Research outlines from potential supervisors

Below are research outlines from PhD supervisors who are particularly interested in recruiting a PhD student for entry in September 2024. Entry in January 2025 or May 2025 might also be possible. Please consider writing a research proposal around the listed project or topic area. You are advised to contact a potential supervisor by email to introduce yourself, and discuss your research ideas, before submitting an application. You are also welcome to contact academics who have not listed their research outlines below.

  • Supervisors are listed alphabetically by Surname. 
  • An entry below does NOT mean that the supervisor is able to offer a fully funded PhD studentship unless that is stated in the text that ‘This studentship has guaranteed funding’. These individual studentships will be advertised on our Prospectus very soon and each will have its own closing date.
  • Applicants are otherwise encouraged to apply for a Psychology Doctoral Research Studentship (UK and International/ UK BAME); closing date Friday 05 January 2024, which are advertised on our Prospectus.

Dr Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn (Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience; Cognitive psychology)

A PhD with The Social Decision Lab

The Social Decision Lab (PI: Dr Dan Campbell-Meiklejohn) is open to PhD applications this year.  You are welcome to discuss and propose empirical projects relating to social choices, associated biases and their neural basis (including empathy and cooperative, altruistic, teaching, anti-social, and moral choices).  Such interests overlap with our study of social information avoidance, social learning, anxiety, social inequality and cultural differences.  On a separate research track, I also research the cognitive effects of antidepressant medications. I will train you in methods of behavioural measurement, task design, psychophysiology, neuroimaging, computational models, and psychopharmacology using our dedicated testing space.  All PhDs from our lab have graduated to exciting research positions. Collaborative, co-supervisory, and interdisciplinary arrangements can also be made within the School of Psychology and with labs of The Brighton and Sussex Medical School, The Institute for Developmental Studies, and Global Studies. 

Please contact Dan C-M by email initially to discuss your application. 

Prof Samantha Cartwright-Hatton (Clinical and Developmental Research Group, Mental Health Strategic Focus Area)

Using parent report to measure child wellbeing 

This PhD will be based in 'The Flourishing Families Lab'. This Lab, the first of its kind, supports parents who are receiving treatment for their own mental health, in order to reduce the likelihood of the intergenerational transfer of poor mental health. Unfortunately, when measurung the outcome of parenting interventions, we usually ask the parent to report on how the child is doing, before and after the intervention. However, in our clinic, where parents are being treated concurrently for their own mental health difficulties, there is a potential confound: it is possible that the parent's own mental health will bias their ratings of their child's, and any changes in children that are reported may simply reflect changes in the parent's condition.

The student will conduct several studies exploring the size of this bias, and exploring ways that it might be mitigated, For example:

  • Using existing data from a large longitudinal sample of anxious parents to estimate impact of parents’ wellbeing on their rating of their child’s. 

  • Experimental studies that manipulate parents’ mental states and explore the impact on their rating of their child’s wellbeing. 

  • Exploring whether biases can be mitigated by, e.g. giving parents different instructions, or by statistical methods.  

The project would suit a student who:

  • Is interested in adult or child mental health. 

  • Enjoys experimental, lab-based research. 

Please contact Prof. Cartwright-Hatton to discuss at  

Prof Zoltan Dienes (Cognitive Psychology)

You can explore Professor Dienes' research interests here: Prof. Zoltan Dienes

Prof John Drury (Social and Applied Psychology)

Understanding and enhancing audience safety and experience through psychology

This PhD research project would examine the psychological factors that contribute to positive emotional experience and subjective sense of safety at gigs and festivals. Recent research on mass gatherings suggests that other people can provide emotional validation and support, and enable self-realization, and that these are key factors in both emotional intensity and wellbeing in crowd events. This research project would test the role of these factors alongside the impact of staff behaviours and attitudes.

Expected support and staff behaviour are also important in subjective safety in crowded live music events. This project will examine two crowd safety issues that have become important in the industry but which have not yet been investigated. First, what makes for an effective show-stop/ show-pause, and how can audience members, staff and artists work together to ensure the safety of those at the front in a crowded venue? Second, what is the cause of disruptive behaviour at live music events? The findings from this research are likely to feed into guidance and training for the live event industry, to improve current practices.

This research project would involve mixed methods (interviews, observations, questionnaire survey). See more on our work on this topic at our project website or contact me directly at

Dr Maria Fernandes-Jesus (Social and Applied Psychology)

Collective action for climate justice in increasingly repressive contexts

**This studentship has guaranteed funding

Across the world, collective mobilisation against the climate crisis (e.g., public demonstrations, school strikes, boycotts) has been increasing, as well as forms of criminalisation, silencing, and stigmatisation of climate activism. Most empirical research on collective climate action has, however, focused on relatively safe contexts. This project will seek to examine the socio-psychological implications of the criminalisation of climate activism. Candidates interested in this project may explore discourses of climate activism in repressive contexts and how the increasing criminalisation of activism may lead to activist burnout and/or shape attitudes and discourses towards climate activism. Drawing on social psychological work on collective climate action and interdisciplinary social movements literature, candidates may use qualitative, mixed-methods or participatory approaches. 

Please get in touch by email ( if you would like to discuss your application.

Dr Sophie Forster (Cognitive Psychology; Sussex Neuroscience)

Internal attention: how thoughts catch our attention and interfere with external perception

In any given moment we might be attending to something in the world around us, or our own thoughts. Often thoughts appear to spontaneously attract our attention against our will, distracting us from our current tasks or even exposing us to unpleasant or distressing information. While there is an enormous amount of research on attention to information in our external environment, relatively little is known about how we attend to our own thoughts. The PhD project will apply theories and methods drawn from the attention literature to this understudied topic. We will consider whether theories of selective attention be applied to predict which thoughts will suddenly pop into our minds, and why our thoughts sometimes appear to ‘block out’ the world around us. Depending on the interests of the successful candidate, there could also be scope to develop this project to consider individual differences and/or the clinical context of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. The project will combine behavioural and cognitive neuroscience research methods. A student working in this area should have a background in psychology or cognitive neuroscience and experience with programming is desirable.

Interested candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Sophie Forster:

Attention lab webpage:

Prof Anna Franklin (Cognitive Psychology)

Professor Franklin's research interests can be explored here Professor Anna Franklin 

Dr Rona Hart (Social and Applied Psychology)

Positive Psychology / Economics and Consumer Psychology 

I am a positive psychologist with expertise in Positive Work and Organisational Psychology, a sub-domain of Positive Psychology that explores applications of positive psychology to work and organisations. I am open to different research ideas either in Positive Psychology generally or in the work and organisation sub-domain.  

I'm currently pursuing research projects that have the potential for a PhD expansion, on the following topics:   

  • Testing new positive psychology interventions that can be applied at work or beyond;  
  • Prosocial organisational behaviours: Its antecedents, mechanisms and outcomes.  
  • The new frontiers of work wellbeing.  

Recently I began to explore a novel interdisciplinary domain that integrates topics from Economic and Consumer Psychology together with  Positive Psychology.  I'm particularly interested in its applied side: financial psychology (a scientific discipline that focuses on financial wellbeing, and interventions that can promote it),  though I am open to other research topics in Economic and Consumer Psychology.  

I'm currently pursuing several research projects in this area that can be expanded:   

  • Factors that predict financial wellbeing and financial fragility.  
  • Work,  financial behaviours and wellbeing.  
  • Testing  positive psychology interventions specifically developed for the financial behaviour domain. 

In terms of research methods,  I use a variety of methodological approaches, including quantitative, qualitative and theoretical, and keen to use big data techniques.  

Further details about me are available here: Dr Rona Hart 

Please get in touch with me to discuss your application:

Dr Theodoros Karapanagiotidis (Cognitive Psychology; Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience) 

Exploring Brain Function & Ongoing Experience  

**This studentship has guaranteed funding

My lab's research focuses on the neural mechanisms supporting ongoing conscious experience, as well as the functional hierarchy of the human brain, information flow, neural trait-state interactions, and their associations with behaviour and dispositional traits. Some key questions include, for example: How do thoughts relate to brain functioning and well-being? How do neural signals propagate across the brain, and how might this be associated with different cognitive functions? How do neural priors and dynamics relate to behaviour, task performance, and learning? We address these questions using multiple neuroimaging modalities (i.e., structural, functional, and diffusion MRI, TMS, and E/MEG) and analysis techniques (i.e., machine learning algorithms). 

Projects typically involve acquiring data from cohorts of neurotypical adults and include multiple elements, such as behavioural testing, neuroimaging, programming, and methods development. Additionally, we have a keen interest in conducting studies on clinical populations with mental health disorders, aiming to translate theoretical and computational findings into clinical practice, which, with the use of Artificial Intelligence, has the potential to improve the quality of life for patients. 

I would also be very happy to discuss any ideas that align with the above objectives, so please feel free to get in touch!  

Dr Eisuke Koya (Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience; Sussex Neuroscience)

Changes in food desirability and the impact of food cues 

Stimuli or ‘cues’ associated with food, such as fast-food signs and advertisements powerfully control our behavioural and emotional responses. For example, encountering the ‘Golden Arches’ may make one crave for a hamburger and seek it out. However, our responses to food cues are also controlled by the desirability of food. Thus, we may react less to the Golden Arches after consuming several hamburgers and feel sated, i.e. when the rewarding value of food is devalued. Recently, we found that mice react less to sucrose cues following its excessive consumption (Sieburg et al., 2019), as observed by reduced sucrose seeking behaviour. This reduction was also associated with reduced neuronal activity in the nucleus accumbens, a brain structure that is important for reward. But which brain areas might coordinate these changes in nucleus accumbens activity and the diminished reactivity to food cues? The aim of this project is to reveal the wider brain circuitry linked to the nucleus accumbens that interprets changes in the desirability of food and the resulting decreased impact of food cues. A combination of techniques such as immunohistochemistry and state-of-the-art in vivo neuroscience methods, such as fibre photometry and optogenetics will be used here to reveal these mechanisms. 


Sieburg MC, Ziminski JJ, Margetts-Smith G, Reeve HM, Brebner LS, Crombag HS, Koya E. Reward Devaluation Attenuates Cue-Evoked Sucrose Seeking and Is Associated with the Elimination of Excitability Differences between Ensemble and Non-ensemble Neurons in the Nucleus Accumbens. eNeuro. 2019 Dec 10;6(6):ENEURO.0338-19.2019. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0338-19.2019. PMID: 31699890; PMCID: PMC6905639. 

Dr Kathryn Lester (Developmental and Clinical Psychology) 

School Absenteeism and Emotionally-Based School Avoidance  

The aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic has created a perfect storm for children’s school attendance, with growing circumstantial evidence for a rise in emotionally-based school avoidance (EBSA). While absence rates have increased and show no signs of returning to pre-pandemic levels, accessing psychosocial interventions for EBSA has become increasingly difficult due to access bottlenecks in specialist mental health care settings. We have developed and piloted ISAAC, our Intervention for School Anxiety and Avoidance ISAAC is a community-based, brief, blended parent-led intervention that comprises online psychoeducation modules supported by coaching from a “non-specialist”. Promising early results indicate that ISAAC is agreeable to parents, feasible to deliver, and shows potential to significantly reduce absenteeism and school-related anxiety (McDonald et al, in prep). 

The successful student would have the opportunity to develop and refine the intervention further. Possible research avenues could include (but are not limited to): developing intervention content targeted at groups at especially high-risk of EBSA (e.g. families with children with SEND/neurodevelopmental disorders, children from low-income families, children experiencing the transition to secondary school); exploring peer-led coaching models, developing related content for school staff. Following intervention refinement there may also be the possibility of moving to a feasibility pilot trial. 

Relevant publications: 

Teacher Mental Health and Wellbeing  

More work is needed to better understand the contributory factors to (poor) teacher mental health and wellbeing and to determine the impact of teacher mental health on outcomes like school climate, teaching quality, pupil attainment, classroom behaviour and pupil social-emotional development. There is some limited existing research which is consistent with the possibility that when teachers experience poorer wellbeing and lower job satisfaction, then this can trickle-down to adversely impact on pupil’s performance.  

The successful student would have the opportunity to develop a new line of research in this area under the guidance of the supervisors. Currently, there is only limited research which has determined which contributory factors may be ‘modifiable’ and thus potential targets for low intensity, resource-efficient, scalable interventions for teachers. More research is also needed to establish evidence consistent with a possible causal relationship between teacher mental health and a range of academic, social-emotional/cognitive pupil outcomes, and which investigates the possible mechanisms through which teacher mental health could impact on pupil outcomes. This research could employ a range of methods/approaches including: systematic review/meta-analysis, observational/ethnographic methods, qualitative surveys/interviews, quantitative surveys, and person-centred intervention development. 

Relevant publications:  

These projects would suit a student interested in: 

  • applied developmental, educational and clinical psychology research 
  • adult and/or child mental health 
  • intervention development  

The student should: 

  • have some experience of/willingness to use mixed methods, 
  • have strong academic writing, organisational and interpersonal skills 
  •  be prepared to embrace the messiness of conducting research with families and schools. 

Interested candidates are encouraged to contact Kathryn Lester ( to discuss their application. 

Dr Dominique Makowski (Cognitive Psychology; Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience)  

How affective and embodied processes shape our conscious and unconscious experience of reality? A PhD at the Reality Bending Lab  

**This studentship has guaranteed funding

The Reality Bending Lab researches reality perception, fake news, illusions, fiction, deception, altered states of consciousness, self-control and more, by recording signals from the body (ECG, EDA…) and the brain (EEG). We analyse data using advanced computational modelling (Bayesian stats, chaos theory, mixed models…), and we also develop open-source tools and software to improve neuropsychological science.  

Examples of research questions that will be pursued in this PhD include:  

  • How do we know what is real? And what does it change? Can fiction help us regulate one’s emotions?   
  • How is our experience of reality shaped (consciously and unconsciously) by bodily signals and emotions? What’s the role of interoception in cognition and consciousness?  

More examples of research projects at:   

Technical skills that you will master during the PhD typically include:  

  • Neuroimaging and Physiology: EEG and bodily signals recording and analysis (EDA, ECG, …)  
  • Advanced statistics and data science (mixed models, Bayesian stats, …)  
  • Programming (Python, R, Julia)  
  • Scientific communication and popularization  

 More details and info about funding opportunities at: 

Dr Alexa Morcom (Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology, Sussex Neuroscience)

Selective recollection in ageing

People are able to recall unique events from the brain’s vast store of overlapping experiences. We are interested in how memories are selected from this store for retrieval, and how these abilities evolve in ageing. We use anatomically precise fMRI and time-resolved EEG brain imaging as well as behavioural methods in humans, combining traditional with multivariate and model-based analytic techniques (see profile and publications here e.g. 1-2].

In this project you will investigate how people’s goals allow them to select and shape memory retrieval. Some key questions are whether older adults make greater use of external memory cues and their prior knowledge to support recollection. Understanding these trade-offs can help us to understand the kinds of cues that best support memory in later life. You will have the opportunity to learn advanced brain imaging techniques and apply them to tasks designed to understand memory control. You will explore when and how control dynamically modifies retrieved representations in memory brain networks.


1.           Morcom, A. M. Mind Over Memory: Cuing the Aging Brain. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 25, (2016).

2.           Moccia, A. & Morcom, A. M. Cue overlap supports pre-retrieval selection in episodic memory: ERP evidence. Cogn. Affect. Behav. Neurosci. 22, 492–508 (2021).

Dr Michael Passaportis (Social and Applied Psychology)  

Social Identity and Thriving in Sport  
Co-supervisor: Dr Matthew Easterbrook 

**This studentship has guaranteed funding

Elite sport performers encounter various stressors as part of their involvement in competitive sport. Their ability to respond effectively to these demands is likely to dictate how well they function in their sporting roles and, ultimately, whether they thrive or merely survive. Thriving, defined by Brown and colleagues (2017, p. 168) as the joint experience of development and success, is achieved through an individuals perceived high-level of performance and experience of a high-level of well-being. Scholars have begun to explore the influence that an athlete’s sporting environment has on their performance and well-being. Indeed, these environments are increasingly characterised as complex, turbulent, and volatile (Wagstaff, 2016), with a diverse range of social agents (e.g., coaches, support staff) intersecting to support the development, preparation, and performance of athletes (Arnold et al., 2019). Recently, Passaportis et al. (2022) illuminated the importance of providing athletes opportunities to develop deep and meaningful interpersonal relationships with these social agents that are founded on openness, understanding, and trust. Yet, despite the apparent influence of these interpersonal connections to athlete well-being and performance, the role of social identity on athlete thriving has yet to been explored. Social identity refers to the ways that people's self-concepts are based on their membership in social groups (Tajfel, 1978), and the social identity approach in sport emphasizes the impact that these social group memberships have on the behaviour, cognition, and emotion of athletes (Haslam et al., 2020; Rees et al., 2015) Therefore, broadly speaking, the aim of this PhD is to explore the role that social identity in sport might play in fostering athlete thriving.

Given that research on this topic is in its infancy, there is scope to shape this research to match your interests. 

Contact Dr Passaportis to discuss this project  

Dr Giulia Poerio (Cognitive Psychology; Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience)  

Switching off when you’re still plugged in? Understanding sleep and sensory sensitivity  

**This studentship has guaranteed funding

To sleep, we must ‘switch off’ or at least substantially dial down our processing of the external world. This ability to gate sensory information is vital for initiating, maintaining, and obtaining restful sleep. Poor sleepers appear to be more ‘plugged in’ to the external world: they are more permeable to sensory stimuli before and during sleep. But are poor sleepers more sensitive to sensory information in general (not just at bedtime)? Does poor sleep exacerbate sensory sensitivities and vice versa? What are the neurophysiological mechanisms linking sensory sensitivity to sleep disturbances? These are some of the unanswered questions you’d be tackling during your PhD to help us understand how sleep disturbances are caused/maintained and to inform sensory-based sleep interventions.

This project will suit a candidate interested in sleep and mental health, with a background in psychology/cognitive neuroscience. Candidates should have skills in statistics and ideally experience with designing/programming experiments. Please reach out to me to discuss the project/your proposal!

As a researcher in my lab, you’ll be joining at an exciting time – we are starting a large £1million project on Sleep and Mental Health. There will be opportunities to engage with this wider research programme and team of research collaborators. 

Please contact Dr Poerio to discuss this project further:  

Dr Anna Rabinovich (Social and Applied Psychology)

Social psychology of cooperation around shared environmental resources and sustainability 

My research focuses on attitude and behaviour change, primarily in the area of environmental sustainability and cooperation. I approach this challenge from the perspective of group processes and communication, often as part of interdisciplinary collaborations. For example, I’ve been conducting projects on: 

I welcome PhD students who are interested in sustainability, cooperation, group processes, attitude and behaviour change, social influence, understanding and perception of science, and communication. If you have an idea for a PhD project in any of these areas, please don’t hesitate to get in touch, and I’ll be happy to work with you on shaping the project.  

Dr Charlotte Rae (Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience; Cognitive Psychology)

How does a 4 day working week change mind, brain, and body?
Possible Co-Supervisors: Dan Campbell-Meiklejohn (Psychology), Jessica Eccles (BSMS), Emma Russell (Business School)

**This project has guaranteed funding

I am a cognitive neuroscientist, specialising in mind-brain-body interactions, and the biological basis of wellbeing.

I am interested in how lifestyle - in particular, working patterns and employment - affects mental health, cognition, and brain function. Recently, we began a major project on the 4 day working week, examining how workplace performance, mental health, sleep, and brain function change when employees in local businesses switch from working full-time to working a 4 day week. We have been using occupational psychology assessments, wellbeing questionnaires, actigraphy sleep watches, and structural and functional MRI brain scanning to measure the scope and scale of the psychological changes that take place when reducing time at work with no loss of salary.

I would be delighted to receive applications from students who are interested in understanding how a 4 day working week changes mind, brain, and body.

You can read more about our work on the lab website, and on our Sussex 4 Day Week study project website

Contact Dr Charlotte Rae prior to submitting an application

Dr Pablo Romero Sanchiz (Developmental and Clinical Psychology)

Biopsychosocial mechanisms of PTSD and addictions

**This project has guaranteed funding

Trauma exposure and addictions have a well-established connection, but the underlying mechanisms remain unknown. Cue exposure (or cue reactivity) methodology is an experimental procedure commonly used to study several psychopathological behaviours and disorders, particularly addictions and trauma. Furthermore, this methodology can be combined with other approaches such as fMRI, psychophysiology equipment (BIOPAC MP160), observational tools (Noldus Observer XT) or face-recognition software (Noldus Face Reader) to assess how addictions and trauma are linked at different levels.

Interested candidates are encouraged to contact Dr Pablo Romero-Sanchiz:

Relevant publications:

  • DeGrace, S., Romero-Sanchiz, P., […]. & Stewart, S. H. (2023). Do trauma cue exposure and/or PTSD symptom severity intensify selective approach bias toward cannabis cues in regular cannabis users with trauma histories? Behaviour Research and Therapy, 104387. to an external site.
  • Atasoy, P., […], Romero-Sanchiz, P., & Stewart, S. H. (2023). Cannabis Coping Motives Might Mediate the Association Between PTSD Symptom Severity and Trauma Cue–Elicited Cannabis Craving. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction.
  • Romero-Sanchiz, P., […], & Stewart, S. H. (2021). Craving and emotional responses to trauma and cannabis cues in trauma-exposed cannabis users: Influence of PTSD symptom severity. Addictive Behaviors125, 107126. to an external site.

Prof Julia Simner (Cognitive Psychology; Individual Differences) 

Neurodiversity in the 5 senses: Special populations with sensory differences

Julia Simner is a psychology professor who works with special (rare) populations who experience the 5 senses in remarkable ways. The sensory differences she studies include: synaesthesia (a type of ‘mering of the senses’), misophonia (unusual aversion to everyday sounds like chewing, and tapping), sensory sensitivities (over- or under-responding to the senses), aphantasia (absence of visual mental imagery, so a 'blind mind's eye'), dysikonesia (absence of multisensory imagery), and subgroups within autism (notably, savantism and objectophilia). These ostensibly disparate groups are united by the fact they have differences in their 5 senses, accompanied by altered brain structure and function. In her research she asks 3 broad questions: How do we process the sensory world? How do special brains do this in special ways (i.e., people with sensory differences)? And how might we support adults and children with sensory differences?  

I am open to co-supervision arrangements with other Sussex faculty, such as Jamie Ward, Sophie Forster, Giulia Poerio etc. My research pages give more information on misophonia ( and synaesthesia (

Dr Alice Skelton (Developmental Psychology)

Nature and Development Lab – is nature good for babies?

**This project has guaranteed funding

Whilst it is well established that nature is good for adults and children in terms of wellbeing, health, and learning, there is very little evidence of the impact of exposure to nature in infancy on development and outcomes in later life, or on the mechanisms that might underlie these benefits. 

Part of this PhD will aim to quantify what the experience of natural environments of infants is and make predictions as to how this would impact cognition and perception in development. Understanding what the visual experience of infants actually is through use of methods such as Baby Head Cams or wearable light sensors can help shed light on what the relationship is between what infants’ experience and how that impacts their cognition and perception.

There is scope to tackle this programme of research from different areas and methods. For example, investigating infant sensitivity to natural scene statistics and how their immature visual system might impact perception; looking at if babies experience lower stress and higher wellbeing in natural than urban environments; how infants integrate information across different senses; or if babies attend and learn better when exposed to nature or natural statistics.   

You can see my profile here Dr Alice Skelton. Please get in touch with to talk about your application.

Dr Ediz Sohoglu (Cognitive Psychology)

Predictive brain mechanisms supporting speech perception

Research in my group is focussed on revealing the neural basis of auditory perception. Auditory neuroscience is a fascinating area of research, not least because the two sensory signals that mark us out as a human species – speech and music – are perceived primarily through the auditory system. 

Much of my research is motivated by the influential idea of predictive coding. That is, rather than passively processing auditory input, the brain actively generates predictions for what it might hear next. While there is broad consensus that prediction (of some kind) supports perception, the underlying neural mechanisms remain unknown.  

I am interested in supervising PhD projects addressing this issue in the context of speech processing. I have expertise in EEG and our facilities include a 128-channel system with active electrodes. I am also an advocate of modern (multivariate) analysis methods to reveal neural processes that traditional methods cannot detect. This opens new avenues for investigation with possible questions like: How are predictions and sensory input combined in auditory cortex? What is the relationship between prediction and other cognitive processes such as attention? How are predictions updated over time to support longer-term perceptual learning?  

You can read more about our work at our lab website. Please get in touch with me by email initially to discuss your application:  

Dr Ellen Thompson (Developmental and Clinical Psychology)

Co-supervisors: Kathryn Lester & Faith Matchum
The development and consequences of symptoms of pain and common mental health problems.

**This project has guaranteed funding 

Chronic pain, defined as persistent or recurrent pain lasting three months or more, is a global health concern affecting an estimated 20% of the world population. Pain symptoms are very common in early life and strongly associated with future psychiatric morbidity, especially depression, and long-term negative health, education, and employment outcomes. Notably, is it well established that a majority of individuals who experience lasting pain symptoms also go on to experience symptoms of depression, however, less is known about why some individuals are more likely to develop poorer mental health outcomes than other.

This PhD project will leverage existing data from population studies to investigate the predictors, mechanisms and outcomes involved in the development of symptoms of pain and anxiety and depression. Data will be analysed in large pre-existing studies with pain and mental health data spanning childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood (e.g., the Twin Early Development Study, The Québec Newborn Twin Study).

Supervisors and training

This is an exciting opportunity to join a multi-disciplinary project spanning psychology, epidemiology, and behavioural genetics. We welcome applicants that are interested in developing their own ideas within this area. Further, the PhD will include interdisciplinary training in developmental psychopathology, epidemiology, and analysis of genetically sensitive large longitudinal data sets. 


Battaglia, M., Garon-Carrier, G., Brendgen, M., Feng, B., Dionne, G., Vitaro, F., … Boivin, M. (2020). Trajectories of pain and anxiety in a longitudinal cohort of adolescent twins. Depression and Anxiety, 37(5), 475–484.

Vinall, J., Pavlova, M., Asmundson, G. J., Rasic, N., & Noel, M. (2016). Mental Health Comorbidities in Pediatric Chronic Pain: A Narrative Review of Epidemiology, Models, Neurobiological Mechanisms and Treatment. Children (Basel, Switzerland), 3(4), 40.

Contact Ellen Thompson for an informal discussion prior to application:

Prof Ayse K. Uskul (Social and Applied Psychology)

The Role of Honor in Interpersonal and Intergroup Processes

**This project has guaranteed funding

In my research, I aim to understand psychological processes as embedded within social, cultural, and economic contexts. Under this broad umbrella, I have been investigating the role of honor values and concerns in a variety of psychological processes including processes at the intrapersonal (e.g., emotions), interpersonal (e.g., forgiveness), and intergroup (e.g., acculturation) levels. I would welcome PhD proposals that are built around questions concerning the role played by honor values or concerns in interpersonal or intergroup process, ideally using a comparative perspective. Topics can include interpersonal processes such as compromise, apologies, forgiveness or intergroup processes such as acculturation or intergroup negotiations as long as they make novel (methodological and/or theoretical) contributions to relevant existing literatures. I would also be keen to supervise projects that are designed to investigate the historical evolution of the honor construct and have a comparative element. Finally, projects that integrate the study of different cultural logics (e.g., face, dignity, honor) or different cultural constructs (e.g., gheirat vs. honor) would also be welcome. I am open to supervising students from any part of the world with strong training in statistical skills and willingness to think across interdisciplinary boundaries, collaborate in a large research team and engage in open science practices.

Professor Ayse Uskul

Dr Mariko Visserman (Social and Applied Psychology) 

Maintaining fulfilling and thriving romantic relationships  

**This project has guaranteed funding and is advertised on our Prospectus (under Funding and fees). Important: Due to maternity leave, the closing date is 10 May 2024. Interviews will take place sometime June 2024 and the PhD student’s anticipated start date is between September and December 2024.** 

My research focuses on how romantic relationships can be fulfilling and how relationship partners can thrive. Maintaining a satisfying relationship can be challenging and one of the major challenges I focus on is partners having different goals, needs, or preferences. To resolve such conflicts, people make sacrifices, small and large. In this context, my research broadly focuses on positive and protective processes, such as partners’ gratitude and responsiveness toward each other, balancing sacrificing with pursuing one’s own goals and needs, and capitalizing on these costly relationship investments by reaping opportunities for personal growth. See my Sussex profile and personal website for further elaboration on my research interests.  

Applications are welcomed from those whose research interests broadly align with the above topics. The prospective PhD student will play a vital role in conducting an experience sampling study to assess romantic couples’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours in their daily lives. Additionally, the student will be able to use existing data of romantic couples and will be encouraged to conduct experimental research. 

Applicants should get in touch well before the deadline to discuss their research ideas and to gain further information on existing data sets that could be used in this PhD project. 

Prof Jamie Ward (Cognitive Psychology) 

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. 

  • 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). 
  • 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.  

Prof Nicola Yuill (Developmental and Clinical Psychology) 

Professor Nicola Yuill: Autism, social interaction, technology  

I supervise research particularly in the area of autism and technology/ environment design that might support more satisfactory communication and interaction for autistic and neurotypical people. Much of my work focuses on children, and those with learning disability and/or who may not use spoken communication. I also have an interest in participatory work with these groups, particularly co-creation of digital stories to support better education, social and healthcare.  

I am in the Developmental Psychology research group.