Hands versus eyes in spatial touch perception

The placement student will train and practice in behavioural methods to investigate how the perception of objects through touch can be affected by both vision and posture, and by our sense of 'ownership' of our body.

Department: Centre for Integrative Neuroscience & Neurodynamics

Supervised by: Dr Nicholas P Holmes

The Placement Project

The placement student will investigate the effects of different kinds of spatial alignment of one's hand on tactile perception. Specifically, he or she will examine whether 'hand-centred' and 'eye-centred' reference frames affect tactile spatial sensitivity differently. A reference frame is a way of representing the perceptual world. Typically, we think in an 'eye-centred' way – for example, we imagine locations and orientations relative to where our eyes are looking. However, we can also think in a 'hand-centred' way – relative to the position and orientation of our hand (or perhaps someone else's). The placement student will use psychophysical (behavioural) methods to measure tactile sensitivity (how well we can perceive the roughness of objects) to compare how well people can use these eye- or hand-centred reference frames to feel small objects with their fingertips. The placement student will work alongside Kai-Ling Kao on her 3-year PhD project funded by a University International Life Sciences Studentship, and will be an integral member of The Hand Laboratory team in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences. Over the six weeks, there will also be opportunities to get involved in neuroscientific studies using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and enthusiasm for these aspects of our research would be most welcome!


The placement student will participate in the whole research process, from conceiving and designing the experiment and background research (before starting, and during Week 1), constructing the experimental apparatus and recruiting participants (Week 2), collecting data from 20-24 volunteers (Weeks 3-4), analysing and interpreting the data (Week 5), presenting to the research group, and writing up the experiment as part of a publication to be submitted for peer-review (Week 6 and beyond). At all stages, the placement student will be a core member of the Hand Lab research team, will join in weekly Lab meetings, and will contribute and be exposed to a number of active research projects. Ethical approval for the project (broadly framed) is currently under review with UREC, and will be in place before Easter 2014.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

Applicants should have acquired the skills and knowledge necessary for the first two years of an undergraduate degree in psychology, neuroscience, engineering, or computer sciences. This will include basic experimental design and scientific methods, statistical analysis, and scientific report-writing. No prior experience in psychology is necessary, but a strong interest in perception research and neuroscience methods is essential. The technical expertise that an engineering student might have would be a great benefit to the project, but is not essential, and students from diverse branches of science are encouraged to apply. A professional approach to interacting with healthy adult volunteers is essential.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The placement student will develop skills of experimental design, participant recruitment, the use of a custom web-based laboratory management system, data analysis, statistics, scientific presentation and report-writing skills. The laboratory will be very busy over summer, so effective communication, teamwork, and resource-sharing are essential skills to be practiced and developed.

Place of Work

The Hand Laboratory, Department of Psychology

Hours of Work

09:00-17:00, Monday-Friday

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 07 July 2014 - Friday 15 August 2014

How to Apply

Applications will consist of 1) a one-page covering letter explaining the candidate's motivation and qualification for the position, along with how it fits into their career plan, 2) a two-page CV tailored for the position. Up to four applicants will be interviewed by Dr Holmes, Kai-Ling Kao, and one other member of the research team. A decision will be made immediately after the last interview.

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