Sussex Neuroscience

Professor Jamie Ward

Jamie WardCognitive Neuroscience of Multisensory Perception and Individual Difference in Perception

In natural environments, individual senses are rarely stimulated in isolation. As a result of this, the brain is tuned to integrate different sensory inputs to guide behaviour. Moreover, stimulation of only one sense often modulates activity in brain regions supporting other senses and, in some people, results in perceptual experiences in that other sense (e.g. seeing sounds) – a phenomenon termed synaesthesia. Our research group examines these mechanisms using methods of (human) cognitive neuroscience including fMRI, EEG, and brain stimulation.
There are various gaps in our understanding that could be explored by future PhD students. What features of the autistic brain give rise to the clinical symptom of sensory hyper-sensitivity? To what extent are unusual perceptual experiences (e.g. in synaesthesia) a result of atypical (top-down) predictive mechanisms as opposed to bottom-up differences in perception? How do different senses (e.g. touch, vision) combine to give a coherent sense of embodiment?
Ideally students should have (or be prepared to develop) skills in quantitative statistics and the ability to design and program experiments. Placement students without a background in psychology or human neuroscience would be expected to attend some taught courses in this area.

Selected publications
(For a full list of publications and more details about the Synaesthesia Research Group, see Google Scholar and http://www.sussex.ac.uk/synaesthesia/index

Ward, J., Hoadley, C., Hughes, J.E., Smith, P., Allison, C., Baron-Cohen, S., & Simner, J. (2017). Atypical sensory sensitivity as a shared feature between synaesthesia and autism. Scientific Reports, 7;7:41155
Grice-Jackson, T., Critchley, H.D., Banissy, M.J., & Ward J. (2017). Common and distinct neural mechanisms associated with the conscious experience of vicarious pain. Cortex, 94, 152-163
Shriki, O., Sadeh, Y., & Ward, J. (2016). The Emergence of Synaesthesia in a Neuronal Network Model via Changes in Perceptual Sensitivity and Plasticity. PLoS Computational Biology. 12 (7), e1004959