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Understanding perception and representation of the human body structure


   Faculty of Natural Sciences


About the Project

Applications are invited for a self-funded PhD project to investigate perception and/or mental representation of the human body structure. All of us are very familiar with how the human body typically looks: two arms, two legs, a head, and a torso. In fact, we are very sensitive to the typical structure of the human body (Ramm et al., 2010, Visual Cognition), and this sensitivity may be incredibly important for social interactions. For example, from an evolutionary standpoint it is important to quickly and accurately recognise the shape of another member of our species, particularly in a busy environment, in order to keep track of potential threats or acquaintances.

Our sensitivity to the structure of the human body may be supported by a specialised internal model of the human body structure called the body structural description (BSD). However, there remain several outstanding questions regarding both perception of human body structure, and its internal representation (BSD). Some of the questions that could be addressed by this project are as follows. Firstly, (how) does knowledge of our own body structure and the ‘typical’ body structure overlap? Clinical case studies indicate that it is possible to display deficits in one but not the other, which suggests we may represent the structure of our own body in a different way to that of other people. Further examination of this could shed light on these clinical findings. Secondly, does our sensitivity to human body structure encompass the size and shape of the limbs, or just the location in which they are connected to the torso? This could be addressed by examining perception of non-human primate body structure, in which the relative size of the limbs is different despite the general structure of the entire body remaining very similar. Thirdly, how fine-grained is the BSD? Does it also contain structural representations of component parts like the hands, or do these body parts have (only) their own distinct models? Lastly, how do we rapidly recognise body structure in a dynamic world? Most research on this topic has focussed on the perception of still images of forward-facing people, despite the fact that we generally observe people from multiple angles, who are very often also in motion.

This project will provide the student with flexibility to forge their own path, addressing the aforementioned questions, or others, to develop new knowledge of human body perception and/or representation. In addition to working with the two supervisors, the candidate will be part of the Cognition in Complex Environments group. This is a vibrant community which boasts expertise in cognition, perception, action, neuroscience, development, and social behaviour. The project will also provide the student with a range of transferable skills, from public speaking to coding. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch to enquire about the opportunities that the supervisors, and the University of Stirling, can provide.

Application Requirements:
Eligible applicants should have –
• A Bachelor’s degree in Psychology (or a related subject), with a 1st or a 2:1
• A Master’s degree in Psychology (or a related subject), with a merit or distinction
• Experience with computerised data collection
• Competence in data analysis

Funding Notes

The PhD project is self-funded. Tuition fees are available at: View Website

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