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Tagging the mind’s contents during active behaviour

   Division of Medical Sciences

  ,  Friday, December 09, 2022  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Commercial partner: Brain Products UK Ltd., Reading

A central goal of cognitive science is to understand and predict natural behaviour. Even a simple every-day task, such as making tea, calls on a complex orchestration of processes: long-term memory of the environment, attentional allocation while searching for sugar, short-term memory representations of surrounding objects, deciding whether to use these representations (the mind’s contents) or sample information from the environment, and planning and executing actions such as reaching and picking up objects. A dysfunction in the mechanisms which enable these operations can have a severe impact on our performance and wellbeing.

To introduce experimental control, simplified yet artificial approaches have been used to isolate these individual cognitive processes and identify their neural correlates. However, we lack a firm empirical basis for developing theories of how cognitive processes and neural dynamics unfold during natural active behaviours.

In this project, we will break novel theoretical and methodological ground in a systematic exploration of neural markers of attention, memory, and sensorimotor decision-making during natural behaviour. By combining Virtual Reality (VR) (and its associated behavioural metrics, e.g. eye and head tracking), and Electroencephalography (EEG), we be able to track these neural corelates and relate them to complex behaviour. This project provides and important opportunity for contributing to the solution to a major methodological problem within cognitive neuroscience. Namely, collecting and analysing high quality combined VR-EEG data.

Our methodological and theoretical aims will be met by a series of interconnected objectives:

1. Advancing (together with Brain Products UK) a suitable hardware protocol for collecting simultaneous Virtual Reality (VR) and Electroencephalography (EEG);

2. Use combined VR and EEG to track neural correlates of attention, memory, and sensorimotor decision-making within a temporally extended natural task, while retaining high levels of experimental control;

3. Divide complex natural interactions into tractable behavioural sub-units and understand what aspects of the mind’s contents and associated neural correlates can be used to predict them;

4. Develop and share analysis protocols for co-registering VR and EEG;

5. Explore individual differences in active visually guided behaviour and relate these to standard laboratory measures of attentional control and working memory capacity.

The proposed cooperation will enable the development of a research protocol for VR-EEG studies and will tackle important theoretical and methodological questions. This will benefit the commercial organisation by refining their EEG products and increasing the appeal to users. The academics will benefit from the development of a proof-of-concept protocol for studying how the contents of our mind form and support active natural behaviour.

Relevant work

Draschkow, D. (2022). Remote virtual reality as a tool for increasing external validity. Nature Reviews Psychology, 1–2.

Draschkow, D., Nobre, A.C., & van Ede, F. (2022). Multiple spatial frames for immersive working memory. Nature Human Behavior, 1–9.

Draschkow, D., Kallmayer, M., & Nobre, A.C. (2021). When natural behaviour engages working memory. Current Biology31(4), 869-874.e5.

Nobre A.C. & Stokes, M.G. (2019) Premembering experience: a hierarchy of time-scales for proactive attention. Neuron 104(1):132–46

Details on entry requirements and how to apply can be found here.

Apply using course: DPhil in Experimental Psychology

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