Visual Social Cognition - Bournemouth University Microsites

Lead researcher: Nicola Gregory
Faculty: Faculty of Science and Technology
Cluster, centre, institute: Psychology Research Group
URA position title: Psychology Research Assistantship in Visual Social Cognition
Relevant disciplines: BSc Psychology
Description of the position: This position offers an exciting opportunity to work on a project in
collaboration with the University of Cambridge and Dorset Healthcare Trust to develop an eye
movement based assessment tool for people with social cognition difficulties. The project will
examine the role of nonverbal cue perception in mental state attribution, first in typical controls, but
ultimately in autism and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The position will be concerned with
developing and piloting the materials for the test (short videoed social scenes with actors to be
recruited from SUBU performing arts societies) and programming and conducting an eye tracking
study using the selected stimuli with a group of volunteers recruited from the local community. The
RA will assist with analysing the results and will be co-author on the resulting publications and
conference papers. This pilot study will form the basis of an ESRC research grant (including PhD
studentship ) to be submitted during autumn 2015 with Simon Baron-Cohen as co-applicant, to
further develop and professionally produce the test, then to conduct it with autism and BPD groups
(recruited from University of Cambridge and Dorset Healthcare Trust respectively). The test will be
made available freely to other researchers once published.
Explain how this position will enhance and enrich the student's undergraduate experience and how
it relates to the relevant courses/disciplines and/or future career of the student: In the BSc
Psychology programme, social cognition is taught in several units at all levels and clinical and
developmental psychology are consistently popular topics amongst undergraduates on the
programme. For the successful applicant, this post would bring their learning alive by providing a
unique opportunity to be involved in the forefront of social cognition research in clinical and
developmental disorders. BU is one of the only UK universities to offer an eye tracking final year
option, to which I contribute. Two students from this unit whose final year eye tracking projects I am
supervising have worked with me as RAs previously. These students are now applying for an MSc in
Clinical and Developmental Neuropsychology at BU for 2015 and are already very competent eye
tracking researchers, demonstrating the value of being an RA to students’ education. A good
opportunity exists for the successful applicant to similarly have a continued involvement in the
project as RA or MSc/PhD researcher as the project develops. A PhD studentship, which would be
second-supervised by an international authority on autism at the University of Cambridge, is
included in the ESRC bid we will be submitting, which the RA would be well-qualified to apply for.
How will the position be supervised and mentored: The RA will be supported throughout each
phase of the post. The PI will be available at any time via phone or email and initially several
progress meetings per week will be scheduled. Initially the PI will brief the RA as to the purpose of
the study and the larger project it forms the basis of and will provide some reading. Training will be
provided in video editing using Adobe Premiere. Thorough training in running eye tracking
experiments will be provided and the RA will assist the PI in programming the tasks to be used and in
preparing the data for analysis. They will not be expected to do this unsupervised, as this requires
use of specialist software. However, having completed the assistantship the RA would be very well
placed to conduct an eye-tracking final year or MSc project using these pieces of software and they
would be encouraged to do so if they wished. Analysis of the data will be conducted using SPSS and
the RA will already have a working knowledge of this package from their course and will therefore be
encouraged to undertake some independent data analysis for the project, after initial guidance from
the PI.
List of duties and responsibilities of the position: Firstly, the RA will be required to familiarise
themselves with the literature pertinent to the project, with guidance from the principal
investigator. The RA will be involved in developing the scripts for the scenes for the test along with
the principal and co-investigator. These will be filmed with the help of the RA who will then be
responsible for editing and preparing the clips for pilot testing and will organise for members of the
Psychology participant pool to take part in pilot testing of these clips (checking their suitability for
the eye tracking study). Once piloted, with supervision, the RA will programme the eye tracking task
(using Experiment Builder software) and recruit further participants for this stage of the study. Again
once trained and under initial supervision, the RA will conduct the eye tracking task with a group of
healthy control participants who the RA will recruit externally from the local community via social
media. Together with the PI, the RA will assist in analysing the results of the study using the eye
tracking analysis software Dataviewer and will provide a summary of the results. The RA will be
invited to assist with discussions and preparation of a manuscript detailing the findings to be
submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, which would be on-going after the end of the initial paid
period. Findings of the study will also be submitted as a conference paper to the European
Conference on Visual Perception in Barcelona in 2016, where the RA will named as an author.
List the position qualifications including any special requirements (be specific): Applicants should
be wishing to pursue postgraduate study and/or seeking a career in research, academia or in a
clinical psychology setting. Applicants should be at least a 2.1 student with an interest in social
cognition, psychiatric and/or developmental disorders. If currently a Level I student, the post would
be most suitable for a student wishing to undertake the Eye Tracking and Cognition Level H unit in
the BSc Psychology programme. Technical ability is essential: applicants should be confident working
with unfamiliar technology, including hardware and software. Previous research assistant experience
is desirable but not essential but preference will be given to those who have demonstrable
experience of working in a similarly demanding post, though this does not have to be in a psychology
setting. Excellent written and oral communication skills are essential as the RA will be working with
members of the public and helping to prepare and disseminate findings of the study. Confidence in
using SPSS for analysing data is essential, and experience of using MS Excel would be advantageous
but not essential. Applicants must be confident working independently, with regular support from
the PI.