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Triggering movement in Parkinson’s through imagery and observation

Project Description

Parkinson’s disease is one of the commonest neurodegenerative diseases, which profoundly affects movement. Typically, a person is slower to initiate movements and the movements themselves are of lower amplitude. The gold standard treatment is dopaminergic medication, which can be effective, but is also associated with debilitating side-effects as the disease progresses. Therefore, there is a need for behavioural interventions to improve movement in Parkinson’s.

This PhD project investigates a potential strategy to trigger movements in people with Parkinson’s. This capitalises on the fact that in healthy people observing another person moving (action observation; AO) or imagining oneself move (motor imagery; MI) produce activity in brain areas associated with motor planning and execution. Therefore, these processes may provide a route to trigger movement in Parkinson’s. Furthermore, a recent line of research has shown that motor activation is stronger for combined AO+MI (imagining oneself performing the action one is observing) than either process in isolation. Our lab recently published findings that AO+MI can increase the amplitude of a simple pointing movement in people with Parkinson’s. It is critical to replicate this finding and to further understand the underlying processes, and whether these may be altered in Parkinson’s, as well as to explore the effect of environmental context. This PhD project will investigate combined AO+MI in people with Parkinson’s and healthy older adults using different measures: hand and eye movements and EEG and manipulating context using virtual reality (VR).

The findings will increase our understanding of how perception and action are affected in Parkinson’s, as well as informing the design of interventions to facilitate movement in Parkinson’s. It will feed into our parallel strands of work developing an app to support home-based training of movements in Parkinson’s and using AO and MI in dance interventions for Parkinson’s.

Entry Requirements:
Candidates are expected to hold (or be about to obtain) a minimum upper second class honours degree (or equivalent) in a Psychology or Neuroscience or a related area / subject.

For international students we also offer a unique 4 year PhD programme that gives you the opportunity to undertake an accredited Teaching Certificate whilst carrying out an independent research project across a range of biological, medical and health sciences. For more information please visit

Funding Notes

Applications are invited from self-funded students. This project has a Band 1 fee. Details of our different fee bands can be found on our website (View Website). For information on how to apply for this project, please visit the Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health Doctoral Academy website (View Website).

As an equal opportunities institution we welcome applicants from all sections of the community regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and transgender status. All appointments are made on merit.


Bek J, Gowen E, Vogt S, Crawford TJ, Poliakoff E (2019) Combined action observation and motor imagery influences hand movement amplitude in Parkinson's disease. Parkinsonism and Related Disorders, 61, 126-131.
Bek J, Gowen E, Vogt S, Crawford TJ, Poliakoff E (2018) Action observation produces motor resonance in Parkinson's disease. Journal of Neuropsychology, 12, 298-311.
Bek J, Poliakoff E, Gowen E (2016) Enhancing voluntary imitation through attention and motor imagery. Experimental Brain Research, 234, 1819-28.
Bek J, Webb J, Gowen E, Vogt S, Crawford TJ, Sullivan, M, Poliakoff E (2016) Patients’ views on a combined action observation and motor imagery intervention for Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s Disease, article ID 7047910.
Humphries S, Holler J, Crawford T.J., Herrera E, Poliakoff E (2016) A third-person perspective on co-speech action gestures in Parkinson's disease. Cortex, 78, 44-54.

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