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Sensory integration in people with dizziness

Cardiff School of Psychology

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Prof P Sumner , Dr G Powell No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This PhD project will explore how visual, vestibular and motor cues are combined to maintain balance and stability, and how this integration might be different in people with dizziness.

Moving around in the world (and not falling over) requires the continuous integration of different sensory systems, in particular visual, vestibular, and motor/proprioception. We use these different cues to maintain balance and sense of verticality, and determine how we are moving relative to our environment. Leading frameworks suggest that sensory signals are combined in an optimal way – more weight is given to the cues that are most reliable. So someone with an unreliable vestibular system might start to rely more on vision and motor/proprioception for stability.

Dizziness could occur when one of these systems fails, or when integration is not working optimally. We are interested in the most common type of chronic dizziness – persistent postural perceptual dizziness (PPPD)- which is provoked by challenging visual environments such as supermarkets, cinemas and busy roads. Similar symptoms occur in about 10% of the general population (Powell et al. 2020). At the Cardiff University Dizzy Lab (CUDL) we are trying to understand the causes of PPPD and develop effective rehabilitation solutions.

There is an enduring theory that PPPD is caused by visual dependence – patients become overly reliant on vision to maintain balance and this causes instability in environments that are visually stimulating (like supermarkets, patterned carpets).

But what does it mean to be visually dependant whilst also being made dizzy by visual information? How does this relate to models of sensory integration and cue combination? Are some sensory signals in PPPD patients less reliable? Or do they integrate across sensory signals sub-optimally? Until we answer these questions we cannot understand the causes of PPPD or know how to develop the most effective rehabilitation tools.

This PhD project will use a multi-disciplinary and multi-methodology approach to understand sensory integration in PPPD. Working with Audiological Clinicians and psychophysical researchers at CUDL, the student will unpack the general concept of ‘visual dependence’ using established mathematical frameworks for modelling sensory integration.

Students do not need programming experience, but should have the motivation and aptitude to learn. The studentship is open to those with a background in Psychology, but students from other disciplines are also encouraged to apply. Mathematical skills/experience are an advantage. 

The studentship will commence in October 2021 and will cover your tuition fees (at UK level) as well as a maintenance grant. In 2020-21 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £15,285 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students receive access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.

As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

How to Apply

Applicants should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology with a start date of October 2021

In the research proposal section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided.

In the funding section, please select 'I will be applying for a scholarship/grant' and specify that you are applying for advertised funding from Sensory integration in people with dizziness 

Deadline for applications is the 19th March 2021 with interviews taking place in April 2021

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to Home, EU or international students. The award offered will cover Home fees and maintenance stipend. International/EU candidates are welcomed but may need to self-fund the difference between Home and International fees.

However, there are a limited number of studentships available for international/EU applicants that can cover full or partial fees


Guerraz, M., Yardley, L., Bertholon, P., Pollak, L., Rudge, P., Gresty, M. A., & Bronstein, A. M. (2001). Visual vertigo: symptom assessment, spatial orientation and postural control. Brain, 124(8), 1646-1656.
Staab, J. P., Eckhardt-Henn, A., Horii, A., Jacob, R., Strupp, M., Brandt, T., & Bronstein, A. (2017). Diagnostic criteria for persistent postural-perceptual dizziness (PPPD): Consensus document of the committee for the Classification of Vestibular Disorders of the Bárány Society. Journal of Vestibular Research, 27(4), 191-208.
Powell, G., Derry-Sumner, H., Rajenderkumar, D., Rushton, S. K., & Sumner, P. (2020). Persistent postural perceptual dizziness is on a spectrum in the general population. Neurology, 94(18), e1929-e1938.

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