PhD Studentship - Brain Imaging Anxiety and Fear in the Adolescent Brain

University of Sheffield

Fully Funded PhD Scholarship in Psychology at the University of Sheffield

This is one of many projects in competition for the current funding opportunities available within the Department of Psychology

Project title: Brain Imaging anxiety and fear in the adolescent brain

Primary supervisor: Dr Liat Levita

Project description: Adolescence is a prolonged developmental period in the transition to adulthood that is characterised by significant changes in behaviour, cognition, emotion, and on going brain maturation processes. It is a period associated with high levels of emotionality, anxiety and also higher levels of harmful risk taking behaviours (e.g., Casey et al, 2008; Burnett et al., 2010; Steinberg et al., 2008). There is now a large body of work showing that heightened risk-taking during adolescence is associated with hyper-potentiated responses to reward and reward – predicting stimuli. This work, while influential had tended to shadow work that focuses on how adolescents respond to harmful aversive events. This made some assume that adolescents are hypo-responsive to threat, which is why they take risks. However, our work and others show that that is not the case (e.g., Levita et al, 2015; Howsley & Levita, 2017). Rather, previous research has suggested that adolescents exhibit greater threat responses as well as have greater difficulty extinguishing such responses compared to adults. Furthermore, several fMRI studies have observed greater activity in the amygdala and ventral striatum in adolescents encountering aversive stimuli, compared to children and adults (Britton et al., 2013; Galván & McGlennen, 2013; Hare et al., 2008). These regions, as part of the limbic system, have been heavily implicated in emotional processing and motivational influences on behaviour (Cardinal et al., 2002; Everitt et al., 1999), with the striatum shown to have specific responsibilities regarding the processing of threatening and aversive stimuli (Jensen et al., 2003; Levita, Hoskin & Champi, 2012; Pohlack et al., 2012; Seymour et al., 2007). In spite of the above studies the area of how adolescents process negative stimuli and outcomes is still relatively unexplored and there are still many unanswered questions. Therefore, this project has been designed to further explore the neurological underpinnings of fear learning and extinction in adolescence and answer the following question - If adolescents respond more to threat, why do they take more risks and why are they more anxious? State of the art electrophysiological (EEG) and fMRI techniques will be used to investigate this question.

Start date: 1 October 2018

Requirements: Applicants must have a minimum of a first class or high upper second-class undergraduate honours degree and a distinction or high merit at Masters level in psychology or a related discipline.

Funding: Tuition fees £4,194 per year Living Expenses £14,500.00

Science Graduate School

As a PhD student in one of the science departments at the University of Sheffield, you'll be part of the Science Graduate School. You'll get access to training opportunities designed to support your career development by helping you gain professional skills that are essential in all areas of science. You'll be able to learn how to recognise good research and research behaviour, improve your communication abilities and experience the breadth of technologies that are used in academia, industry and many related careers. Visit to learn more.

For further details and the application process please visit:

Closing date for applications is 5pm Wednesday 24 January 2018

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Northern England