Professor Jamie Ward

Professor Jamie Ward

Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience

Telephone: 01273 876598

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Jamie Ward

Anomalous Perceptual Experiences as a Window into Neurodiversity

Our perceptual experiences can differ profoundly from one person to the next. One possibility is that anomalous perceptual experiences don’t exist in isolation but are themselves a product of more widespread neurocognitive differences, some of which could be considered adaptive from an evolutionary perspective (see Ward, 2019, Phil. Trans. B). Here I suggest two possible areas that could be developed into a PhD proposal, but I would also be receptive to student-led ideas within this broad theme.

1) Biomarkers of synaesthesia. We have recently collected over 100 MRI scans of synaesthetic brains using the Human Connectome Project, HCP, protocol (Racey et al., 2023, Nature Scientific Data). These can be used to generate predictive biomarkers – i.e., to take an MRI scan from a new person and predict whether they are likely to have synaesthesia or not. In this way we can interrogate other sets of ‘big data’ such as UK Biobank or other HCP projects to find likely synaesthetes and unlock their profile for further study (cognitive tests, medical history, genotypes, diffusion tensor images). In a similar vein, one could apply synaesthetic biomarkers to special populations such as autism where there is a known phenotypic similarity but unknown biological overlap (van Leeuwen et al., 2020, Cog Neuropsych).

2) Sensory sensitivity and sound intolerances. Sound intolerances are linked to conditions such as autism, hyperacusis, and misophonia but we have little understanding of the extent to which these conditions have a similar or different profile and, hence, whether or not they are likely to stem from different mechanisms. One recent approach, which we termed phenomenological cartography, is to apply machine learning to behavioural ratings of sounds (Andermane et al., 2023, iScience). There is scope to extend this approach using a far wider set of sounds to look more carefully at what drives these patterns (e.g., why is clapping aversive to people to autism?), and where they come from (e.g., cross-culturally, developmentally).

I am open to co-supervision arrangements with other Sussex faculty, and I have previously co-supervised PhD students with (e.g.) Julia Simner, Sophie Forster, Jenny Bosten, Anil Seth, Hugo Critchley.

Visit my Google Scholar pages for a full list of publications.


Key references

  • Andermane N, Bauer M, Sohoglu E, Simner J, Ward J. A phenomenological cartography of misophonia and other forms of sound intolerance. iScience. 2023 Feb 28;26(4):106299. doi: 10.1016/j.isci.2023.106299
  • Racey, C., Kampoureli, C., Bowen-Hill, O. et al. An Open Science MRI Database of over 100 Synaesthetic Brains and Accompanying Deep Phenotypic Information. Sci Data 10, 766 (2023).
  • van Leeuwen TM, Neufeld J, Hughes J, Ward J. Synaesthesia and autism: Different developmental outcomes from overlapping mechanisms? Cogn Neuropsychol. 2020 Oct-Dec;37(7-8):433-449. doi: 10.1080/02643294.2020.1808455
  • Ward J. (2019). Synaesthesia: a distinct entity that is an emergent feature of adaptive neurocognitive differences. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2019 Dec 9;374(1787):20180351. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2018.0351

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