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Understanding brain-to-brain synchrony through the mother-infant interactions


School of Psychology

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Dr S Wijeakumar No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

Background
Synchrony has been broadly defined as the spatial and temporal coordination of micro- and macro-scale biological and behavioural dynamics between individuals. This phenomenon has been referenced across biological mechanisms such as heart-rate rhythms, reciprocal adaptation during early development, and imitation through the ‘mirror neuron system’. More recently, neuroimaging techniques have been used to demonstrate that some brain areas synchronize in individuals engaging in joint social interactions. Co-operative, but not obstructive/competitive behaviour between adults, and adults and children engaging in game play has been shown to elicit synchronized activation in the frontal and temporal cortices.

Further, brain-to-brain synchrony is linked to longer gaze and positive affect. A few mechanisms of brain-to-brain synchrony have been proposed. Neuro-computational accounts propose that synchronization can be explained by reducing prediction error between the ‘actual’ state/representation in one brain, and the other brain’s ‘predicted’ state/representation. At the brain network level, synchronization is proposed to be the outcome of the integration of brain areas involved in mentalizing (predictions of beliefs and intentions), the mirror neuron system (imitating motor action), and reward-systems between individuals in joint interactions. The current longitudinal project aims to build on these accounts by investigating brain-to-brain synchrony in infant-mother dyads and follow how it develops over the first few years of infants’ lives.

Deadline: 21st December 2020

Informal enquiries should be directed to Dr. Sobana Wijeakumar ([Email Address Removed]).

How to apply
Suitably qualified candidates are invited to apply by email following the instructions below.

Please email your application to [Email Address Removed] clearly marked with the header ‘Brain-to-brain synchrony PhD application’.

The application should consist of one document, no more than three pages in length. The first two pages of the application should detail the candidate’s CV and the third page must contain a personal statement about why the candidate wants to do the PhD (for eg. how previous research experience is relevant and applicable to the advertised studentship and how the candidate will develop ideas outlined in the advert). Short-listed candidates will also be required to provide two academic references.

Funding Notes

The studentship is funded as part of a Research Project Grant by the Leverhulme Trust. The successful candidate will be supervised by a team consisting of Dr. Sobana Wijeakumar (School of Psychology, University of Nottingham), Dr. Line Caes (School of Psychology, University of Stirling) and colleagues at the University of Nottingham and University of East Anglia. The successful candidate will join two other graduate students who will also work on the same project. The positions will be based in the School of Psychology at the University of Nottingham. They will provide a stipend to cover living costs and will cover Home University fees (Stipend £15,285, Home fee £4,407).

The successful candidate should be able to commence their doctoral study in April 2021. Note that the project might need to be delayed in line with circumstances surrounding COVID-19. Candidates with experience collecting data using fNIRS/EEG on infants or young children are encouraged to apply. Significant experience with programming experimental tasks using PsychoPy is preferred.
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