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Lifespan Health and Wellbeing PhD studentships

Listed below are specific research projects for which supervisors wish to recruit a PhD student for the upcoming academic year. For more information on these, please contact the named supervisor(s). We also welcome applicants who have original ideas for their own research projects, providing these fit with the research interests of a member of staff within the group (see here for staff interests). Please specify on your application form your choice of research topic. You should also include with your application a short document (1-2 pages) detailing why you are a suitable candidate for studying your choice of topic, e.g. your qualifications, interests and relevant experience. If you are applying for one of the specific research projects, you do not need to also submit a research proposal as part of your application.

More information on PhD / MPhil / MSc degrees by research in Psychology

 

Specific research projects:
Sibling Bullying: Precursors, Consequences and Intervention

More than 90% of children grow up with siblings. Sibling relationships are one of the most enduring relationships across life. Sibling can be supportive to each other an important resource helping each other. However, sibling also show rivalry and bully each other. Our recent research has indicated that sibling bullying is wide spread and that relationships with brothers and sisters can be more violent than any other relationships by children experience. Our recent work has indicated that sibling bullying has adverse effects into adulthood. It led to widespread media attention and harrowing stories of how siblings adversely affect the lives of many people http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24867267

This Ph.D studentship will involve several tasks: 1. Working with large data bases to analyse already collected data on sibling bullying and requires willingness to learn or ability of longitudinal data analysis; 2. Conduct further in depth study of factors related to sibling bullying and parenting; 3. Possibly consider intervention strategies and the potential of using apps helping parents deal with sibling rivalry (working with the Digital Lab at Warwick). Studies will involve working with charities trying to combat bullying.

Please contact Professor Dieter Wolke (D.Wolke@warwick.ac.uk) for more information or informal discussions.

References

Bowes, L., Wolke, D., Joinson, C., Lereya, S. T., & Lewis, G. (2014). Sibling Bullying and Risk of Depression, Anxiety, and Self-Harm: A Prospective Cohort Study. Pediatrics. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-0832

Wolke, D., & Samara, M (2004). Bullied by siblings: association with peer victimisation and behaviour problems in Israeli lower secondary school children. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 45(5), 1015-1029.

Tippett, N., & Wolke, D. (2014). Aggression between siblings: Associations with the home environment and peer bullying. Aggressive Behavior, n/a-n/a. doi: 10.1002/ab.21557

Wolke, D., & Skew, A. J. (2012). Bullying among siblings. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 24(1), 17-25.

 

Personality and Visual Attention

Determining the influence of individual differences is of paramount importance if we are to explain and predict human behaviour in real world settings. Despite a strong history of personality and individual differences research, little work has addressed the role of individual differences on the processing of visual information and attention. Nonetheless, our ability to see and attend to visual information can have far-reaching consequences, for example, for driving performance, medical image screening and monitoring of critical system industrial interfaces. This studentship will look into the effect of different personality traits on various aspects of visual attention, such as our ability to ignore irrelevant information and to focus on new information, or our ability to learn and use the context from our surrounding to find relevant information. This work will have impact for both theory and practice.

This studentship will be supervised by Dr Adrian von Muhlenen.

Please contact Dr von Muhlenen (A.vonMuhlenen@warwick.ac.uk)for more information and informal discussion about the project.

Related Reading

Bellaera, L., von Mühlenen, A. & Watson, D., (in press). The effect of global and local attention in contextual cueing. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. doi: 10.1080/17470218.2013.858171

MacLean, M. H., & Arnell, K. M. (2010). Personality predicts temporal attention costs in the attentional blink paradigm. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 17(4), 556–562. doi:10.3758/PBR.17.4.556

Willems, C., Wierda, S. M., van Viegen, E., & Martens, S. (2013). Individual Differences in the Attentional Blink: The Temporal Profile of Blinkers and Non-Blinkers. PLoS ONE, 8(6), e66185. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0066185

 

Ageing and Cognitive Control

Responses to environmental stimuli or events do not occur in isolation. They are embedded in a context of ongoing neural activity comprising general background processes (from postural control to remembering the current behavioural goal) as well as specific processes triggered by other concurrent and recent stimuli or events. Age-related neuron loss is likely to make balancing this multitude of simultaneous demands increasingly more difficult, and such impaired cognitive fine-tuning might in turn contribute to the challenges older adults face in performing everyday tasks. Surprisingly, however, the exact impact of normal ageing on cognitive control is as yet unclear. This project will examine age-related changes in subtle sensorimotor control processes, using a range of interference tasks, where a specific behavioural goal has to be maintained against a background of concurrently presented, irrelevant environmental stimuli. The aim is to both understand and ameliorate situations in which older adults suffer disproportionate difficulties in responding in the face of competing demands and distractions.

This studentship will be jointly supervised by Dr Friederike Schlaghecken and Professor Elizabeth Maylor. Please contact us (f.schlaghecken@warwick.ac.uk or e.a.maylor@warwick.ac.uk) for more information and informal discussion about the project.

Related Publications

Maylor, E. A., Birak, K. S., & Schlaghecken, F. (2011). Inhibitory motor control in old age: Evidence for de-automatization? Frontiers in Psychology, 2:132. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2011/00132

Schlaghecken, F., Birak, K. S., & Maylor, E. A. (2011). Age-related deficits in low-level inhibitory motor control. Psychology and Aging, 26, 905-918.

Schlaghecken, F., Refaat, M., & Maylor, E. A. (2011). Multiple systems for cognitive control: Evidence from a hybrid prime-Simon task. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 37, 1542-1553.

 

Sleep and Happiness

It is satisfying to have a good night’s sleep, and if you don’t, you may feel grumpy and less sociable the next day. Intuitive as it may sound, scientific evidence underpinning this common understanding is thin and precisely how sleep affects our ability to regulate emotions are yet to be clarified. Even less is known about the medium- to long-term effect of sleep on happiness.

This PhD studentship will provide you the opportunity to examine the role of sleep in our overall sense of wellbeing and the mechanisms through which sleep impacts on what we remember, how we feel, and what we do to regulate our emotions (Walker & van Der Helm, 2009).

Experiments (e.g., Wagner et al., 2006) and daily process studies (e.g., Tang & Sanborn, 2014) can be devised to test the short- and long-term effect of sleep (or sleep disruption) on emotional memory formation and maintenance and to test the day-to-day effect of sleep on happiness ratings and associated behaviour, such as smile, physical activity, and social activity.

For candidates with experience analyzing large data sets, there are possibilities to examine the impact of insomnia on long-term happiness and suicidality, the other end of the happiness spectrum. (Winsper & Tang, 2014)

This studentship will be supervised by Dr Nicole Tang.

Please contact Dr Tang (n.tang@warwick.ac.uk) for more information or an informal discussion about the project.

References:

For an excellent review on this topic, see:

Walker, M. P., & van Der Helm, E. (2009). Overnight therapy? The role of sleep in emotional brain processing. Psychological bulletin, 135(5), 731.

For an example experiment that can be run:

Wagner, U., Hallschmid, M., Rasch, B., & Born, J. (2006). Brief sleep after learning keeps emotional memories alive for years. Biological psychiatry, 60(7), 788-790.

For an example daily process study that can be run:

Tang, N. K., & Sanborn, A. N. (2014). Better Quality Sleep Promotes Daytime Physical Activity in Patients with Chronic Pain? A Multilevel Analysis of the Within-Person Relationship. PloS one, 9(3), e92158.

For a recent review paper on the link between insomnia and sucidality:

Winsper, C., & Tang, N. K. (2014). Linkages between insomnia and suicidality: Prospective associations, high-risk subgroups and possible psychological mechanisms. International Review of Psychiatry, 26(2), 189-204.

 

Sleep intervention for chronic pain populations

Chronic pain patients often also have severe problems sleeping, which amplify their pain and increase their distress and disability. These patients do request treatment for their insomnia, but such treatment is not always a main focus in pain management programmes. In primary care, drugs remain first-line treatments for pain-related insomnia but are potentially of limited effect.

Hybrid cognitive-behavioural therapy (Hybrid CBT) is a new approach to tackling pain-related insomnia. It addresses pain and sleep simultaneously, exploiting factors underpinning the persistence of both problems. Delivered as a brief but intensive treatment in secondary care, Hybrid CBT was effective in not only improving sleep and reducing pain interference, but also counteracting fatigue and depression (Tang et al., 2012). In this experimental study the magnitude of the improvements were clinically meaningful, but it is not yet known if the patient benefits could be translated to primary care.

A new project is starting at Warwick to investigate the feasibility and utility of Hybrid CBT in primary care settings. This PhD studentship offers a unique opportunity to participate in the implementation of the planned feasibility trial and qualitative studies. Extending from these projects, the student will also have the opportunity to develop single-case experiments to evaluate the clinical effectiveness of individual treatment component and to pilot the use of the Hybrid CBT in other patient groups (e.g., people with dystonia, older adults with dementia)

This studentship will be supervised by Dr Nicole Tang, with input from colleagues at the Clinical Trials Unit, Warwick Medical School

Please contact Dr Tang (n.tang@warwick.ac.uk) for more information or an informal discussion about the project.

References:

Tang NKY, Goodchild CE, Salkovskis PM. 2012. Hybrid cognitive-behaviour therapy for individuals with insomnia and chronic pain: A pilot randomised controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 50 (12), 814-821.

For an example of single-case experiment, see:

de Jong, J. R., Vangronsveld, K., Peters, M. L., Goossens, M. E., Onghena, P., Bulté, I., & Vlaeyen, J. W. (2008). Reduction of pain-related fear and disability in post-traumatic neck pain: a replicated single-case experimental study of exposure in vivo. The Journal of Pain, 9(12), 1123-1134.

 

What do patients want for treatment?

We wish to tailor treatments to patients wishes, but often it is difficult to understand what they want, especially if they present with multiple issues. There can be misunderstandings between patient and clinicians and sometimes the patients themselves may not have the medical information to allow them to consider all treatment possibilities. An alternative to asking directly is to present patients with potential outcomes and ask them which outcome they would prefer. This approach makes the question concrete, but can be difficult to apply because of the huge number of potential outcomes.

This PhD studentship will involve adapting statistical methods (such as Markov chain Monte Carlo) in order to allow patients to choose between concrete sets of outcomes in a limited amount of time. It is ideal for candidates with a clinical interest, but will require mastering computer programming and advanced statistical techniques. The MCMC approach has been piloted with understanding what people consider to be a good night’s sleep and could be extended to understanding treatment outcomes or what patients consider barriers to treatment. For more information, please contact Adam Sanborn or Nicole Tang.

This studentship will be jointly supervised by Dr Adam Sanborn and Dr. Nicole Tang.

Please contact either of them (a.n.sanborn@warwick.ac.uk; n.tang@warwick.ac.uk for more information or an informal discussion about the project.

References

Sanborn, A. N., Griffiths, T. L., & Shiffrin, R. M. (2010). Uncovering mental representations with Markov chain Monte Carlo. Cognitive Psychology, 60, 63-106.

Tang, N. K. Y., Ramlee, F., & Sanborn, A. N. (in prep) What is a good night's sleep? Investigating the subjective understanding of sleep quality using choices between vignettes.