Affective noise in value-based decision-making

Pilot study investigating how overlapping outcomes of varying affective value are resolved during ongoing cognitive performance.

Department: Psychology

Supervised by: Anastasia Christakou

The Placement Project

In real life, the consequences of our actions (reinforcers) tend to overlap in time, and interact with each other. Overcoming the “affective noise” that is produced by this overlap is a critical component of adaptive behaviour. Crucially, factors that compromise this ability may increase an individual’s vulnerability to psychopathological traits, such as impulsivity and inappropriate affect. Despite its undoubted significance, little attention has been paid to this question to date. An exciting new line of research in our lab capitalises on recent advances in the fields of reinforcement learning, decision-making, and neuroimaging to determine the mechanisms by which reinforcement schedules are integrated into ongoing performance. The placement aims to design and pilot a behavioural task that is appropriate for use with neuroimaging (specifically magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI). The placement forms part of the early stages of this line of work for the group. In advance of the neuroimaging experiments for this work, we need to establish the performance parameters of a novel frame task which we will later use in the MR scanner. The student placement will help design, program, and collect pilot data from the task prototype.


In collaboration with other members of the lab, the student will have the opportunity to: - design and programme (MATLAB) a behavioural task to examine the impact of affective noise on ongoing performance - collect pilot data to validate the task - draft the ethics proposal for the full behavioural study - draft the introduction and methods section of a manuscript describing the behavioural study - if interested, adapt the task code for use in the MR scanner - if interested, be involved in the design of the pilot fMRI study

Skills, knowledge and experience required

The ideal candidate will have a strong interest in human cognitive neuroscience (essential), some experience with programming MATLAB or similar (desirable), and a keen interest in neuroimaging methods (desirable). Applicants from diverse disciplines will be considered.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

The student will be encouraged to participate in all aspects of the group’s work and activities, including research meetings, formal presentations, online resources, and journal clubs. The placement is motivated from a neuroscience perspective, and as such will provide the student with hands-on experience of designing, planning and executing experimental work in cognitive neuroscience. Depending on the student’s interest, the opportunity for first-hand experience in designing and planning of neuroimaging experiments is a possibility. Appropriate engagement and productivity commensurate with the ambitions of the project is likely to lead to co-authorship of a manuscript.

Place of Work

School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences

Hours of Work

full time

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Monday 01 July 2013 - Friday 12 July 2013

How to Apply

Interested students should apply by email with their CV to Their email should briefly explain their motivation for applying for the placement and a succinct description of early career goals. Shortlisted applicants will be interviewed in April. All applicants will receive written feedback on their application.

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