PhD Studentship: Structural Approaches to the Symbol Grounding Problem

Loughborough University

Start date of studentship: 1st October 2018


Primary supervisor: Matthew Inglis

Secondary supervisor: Camilla Gilmore

Loughborough University is a top-ten rated university in England for research intensity (REF2014). In choosing Loughborough for your research, you’ll work alongside academics who are leaders in their field. You will benefit from comprehensive support and guidance from our Doctoral College, including tailored careers advice, to help you succeed in your research and future career.

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The Mathematics Education Centre at Loughborough University hosts the UK’s largest research group on mathematical cognition. The group has specific strengths in numerical cognition and

Full Project Detail:

How do mathematical symbols, such as Arabic numerals or number words, acquire their meaning? The dominant account in the numerical cognition literature suggests that numerical symbols gain meaning by being mapped onto nonsymbolic magnitude representations generated by a so-called ‘approximate number system’. For instance, the symbol ‘7’ is said to be associated with the intuitive sense you get when you see an array of seven objects. However, a number of recent research findings call into question this proposal, and alternative approaches are now being actively developed. The goal of this project is to investigate how structural features of number notations – such as ordinality or place value – support the development of numerical meaning. The idea behind such approaches is that the symbol ‘7’ gains its meaning by its associations with other symbols, such as ‘6’, ‘8’ and ‘17’. A number of different research approaches may be used to tackle this question. For example, recent work in the Mathematical Cognition Group at Loughborough has used artificial symbol learning paradigms to investigate the role of ordinality and cardinality in number knowledge development. Some other recent projects on this topic in our group have involved working with young children encountering symbolic numbers for the first time. The exact approach adopted during this project will depend on the interests of the successful applicant.

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Entry requirements:

Applicants should have, or expect to achieve, at least a 2:1 Honours degree (or equivalent) in psychology, education or a related subject. A relevant Master’s degree and/or experience in psychology, mathematics education or research methods will be an advantage.

Funding information:

The 3-year studentship provides a tax-free stipend of £14,553 (2017 rate) per annum (in line with the standard research council rates) for the duration of the studentship plus tuition fees at the UK/EU rate.  International (non-EU) students may apply however the total value of the studentship will be used towards the cost of the International tuition fee in the first instance.

Contact details:

Name: Matthew Inglis

Email address:

Telephone number: 01509 228213

How to apply:

All applications should be made online at Under programme name, select ‘Mathematics’.

Please quote reference number: MI/MEC/2018

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Midlands of England