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The functional role of the human mirror system in action priming


   School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences

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  Dr Craig McAllister, Prof K Kessler  No more applications being accepted  Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Highly-motivated candidates are sought for a PhD research studentship offered in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

Observing other peoples actions has a strong influence on how we perform our own actions. The neural correlates of this phenomenon are of great interest. Mirror neurons, as first discovered in macaque monkeys, are neurons that fire not only when we perform a particular action but also when we watch someone else perform that same action. They have been proposed to provide a common neural basis for both visual and motor representations of actions. Although the networks thought to comprise the human MNS have been well-identified using neuroimaging methods, the functional role of this activity in action priming has yet to be fully established.

Under the supervision of Dr Craig McAllister (University of Birmingham) and Prof Klaus Kessler (Aston University), the successful candidate will explore how the observation of other people’s actions primes motor-related activity within the human brain. Magnetoencephalography (MEG) methods and connectivity analysis will be used to identify brain regions (i.e. human MNS) which are active during both the observation and execution of actions. The activity of this network will be characterised and compared during the execution of actions cued by biological and non-biological stimuli (i.e. body parts vs. abstract shapes). These data will be used to inform subsequent interference studies, whereby transcranial magnetic stimulation or transcranial alternating current stimulation methods will be used to explore the functional role of the human MNS activity in action priming.

Candidates should have a very good honours degree (at least 2:1 or equivalent) and/or Masters’ qualification in a relevant discipline (e.g. Psychology/Neuroscience). Previous experience with neuroimaging and/or brain stimulation methods would be desirable, as would programming skills in MATLAB.

Informal enquiries about the PhD project should be directed to Dr Craig McAllister (email [Email Address Removed]). Application forms should be submitted via the University’s admissions system by 5th of July 2014 . Interviews will be conducted shortly after the deadline.
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Further information about the PhD research in the School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation can be found at http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/schools/sport-exercise/courses/postgraduate/index.aspx


Funding Notes

This studentship is fully funded for Home/EU applicants only; it provides a tax-free stipend of £13,863 per annum and payment of Home/EU tuition fees. The studentship is available for three years, subject to satisfactory progress review at the end of the first year, with an anticipated start date of October 2014 or January 2015.

If you are an EU Applicant, you will need to demonstrate adequate proficiency in English Language skills, with a minimum score of 620 (260 minimum in computer test) in TOEFL or IELTS with minimum marks of 6.5 in each section and an overall band of 7.0.

References

McAllister CJ, Rönnqvist KC, Stanford IM, Woodhall GL, Furlong PL, Hall SD (2013) Oscillatory beta activity mediates neuroplastic effects of motor cortex stimulation in humans. J Neurosci 33:7919–7927.

Kessler K, Biermann-Ruben K, Jonas M, Siebner HR, Bäumer T, Münchau A, Schnitzler A (2006) Investigating the human mirror neuron system by means of cortical synchronization during the imitation of biological movements. Neuroimage 33:227–238.
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