PhD Studentship – Metacognition and Decision-Making Capacity In Health and Neuropsychiatric Disorders

UCL Institute of Neurology – Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging

Applications are invited for a PhD studentship in the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, UCL as part of the Metacognition Group (www.metacoglab.org), under the supervision of Dr Stephen Fleming (University College London) and Prof. Anthony David (Kings College London). The current project is part of a larger Collaborative Award from the Wellcome Trust (https://mhj.org.uk/) aimed at forming a research base for an interdisciplinary understanding of decision-making capacity.

Project details

In England the legal test for decision-making capacity (DMC) includes a requirement that a person is able to “use or weigh” information as part of the decision-making process. This is especially relevant to mental health but is a focus of controversy as it is hard to operationalise and quantify, and does not readily map onto basic psychological functions.

The studentship will develop tools to understand DMC through the lens of experimental paradigms in cognitive psychology and neuroscience. The work will focus on both formal models of how values are weighed in the decision-making process (e.g. value-based decision-making), and knowledge of and reasoning about one’s own (and others’) decision process (metacognition). Work in our group has pioneered precise measures of these functions relevant for DMC, but which have yet to be examined in populations thought to be vulnerable to loss of DMC. In addition, the connection between loss of metacognition and loss of insight – a factor often relevant for decisions about DMC – is intuitive, but poorly understood.

Experimental work will begin in healthy volunteers before moving on to populations with different conditions such as dementia, brain injury, mood disorders and psychosis. We will apply the same paradigms (adjusted for difficulty) to enable comparison between healthy and clinical groups. The work will quantify disorder-related deficits in decision-making and metacognition, and seek to link such deficits to the legal framework surrounding DMC. The student will be part of a wider network of collaborators in neuroscience, psychiatry, law and philosophy (see https://mhj.org.uk/). This is a unique opportunity to carry out research at the interface of multiple disciplines and impact policy regarding DMC.

Funding notes

The starting date is 1st January 2018 and the contract is for 36 months. In exceptional cases, the start date may be delayed. The studentship includes UK/EU tuition fees and a generous tax-free stipend at Wellcome Trust rates (increasing in years 2 and 3) along with additional funds for conference travel. Overseas fees cannot be covered.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have an Honours Degree (minimum 2:1) in experimental psychology, neuroscience or a related field, previous experience working with human participants in an experimental or clinical setting, and familiarity with computational and statistical methods (ideally in MATLAB and/or R). Knowledge of scientific programming languages and cognitive neuroscience technologies and a relevant Masters qualification is desirable.

Deadline 30th October 2017. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in November.

How to apply:

Applicants should submit 1) a CV, 2) a 1-page statement detailing why you want to do the PhD, motivation, interest and suitability for the project, 3) a copy of your strongest single piece of academic work (e.g. thesis, publication), and 4) contact details of two referees. Please ensure that each document is clearly labelled with your surname. Please send all documents to Kamlyn Ramkissoon k.ramkissoon@ucl.ac.uk by 30th October 2017. Interviews will be held in November 2017. Informal enquiries are welcome to Dr Stephen Fleming (email: stephen.fleming@ucl.ac.uk).