[Comp-neuro] Funded PhD places at Royal Holloway

Durant, Szonya Szonya.Durant at rhul.ac.uk
Fri Nov 18 13:47:55 CET 2016

Applications are open for funded PhD places starting 2017 in the Dept. of Psychology, Royal Holloway University of London.  Further details: https://www.royalholloway.ac.uk/psychology/prospectivestudents/postgraduateresearch/home.aspx

The following projects may be of interest to the readers of this list (linked the project descriptions below), please contact the primary supervisor for more information.

?  The perceived duration of actions (Primary Supervisor: Dr Durant<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/szonya-durant_64105598-776f-4034-ab30-7e10b4e1d348.html>; Second Supervisor:  Dr Lingnau<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/angelika-lingnau%283be38d2d-9817-4ccf-8d3b-c1f0e26f6e13%29.html>)

?  Semantic information transfer from audition to vision (Primary Supervisor: Dr Vetter<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/petra-vetter(cdfd308c-1ea7-47fa-93b4-d04a03893b95).html>; Second Supervisor: Dr Auer)

?  Perceptual and physiological correlates of aesthetic preferences (Primary supervisor: Prof Zanker<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/johannes-zanker_350450c5-0078-4ac8-ac95-e77eefba1297.html>; Second Supervisor: Dr Durant<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/szonya-durant_64105598-776f-4034-ab30-7e10b4e1d348.html>)

?  The neuroscience of facial attractiveness choices (Primary Supervisor: Dr Furl<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/nicholas-furl(ea2a352b-67c1-4cde-b870-119115bc9078).html> ; Second Supervisor: Dr McKay<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/ryan-mckay_cda72457-6d2a-4ed6-91d7-cfd5904b91e4.html>)

?  Detection of emotion and trustworthiness across the lifespan (Primary Supervisor : Dr Watling<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/dawn-watling_70194d88-af3f-40a8-9b85-60dcfc1d51c8.html>; Second Supervisor : Dr Durant<https://pure.royalholloway.ac.uk/portal/en/persons/szonya-durant_64105598-776f-4034-ab30-7e10b4e1d348.html> )

Szonya Durant, RHUL
Angelika Lingnau, RHUL
The perceived duration of actions
Project Summary
The perception of duration is often cited as being crucial for action. Overlapping neural areas have been found to be involved in motor planning and duration perception. However, dissociations have been found in time judgement for action and perception. Our ability to judge the duration of our own and others' actions has been little investigated. Additionally, predictability affects duration perception and neural signal change - do expected actions differ from unexpected ones in their perceived duration?  This project combines psychophysical, EEG and fMRI techniques, providing the PhD candidate with a broad training in neuroscientific techniques.
The behavioural experiments compare the perceived duration of action to matched non-action visual stimuli. We test if judging our own actions cued by a visual stimulus improves accuracy or shifts means compared to action or non-action visual stimuli alone.  We will also manipulate predictability of actions, both by probability of occurrence or expectation in terms of object affordance.
The fMRI studies will contrast judging the duration of another person's actions versus one's own as well as non-action visual stimuli. We will examine which brain areas are modulated by perceived duration and by predictability. Moreover, we will use MVPA to examine predictability effects on the ability to categorize actions. The EEG experiments will use the visual mismatch negativity signal as a measure of what is considered a predictable action when attention is not directed towards it and relate this to the psychophysical results.

Petra Vetter, RHUL
Tibor Auer, RHUL
Semantic information transfer from audition to vision
Project summary:
Our brain integrates a multitude of sensory information into one coherent percept so that we can interact with the world. Previous research typically focussed on how multisensory information is integrated across space and time, but so far little research has attempted to determine the semantic meaning of the communicated information across the senses. However, knowing the semantic content of cross-modally transmitted information is crucial to optimise multimedia environments and sensory substitution devices for the blind. The goal of this project is to characterise the semantic information content that is transferred from audition to vision in the human brain, and to identify the neural pathways of this information transfer. The predominant methods will be functional MRI in combination with multivariate brain decoding techniques and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).
The project will address two main questions:

1.       Which semantic categories of auditory information are distinguished in visual cortex and to which level of abstraction?

Here we will decode natural sounds of several semantic categories (e.g. animals versus humans, female versus male, tools versus instruments) from fMRI activity patterns in early visual cortex in the absence of visual stimulation.

2.       Where in the brain are these semantic categories distinguished?

Here the brain pathways of audio-visual information transfer will be identified by connectivity and whole brain decoding analyses, as well as by stimulating multi-sensory brain areas with TMS prior to MRI scanning. The latter allows to identify the brain areas that are causally involved in mediating semantic information transfer from audition to vision.

Johannes Zanker, RHUL
Szonya Durant, RHUL
Perceptual and physiological correlates of aesthetic preferences
Project summary
Arts history has plenty of 'theoretical' concepts on offer to explain what human spectators regard as beautiful (Gombrich 1977), which often closer to believe systems than being based on evidence. With the advent of psychophysics, investigating the relationship between the physical world and its mental representation, aesthetic judgement became accessible to empirical study (Fechner 1860), soon to be aided by some physiological and behavioural methods (Yarbus 1967, Berlyne 1971).
The proposed project is planned to extend previous work that established (a) quantitative methods to measure aesthetic attributes - such as complexity, regularity, liking - that were applied to both to synthetic stimuli and samples of artwork, and (b) an analysis method for preferential eye movements for the same stimulus material, and complement it with (c) recordings of cortical activity recorded with the EEG system.  The combination of methods offers the opportunity to directly link the perceptual tasks, recordings of eye movement signals (which are also picked up by the EEG system) and neural responses and align preference data sets from a single experiment.
The goal of this project is to explore whether features such as style aspect, particular composition schemes, geometric properties such as perspective or symmetry, and mathematical properties such as the complexity of a piece of art, are reflected in the activity of the early visual system, and to what extent such cortical activity in the early visual system can contribute to for what participants perceive as pleasing, and describe as 'beautiful'.

Dawn Watling, RHUL
Szonya Durant, RHUL
Detection of emotion and trustworthiness across the lifespan
Project Summary
Emotion recognition is a key social skill which we use on a daily basis to navigate successfully through social interactions. Individuals use facial expressions to infer and make judgments about the attitude and/or feelings of another (Cunningham & Odom, 1986) and the judgments that one makes are often used to guide future behaviour within the interaction (Gao & Maurer, 2009). Children recognize from 6-years-old that facial expressions of emotion do not always match true feelings. This PhD will address: first, what factors influence one's ability to detect a genuine (or faked) facial expression of emotion, how does this relate to judgements of trustworthiness; second, are their age related changes in detection and judgements across the lifespan?
Throughout this PhD a series of studies will be designed to address these questions using static and dynamic images, and live interactions.  The proposed cross-sectional design will include participant groups from early childhood to late adulthood. Participants will visit the Oculomotor lab and be asked to make judgements on genuineness of emotional expressions and how trustworthy an individual is. Participants' eye movements and gaze fixations will be recorded and analysed in terms of scan paths, gaze duration at targeted areas, and related to the perceived genuineness of the individual.
There are important implications for the understanding of how a child may respond to an approaching strangers or how an elderly individual may respond to a stranger who makes a request (e.g., for money, to enter their home).

Nicholas Furl, RHUL
Ryan McKay, RHUL
Bruno Averbeck, NIMH/NIH
Davide Rivolta, University of East London
The neuroscience of facial attractiveness choices
Project summary
Users of modern dating applications (e.g., Tinder) face a classic decision problem. This "best choice" or "marriage" problem requires participants to view a series of options one at a time (e.g., a series of used cars) and to decide whether to accept or reject each option. A participant's task is to find a high-ranking option in the series (e.g., a car with low mileage), with the restriction that declined options cannot be returned to. The problem is known as the "marriage" problem after the decision process adopted by astronomer Johannes Kepler when searching for a wife; after considering several candidates, Kepler returned to a previous candidate and was duly rejected. Our research team has shown that humans confronted by a similar mate choice task make suboptimal decisions, compared to computational "ideal observer" models. Further, parietal cortex activity may contribute to these decisions. Our Ph.D. project will use brain imaging to assess how suboptimal searches for the most attractive face arise from interactions between brain activity involved in decision making (parietal cortex) and social perception. Our student will also test whether brain stimulation (e.g., to parietal cortex) changes participants' ability to "wait for the right person". Our Ph.D. student will lead a project with potential for broad scientific and social impact and will receive training in brain imaging, brain stimulation and behavioural and computational methods.

Szonya Durant
Department of Psychology
Royal Holloway, University of London
TW20 0EX
01784 276522

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