Dept of Psychological Sciences | Study here | ESRC PhD Studentship:Visual attention during parent-child interaction
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ESRC DTP co-funded research studentship: Quantifying the microdynamics of visual attention during parent-child interaction

Applications are now closed - project details are for reference only.

Principal supervisor: Dr Tim Smith, Birkbeck, University of London, UK

Secondary supervisors: Dr Atsushi Senju, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck, University of London, UK
Dr. Tim Holmes, Acuity Intelligence Ltd., Reading, UK.

The Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD), Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, and Acuity Intelligence Ltd, are pleased to offer a full scholarship for a 3-year (or 1+3 year) UCL, Bloomsbury and East London Doctoral Training Partnership collaborative PhD studentship. The studentship will cover course fees at the usual level for UK and EU studentships and a stipend in accord with research council rates.

Project overview

  • An important question about human social development is the role of the postnatal environment and specifically the role of input from parents and caregivers which is essential for the infant to learn about the social world. Yet, experimental quantification of the postnatal environment and how infants process real-world social situations has so far been impossible in human studies. One of the most promising ways to study the effects of the postnatal environment is through the use of head-mounted eye tracking: recording the unconstrained eye movements of an infant and their caregiver during dyadic naturalistic interaction. In combination with Acuity Intelligence Ltd and academic leaders in active vision (Dr. Tim J. Smith) and developmental social cognition (Dr. Atsushi Senju) the proposed studentship will tackle the challenge of applying head-mounted eye tracking to quantifying and understanding naturalistic social attention during infancy. Determining subtle behavioural variations in social cognition will lead to a better understanding of typical and atypical social development, which will provide the foundation for future behaviour interventions and the quantification of their efficacy using unintrusive objective measures of behaviour.

    The successful PhD candidate will investigate naturalistic dyadic gaze behaviour in parent-child interactions to investigate:

    • the parental social behaviours that elicit infant social gaze (e.g.face looks, mutual gaze, joint attention and gaze following)
    • how these behaviours can be quantified, visualised and analysed in an efficient and economical manner
    • and the potential for behavioural intervention to alter parent behaviour and elicit more social gaze from the infant, providing the groundwork for subsequent interventions for children with the potential for atypical social development.
    This project will involve the gathering of new developmental data as well as secondary data analysis and software/analysis tools development.


Essential candidate criteria - candidates must meet all of these

    Candidates must meet all the essential criteria:

    1. Be graduates in experimental psychology or related subjects with a 2:1 or First class degree.
    2. Students with a relevant Masters degree are encouraged to apply.
    3. Have experience working with young children ideally in a research context.
    4. Advanced statistical or technical skills and experience of at least one programming language.
    5. Experience with visual attention research and eye tracking. An interest in cognitive and social development.

How to apply

Applicants must complete and submit an online admissions PhD application, via the admissions portal. You will be asked for the names of two referees who will be contacted by Birkbeck.

Instead of providing a research proposal please upload a cover letter (1-2 pages) which answers the following questions:

  • What is your theoretical background that has informed your interest in this project?
  • Describe how you meet all the essential criteria above including relevant technical, practical and research experience.
  • Give an example of a research question that you have examined before now and the way(s) in which it did/could have informed psychological theories.

Please highlight clearly in your application that you are applying for the ESRC DTP Collaborative studentship with Dr Tim Smith.

Applications are now closed.
Interviews will be conducted in February 2017.

Further information

Questions about this project: please email Dr. Tim Smith .
Questions about the application process: please contact the Departmental Administrator: Ida Akhtar (email: telephone: +44(0) 207 631 6535).