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2 fully funded 4-year PhD Demonstrator Studentships, Department of Psychology, IoPPN

Start date

1st October 2023


2 fully funded 4-year PhD Demonstrator Studentships, Department of Psychology, IoPPN



Predicting mental states of diverse others: improving models of outgroup minds

Theory of mind; intergroup; mind-space; social cognition

Understanding those who differ from us is an essential part of reducing social polarisation. Humans tend to characterise outgroup members as having less complex mental states (e.g. Cortes et al., 2005) which acts as a barrier to understanding them. However, it is unclear how these more simplistic models of outgroup minds develop, are maintained, and – crucially – how they can be corrected. This project will use the ‘Mind-space’ framework (Conway et al., 2019), according to which minds are mentally represented along multiple dimensions (e.g., intelligence, recklessness, suspiciousness, etc.), to test how adults and children think about the minds of others who differ from themselves in a range of ways. Key measures include the accuracy with which one can locate an in- versus out-group target in mind-space; the effort one is willing to expend to optimise that location accuracy; the accuracy of mental state inferences made on the basis of that location; and the extent to which one updates mind-space location information, and subsequent mental state inferences, following feedback. Incorporating developmental samples will allow us to determine the developmental trajectory of intergroup differences in these processes. Gamified tasks will be used in which the targets are competing or cooperating with participants, testing the effect of threat versus opportunity contexts on these measures. The game environment will also allow us to explore how participants represent entirely new minds (e.g. fictional, non-human, alien, etc.) as a model for encountering new outgroup members.

 References: Cortes, B. P., Demoulin, S., Rodriguez, R. T., Rodriguez, A. P., & Leyens, J. P. (2005). Infrahumanization or familiarity? Attribution of uniquely human emotions to the self, the ingroup, and the outgroup. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 31(2), 243–253. Conway, J. R., Catmur, C. & Bird, G. (2019). Understanding individual differences in theory of mind via representation of minds, not mental states. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 26, 798–812.



Understanding Diverse Life Outcomes in Autism: How Autistic People Leverage Psychological Strengths

 Autism; Neurodiversity; Mental Health; Cognitive Psychology

Autistic people vary widely in their life outcomes. Some autistic people engage in ‘compensatory strategies’ to disguise their autistic characteristics, with mixed consequences for their mental health, quality of life, and access to diagnosis and support. These strategies may include, for example, mimicking the social behaviour of others to give the appearance of being non-autistic. And yet, there are two major gaps in knowledge on compensation in autism. First, little is known about how autistic people engage in compensatory strategies, that is, the associated psychological and behavioural processes. Second, it is unclear why autistic people differ so widely in the effectiveness and thus the consequences of their strategies for various life outcomes. One under-researched possibility is that autistic people engage in compensatory strategies by leveraging their psychological strengths (e.g., in detail processing, memory, amongst others). As such, individual differences in these strengths, alongside other psychological processes, may contribute to autistic people’s diverse life outcomes. This innovative project will take an interdisciplinary approach–including cognitive psychology, qualitative and participatory methods–to investigate 1) how autistic people leverage multifaceted psychological strengths to engage in compensatory strategies, and 2) the consequences for various life outcomes (e.g., mental health, quality of life, receiving a diagnosis).  Data will be collected through a combination of online and in-person studies. Importantly, autistic people will be meaningfully involved in shaping the research design. Ultimately, this research will inform much-needed understanding of compensation in autism, towards promoting positive life outcomes and timely diagnosis and support for autistic people.



Budding adolescents – Predictors and mental health consequences of early adolescent cannabis use

Cannabis; Substance use disorder; Adolescence; Mental health; Behavioural difficulties

Background: There is growing concern about the consequences of adolescent cannabis use, with early use associated with later psychosis, addiction, and behavioural difficulties. In the UK, 20% of 15-year-olds have used cannabis in the past year. However, most research has focused on adolescents aged >16 years (Lawn et al., 2022). It is likely that cannabis-related harm falls disproportionately on those who initiate use at an early age. At least 2% of 13-year-olds in England and Wales have used cannabis in the last month (NHS Digital, 2021); yet the reasons for and impact of their cannabis use on their current mental health are grossly understudied.

Proposal: Study 1 (1st year): Systematic review of research investigating predictors of and consequences of <16-year-old cannabis use, including conduct disorder.

Study 2 (1st and 2nd year): Secondary analysis of ABCD data. Test: (1) the personality, sociodemographic and cognitive & behavioural predictors of early onset cannabis use; (2) the impact of early cannabis use on mental health, and moderating vulnerabilities.

Study 3 (2nd year): Novel qualitative study: semi-structured interviews with London-based <16-year-olds who regularly use cannabis (n=20) and their parents/carers (n=20). Study 4 (2nd and 3rd year): Novel observational, longitudinal (1-year), online study with purposively sampled <16-year-olds who either regularly use cannabis (n=100) or are controls (never users) (n=100).


PROJECT 4 - ML04: 

Exploring the relevance of Mayer’s Minority Stress Model (2003) for contemporary psychotherapeutic practice

Minority stress, diversity, psychotherapy, training, intersectionality

 The Minority Stress Model (MSM; Mayer, 2003) outlines how an environment of stigma, prejudice, and discrimination can be a catalyst of poor mental health. Notably, however, the MSM has, to date, been used predominantly to understand the experiences of sexual minorities, and research exploring its utility to understand the experiences of other minoritised groups (e.g., Botha & Frost, 2020) remains scarce. Furthermore, whilst the importance of a minority-stress-informed therapeutic approach has been emphasised by a variety of reputable therapists and therapeutic supervisors (e.g., Cousins, 2019; Taylor, 2021; Turner, 2021), many in the therapeutic community still criticise the lack of education regarding holistic trauma-informed practice. The proposed project aims to: 1. systematically review the current state of the literature on the MSM with a particular focus on diverse and intersectional identities, identify gaps, and evaluate its usefulness for therapeutic practice, 2. conduct focus groups with practitioners, training providers, and clients to identify their needs regarding the enhancement of minority-stress/trauma-informed therapeutic practice, and 3. produce a toolkit for practitioners, cocreated with relevant stakeholders, to support their assessment and treatment planning when working with diverse client groups experiencing minority stress.



Less vision, different decision? The role of visual processing in decision making.

Vision; Decision Making; Information Search; Information Processing; Choice Architecture

We can improve judgements and decisions by understanding how people search for information. Despite much research in this area, a consistent feature has been presenting visual information. Consequently, many recommendations for improving choice architecture focus on visual input, such as how tables, graphs or icon arrays can improve decisions by facilitating comparison or pattern recognition. This visual focus of the choice architecture literature means recommendations neglect people with vision impairments and situations when it is not possible to present visual information(e.g., the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted moves towards video conferencing and telephone appointments). Such factors and settings limit or eliminate the ability to inform decisions via visual information. Yet, this large category of decisions is rarely investigated.

This project will extend research in judgement and decision-making by understanding search and decision processes when visual limitations exist. We will develop and test non-visual choice architecture interventions.  Such interventions will be designed to impact situations when visual input is limited and improve accessibility for individuals with vision impairment.  Using methods from experimental cognitive psychology, the initial studies will examine the role of vision in multi-attribute choice. This will include manipulating the mode of information acquisition (e.g., visual vs. auditory) and visual function (e.g., acuity, contrast) to determine how choices and decision processes alter when visual information is absent or degraded. Lessons from these studies will inform proposals for successful choice architectures that do not rely on visual presentation of information, which will be tested with vision-impaired individuals and other community samples.


The role of alexithymia and interoception in understanding the relationship between autism and symptoms of disordered eating

Autism; eating disorders; alexithymia; interoception; anxiety

Autistic adults are at increased risk of developing eating disorders (ED) (Sedgewick et al, 2020). One potential mechanism that might explain this elevated risk is alexithymia, a difficulty in identifying and verbalizing one’s emotions. Alexithymia is highly prevalent in both autism and eating disorders populations (Westwood et al, 2017; Kinnaird, et al, 2019). There is evidence that alexithymia mediates the relationship between autism and eating disorder psychopathology (Vuillier et al, 2020; Moseley et al, 2023). Deficits in alexithymia are related to differences in interoception – the neural perception of bodily sensations (Brewer et al, 2016). Therefore, this project will investigate the role of alexithymia and interoception in the relationship between autism and eating disorders and assess if eating disorders symptoms can be reduced by improving interoception. 

Proposal: Study 1 (1st year): Systematic review of research investigating the mediating role of alexithymia and interoception in the relationship between autism and eating disorders. Following this, we will set up a small advisory group consisting of autistic adults to ensure a user-led approach to the remaining research studies. 

Study 2 (1st and 2nd year): Lab based study to examine the mediating role of physiological measures (HRV, RSA), interoception and alexithymia in the relationship between autism and symptoms of disordered eating. 

Study 3 (2nd and 3rd year): Proof-of-concept trail of a novel therapy targeting interoception in reducing symptoms of disordered eating in autistic adults.


Project 1 code CC01

1st supervisor Dr Caroline Catmur:

2nd supervisor Dr Salim Hashmi

Project 2 code RH02

1st supervisor Dr Rosa Hoekstra

2nd supervisor Dr Lucy Livingston:

Project 3 code WL03

1st supervisor Dr Will Lawn:

2nd supervisor Dr Maria Livanou

Project 4 code ML04

1st supervisor Dr Maria Livanou:

2nd supervisor Dr Julia Ouzia

Project 5 code OR05

1st supervisor Dr Oliver Runswick:

2nd supervisor Dr Claire Heard

Project 6 code ED06

1st supervisor Dr Eleanor Dommett

2nd supervisor Dr James Findon:

Entry requirements

Applicants should have (or be expected to obtain) a Bachelors degree with 2:1 honours (or Overseas equivalent). A 2:2 degree may be considered only where applicants also offer a Masters with Merit.

Award types and eligibility

The Demonstrator Studentships lasts for 4 years. Successful applicants will be registered for a PhD for 4 years, with fees fully funded by the faculty for Home applicants. Overseas applicants would be required to self-fund the difference. Demonstrator students will receive a stipend for the full four years, equivalent to the RCUK stipend for postgraduate research students (for the Academic Year 2022/23 - £19,668 per year). In addition, the Department provides up to £3,000 per year for travel and research expenses.

As well as meeting the requirements of a PhD research student, demonstrators will be expected to spend a minimum of 144 hours per annum on education activities commensurate with the Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) role (e.g., leading seminars and practicals, assessment of student work and giving feedback). These hours are calculated according to the tariff for GTAs teaching on the IoPPN Undergraduate Programmes, and include hours for preparation (e.g., to lead a seminar) and directly related compulsory professional development (e.g., training for assessment). 

To be treated as a Home student, candidates must meet one of the following criteria:

  • A UK national (meeting residency requirements)
  • Settled status
  • Pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements)
  • Indefinite leave to remain or enter

Further information

About the IoPPN (link to

Studying at the IoPPN (link to

Research degrees at the IoPPN (link to

MSc programmes at the IoPPN (link to

How to apply

Applicants must complete and submit an online admissions application, via the admissions portal by midnight (23:59 GMT) on Sunday 16th April 2023.

On the ‘Choosing a programme’ page, please select Psychology Academic Research MPhil/PhD (Full-time or Part-time).

In your application, you will be asked to include:

  • Academic Transcripts – where applicable, academic transcripts must be submitted with the online admissions application
  • Details of your qualifications - you will need to attach copies
  • Details of previous employment - please include your CV
  • A personal statement (up to 500 words) describing your related skills, interests and why you wish to apply for this project. Please include this as an attachment rather than using the text box. In addition to your research interests make sure to provide information on any teaching or teaching-related experience. In this statement make sure you state the project code of the project you are applying to (e.g., CC01, etc).
  • Academic References – all admissions applications require one supporting reference. If the applicant is relying on thier referees to submit a reference directly to the College after they have submitted thier admissions application, then the applicant must ensure that (1) their chosen referee is made aware of the funding deadline (i.e. 7 days from application deadline) and (2) that the reference needs to be sent from an institutional email address.

In the Funding section, please tick box 5 and include the following reference: demonstrator-psychology-23 and the project code.

Please note there is no need to complete the Research Proposal section in your application as the project has already been set.

You are welcome and encouraged to email the contact supervisor for your chosen project to discuss the project in more detail. See contacts under Supervisors section.

If you have any queries regarding the application process, please contact the Education support team at

References must be received by the deadline for the applicant to be eligible. Only shortlisted applicants will be contacted.

NB: if you have already applied for a Demonstrator Studentship you do not need to reapply.

Closing date

Sunday 16th April 2023


Week commencing 15 May 2023


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