst also developing competencies using equipment, such as wearable technology, to objectively measure real-time anxiety. The second stage will be to expand the methodology to measure real-time sensory sensitivity. Finally, this environment will be used to empirically probe the parameter space of sensory sensitivity and anxiety whilst accounting for individual differences in susceptibility. The industrial partner specializes in content creation for virtual environments and is specifically targeting workplace training and healthcare applications: perfectly suited to this project.

Funding Notes

Applicants must meet the following eligibility criteria:
• A good honours degree (at least 2:1), in psychology or a related discipline
• An interest in virtual and augmented reality
• A flair for inter-disciplinary research

• An interest in healthcare applications of technology
• Experience of working with autistic and/or anxious individuals

Applicants must complete the Supervisor Led Awards Eligibility Checker before proceeding with their application:

Students must meet ESRC eligibility criteria. ESRC eligibility information can be found here*:

Award Details:
The scholarship is available as a +3 or a 1+3 programme depending on prior research training. This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process. The programme will commence in October, 2020. It includes:
• an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate
• fees at the standard Home rate
• students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and applicants will be notified if they have been shortlisted for interview by 1st May, 2020. Interviews will take place on a date tbc during May, 2020.

All scholarship awards are subject to candidates successfully securing admission to a PhD programme within the University of Glasgow. Successful scholarship applicants will be invited to apply for admission to the relevant PhD programme after they are selected for funding.

Related Subjects

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