Applications are invited for a 3.5 year PhD studentship funded by the European Research Council to join a team within the Psychiatry group, BSMS and the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex. The aims of the research project are to examine the effects of heart-timing on the processing of fear and threat stimuli and the implications for human-machine interaction.

We have shown that signals from the heart affect the processing of fearful and threatening stimuli and influences behavioural, neural and bodily responses to these stimuli. Even the timing of an individual heartbeat can determine if a brief stimulus is perceived as a threat. Further research into these mechanisms, and their application, is supported by an ERC Advanced Grant ‘Cardiac control of fear in the brain’ to Prof Hugo Critchley.

The studentship will be based at BSMS Psychiatry and the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex. Prof Hugo Critchley and Prof Anil Seth will supervise.

Experimental work will include a) implementation of heart-timing manipulations of stimuli in virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) settings to explore effects on fear processing, fear-learning (conditioning) and safety-learning (extinction). b) testing the effect of heart rhythms and heartbeat timing on behavioural responses to potentially threatening ‘ballistic’ stimuli presented in VR/AR to quantify the impact on stimulus detection and avoidance behaviour. c) testing if coupling of operator interfaces to physiological signals can enhance functional and experiential aspects of human-machine interaction. d) Methodological development including a refinement of remote heartbeat sensing, noting recently published methods to derive heart timing information from video information, as well as novel ‘electric potential’ sensors developed within the Engineering group at Sussex.

The studentship will suit candidates with a computer science or similar strong technical background with a keen interest in cognitive neuroscience and related disciplines. The student will work within a team of basic and clinical neuroscientists focusing on mind-brain-body interactions using integrative approaches including behavioural psychophysiology and brain imaging. The project offers a range of training opportunities through which the student will be able to acquire skills in cognitive and behavioural neuroscience, autonomic psychophysiology and related areas of computational science, psychology and neurobiology. This will provide the student with critical skills and a depth and breadth of experience to make them a highly competitive candidate for a postdoctoral research position.
For more about the ‘Cardiac Control of Fear in the Brain’ project see
More about the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science is here

Funding Notes:

Applicants for this 3.5 year PhD funded via a European Research Council Advanced grant to Hugo Critchley starting in October 2013 or January 2014 should possess or expect to be awarded a minimum of a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree in Computer Science, electronic engineering or equivalent discipline. A developed (e.g. MSc level) interest in cognitive neuroscience or similar area of biological psychology is desirable. Both UK/EU citizens can apply. Informal enquiries – Prof Hugo Critchley,
What the heart forgets: Cardiac timing influences memory for words and is modulated by metacognition and Interoceptive Sensitivity. Garfinkel SN, Barrett A, Minati L, Dolan RJ, Seth AK, Critchley HD. Psychophysiology 2013 online.
Suzuki, K., Garfinkel, S., Critchley, H.D., and Seth, A.K. (2013). Multisensory integration across exteroceptive and interoceptive domains modulates self-experience in the rubber-hand illusion. Neuropsychologia.

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  • FET project

  • EC funded

  • Under FP7

  • Project details

    Project number: 258749
    Call (part) identifier: FP7-ICT-2009-5
    Project Start Date: 1st September 2010
    Project Duration: 48 month

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