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The early development of visual working memory (SpencerJU20PSY)

Faculty of Social Sciences

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Prof J Spencer No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

There is a growing need to understand the global impact of poverty on early brain and behavioural development, particularly with regard to key cognitive processes that emerge in early development. One such cognitive process is visual working memory (VWM). VWM is central to daily functioning, maintaining visual information actively in mind and detecting changes in the world when they occur. In this project, the candidate will contribute to a unique data set from two on-going large-scale longitudinal studies examining the early development of VWM—one from the UK and a parallel study conducted in Shivgarh, Uttar Pradesh, India. We are using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to collect functional neuroimaging data while infants and toddlers complete a Preferential Looking (PL) working memory task, and relating these functional neuroimaging data to structural MRI. We are also collecting data on a host of other cognitive, social, and environmental factors thought to impact the early development of brain and behaviour.

For more information on the supervisor for the project, please go here:

This is a PhD programme.

The start date of the project is October 2020.

The mode of study is full-time/part-time. The studentship length is 3 years for a full-time student and 6 years for a part-time student.

Funding Notes

This PhD project is in a School of Psychology competition for funded studentships. These studentships are funded for 3 years and comprise of home/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend of £15,009.

Entry requirements:

Acceptable first degree in Psychology or relevant other discipline.

The standard minimum entry requirement is 2:1.

Masters or equivalent experience.


i) Wijeakumar, S., Kumar, A., Delgado Reyes, L., Tiwari, M. & Spencer, J.P. (2019). Early adversity in rural India impacts the brain networks underlying visual working memory. Developmental Science, DOI: 10.1111/desc.12822

ii) Buss, A.T., Fox, N., Boas, D.A., & Spencer, J.P. (2014). Probing the early development of visual working memory capacity with functional near-infrared spectroscopy. Neuroimage, 85, 314-325.

iii) Perone, S., Simmering, V.R. & Spencer, J.P. (2011). Stronger neural dynamics capture changes in infants’ visual short-term memory capacity over development. Developmental Science, 14, 1379-1392.

iv) Buss, A.T. & Spencer, J.P. (2017). Changes in frontal-posterior connectivity underlie the early emergence of executive function. Developmental Science, DOI:10.1111/desc.12602.

v) Wijeakumar, S., Huppert, T., Magnotta, V. Buss, A.T. & Spencer, J.P. (2017). Validating an image-based fNIRS approach with fMRI and a working memory task. NeuroImage, 147, 204-218.
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