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Psychology academics awarded over £3 million in research grants

Four academics have recently been awarded prestigious funding for research on topics ranging from perception to auditory selective attention.

Dr Clare Press, Professor Fred Dick, Professor Martin Eimer and Professor Ulrike Hahn, from Birkbeck’s Department of Psychology, have individually recently received funding for pioneering research into a range of topics.

Professor Mike Oaksford, Professor of Psychology and Department Head of Psychological Sciences, commented: “Research grants are the lifeblood of our research and this is a particularly impressive series of awards that will sustain multiple research groups for some years laying the foundation for another strong performance in the next research excellent framework (REF). Massive congratulations to all involved!”

The research projects:

Dr Clare Press, Reader in Psychology
Research: Resolving the Perceptual Prediction Paradox – Conflicted Prediction
Grant: €2 million from the European Research Council – Consolidator Grant
Duration of study: 5 years
More information: Our sensory receptors are bombarded with noisy, continuous streams of information. From these streams, our brains must construct experiences for the individual that accurately reflect what is really there, and that especially highlight things that have changed. Across the last few decades, the processes proposed to allow us to achieve one of those requirements of perception would directly act against achieving the other. This grant aims to resolve this paradox and inform how we render our experiences as both accurate and informative. 

Dr Clare Press commented: “It goes without saying that this grant is fantastic news. It is significant funding for my dream project, and I am excited to now be in a position to conduct it. I would like to thank my collaborators group and friends for all their help throughout the process and with the work leading up to it.”

Professor Fred Dick, Professor of Auditory Cognitive Neuroscience
Research: Dimension-based auditory selective attention
Grant: £366,167 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health
Duration of study: 5 years
More information: The ability to listen selectively in everyday environments like noisy restaurants, classrooms, and workplaces is essential to communication. Its disruption contributes to significant quality of life challenges in many communication, developmental, neurological, and psychiatric disorders. The project examines the mechanisms underlying human adult listeners’ ability to direct attention to specific dimensions of sound.
Researchers: Lori Holt and Barbara Shinn-Cunningham, Carnegie Mellon; Fred Dick and Adam Tierney, Birkbeck.

Research: Incidental learning across statistically-structured input in active tasks
Grant: $186,554 from the National Science Foundation (NSF) Science of Learning programme
Duration of study: 3 years
More information: In this project, we look at how the acquisition of new auditory categories - from both speech and new 'alien' sounds - interacts with the statistics of the auditory environment, and how we use those categories. In particular, the project evaluates how we build up expectations and potentially 'dimension-selective' attention to the sound properties that are the most useful in learning categories, and in perceiving them in challenging auditory environments.
Researchers: Lori Holt, Carnegie Mellon and Fred Dick, co-Pls, Edmund Lalor, University of Rochester and Trinity College Dublin, co-investigator.

Professor Dick said: “It is exciting to start these two projects on auditory learning, plasticity, and attention that build on both long-term and new international scientific collaborations."

Professor Martin Eimer, Professor of Psychology
Research: Uncovering mechanisms of attentional control by tracking preparatory states in real time
Grant: £679,467 from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Duration of study: 3 years
More information: Our perception of the outside world, and the way that we interact with external objects and events, is not just determined by incoming sensory information, but also by our expectations and intentions. Preparation is one of the most important aspects of human cognition - it shapes our conscious experience and guides our interactions with the world. However, we still know very little about how we prepare for upcoming tasks. This project will measure preparatory states directly, while they occur. New insights into the nature of preparatory states and how these states determine what we attend to and when has clear practical implications for areas as diverse as parenting, education, workplace design, and economic decision making, and may also offer new ways of investigating deficits of attentional control, such as ADHD.  

Professor Eimer said: “I was obviously delighted and pleased to obtain funding for this research project, which will be at the centre of my lab’s ongoing research on selective attention for the next few years.”

Professor Ulrike Hahn, Professor of Psychology
Research: Normative vs. Descriptive Accounts in the Philosophy and Psychology of Reasoning and Argumentation: Tension or Productive Interplay?
Grant: From the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation)
Duration of study: 24 months
Researchers: Professor Dr. Ulrike Hahn, Birkbeck College; Professor Dr. Stephan Hartmann, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München.

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