Observing actions towards food: Can we predict eating behaviour?

Observing others’ eating actions influences our own food choices, and activates parts of the brain involved in eating movements. This project will investigate how quickly people can recognise whether a movement towards a piece of fruit is going to end up bringing the food to the mouth.

Department: Psychology

Supervised by: Dr Nicholas Paul Holmes

The Placement Project

This placement will give an undergraduate student the opportunity to work as a member of The Hand Laboratory in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences, under the supervision of Nicholas Holmes and Katherine Naish (Ph.D. researcher). The student will run a novel project using new methods to investigate people’s perceptions of hand actions. Specifically, the student will ask whether and how quickly people can recognise and predict eating actions from observing just the initial stages of the reaching and grasping movement. This research will build on and feed into Katherine’s RETF-funded Ph.D. research investigating the neural and behavioural effects of observing actions towards food. The student will be responsible for one or two full experiments, experiencing the full research process, from background research, hypothesis generation, experimental design, through participant recruitment, data collection, data analysis, oral presentation and report-writing. In Week 1, the student will be trained on the laboratory’s recruitment database, will read and discuss background literature, generate an experiment (by altering existing experimental designs), and pilot-test the experiment on lab members. In Weeks 2-3, healthy adult participants will be recruited and tested on the first experiment, and data will be analysed. In weeks 4-5, a second experiment may be run, depending on the outcome of the first. In Week 6, the student will present the project's results to the Perception and Action research group. In addition, the student will be encouraged to participate and assist in related ongoing experiments in the laboratory, particularly those conducted by Katherine.


The student will undertake a wide range of research tasks as part of the placement: -Literature search, reading, & personal study (1 weeks' work, spread across the placement) -Participant recruitment, using the Hand Laboratory's Participant Database (1-2 days' work) -Data collection: Conducting the experiment under supervision initially (2 full weeks' work) -Data analysis: Analysing the data under supervision initially. Summarising and reporting the data (1 week's work) -Report-writing, creating a presentation, communicating results, post-placement preparation activities (1 weeks' work) -Observation of and participation in ongoing research in the laboratory (3-4 days' work) -Weekly meetings & progress reports with the supervisors, 1 hour each (1 day's work). The meetings in weeks 3 and 5 will involve a more detailed and structured review of progress One or both supervisors will be in the School, and contactable throughout the placement (email, phone, in person). As part of the student's induction on day 1, the supervisors and student will agree a structured plan for the placement, with specific targets set for each week. This aims to maximise value for both parties.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The student is expected to have the basic knowledge and understanding resulting from the first two years of study as a psychology or life sciences undergraduate: -Experimental design and methods -Ethical issues in research -Numeracy and statistics, experience of Microsoft Excel and SPSS software The student should also: -Show an interest in the background and the goals of the project -Have the appropriate time-management and communication skills necessary to interact with adult research volunteers & research group members -Demonstrate an enthusiasm for getting involved in other work in the lab, in particular relating to our research on action-observation and eating behaviours

Skills which will be developed during the placement

Specific research skills to be gained, which cannot be acquired elsewhere during the degree, include: -Using a custom web-based participant recruitment database -Using Matlab software for programming experiments and data analysis -First-hand experience and understanding of the research environment -Working on part of a larger research project, within a research team The research area is one in which several School academics are actively involved (Chakrabarti, Holmes, Houston-Price, Press). Additional knowledge will therefore benefit the student’s learning in their final-year taught modules and research project. The student will be given opportunities to learn or observe other experimental methods being used in the laboratory. The additional techniques being used routinely in the laboratory include 3D-movement tracking, electromyography, and brain stimulation, as well as other behavioural and psychophysical techniques central to psychological science. The student will build on their existing skills in data collection and analysis, being responsible for the data all the way from its raw form to the stages of analysis, summarising, and writing up. This experience will significantly enhance their numeracy and data processing skills. Other transferable skills which will be developed include: -Scientific writing skills, drafting a written report of the experiments carried out -Oral presentation skills, by presenting the results of the research to the research group meeting -Scientific communication skills, by exposure to others' presentations during meetings and seminars -Team-working, resource-management, & communication skills, by working alongside MSc, PhD, post-doctoral, and academic researchers Overall, we believe that this placement will significantly enhance the students' employability both within and outside of the scientific and research sector.

Place of Work

Department of Psychology, Room GS17

Hours of Work


Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 02 July 2012 - Friday 10 August 2012

How to Apply

Applicants will submit the following:-1-2 page CV including relevant study, research, and employment, listing key skills, and providing a 100-200 word personal statement about their goals and career plans-1 page covering letter explaining their motivation and how their skills and experience match those required for the placement, along with any further information that they feel is necessaryWe will encourage candidates to use the UROP drop-in sessions and other resources prior to the application deadline, and will advertise as widely as possible for candidates. After the deadline, Nicholas Holmes and Katherine Naish will agree a short-list of up to four candidates based on academic ability and the fit of the student to the placement. Short-listed candidates will attend a 1-hour interview and guided lab tour in the School, conducted by Nicholas, Katherine, and one independent expert academic staff member. Dr Clare Press has agreed in principle to be the third interviewer.

Return to Placements List

Page navigation

Search Form