PhD in Psychology: Brain Complexity and Consciousness

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    Cardiff University
    United Kingdom
    Social sciences
    First Stage Researcher (R1) (Up to the point of PhD)


This PhD studentship offers an excellent opportunity for candidates interested in the broad area of brain imaging, neuroscience, and/or consciousness, to conduct research on one or more of the following topics, using the cutting-edge brain imaging facilities at Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), one of Europe’s largest brain imaging centres.

You will be also encouraged to develop your own research ideas and will be supported in pursuing your own research interests.

(1) Brain Complexity - Organising Principles of the Human Brain

The human brain is highly complex and is composed of many different regions, each serving a unique set of functions. What enables different brain regions to have different functions? Is it attributable to their inherent structural differences? If so, how do structurally distinct brain regions work together in a coordinated manner? To understand the organising principles of the human brain, this project will study:

  • how different brain regions differ structurally;
  • how their structural differences underpin their functional differences;
  • whether the empirically-observed function of a brain region is indeed what the structure of this brain region is theoretically optimal for.

(2) From Brain Complexity to Behavioral Complexity - Variability across Individuals

Mirroring the brain complexity, human behavior and consciousness are highly complex. For example, our perception of an image is rarely a truthful reflection of the physical features of the image, but is instead biased by the contexts of the image; moreover, our susceptibility to such contextual illusions can vary over ten-fold across healthy individuals. How does behavioral complexity arise from brain complexity? What brain properties give rise to the variability in behavior and consciousness across individuals? To understand the links between brain and consciousness, this project will study:

  • how different individuals differ in their brain structure;
  • how the inter-individual differences in brain structure affect brain function;
  • lead to inter-individual differences in behavior and consciousness.

(3) Brain and Behavioral Plasticity - Impacts of Learning and Sleep

A remarkable feature of human brain and behavior is their adaptability and plasticity, or as Darwin put it, "survival of the fittest". The changes in brain structure not only occur when we are awake and learning, but also continue as we fall asleep. What enables us to have adaptability and plasticity? Is sleep essential for that? To understand the mechanisms of brain and behavioral plasticity, this project will study:

  • how learning and sleep interact to influence brain and behavior;
  • whether different mechanisms of brain plasticity may be at play during wake versus sleep;
  • whether the contrast between wake and sleep in brain plasticity may hold key to our behavioral plasticity and our ability to constantly learn.

What is funded

In 2017-18 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £14,553 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students receive conference and participant money (approx. £2250 for the duration of the studentship).They also receive a computer and office space, additional funding for their research, and access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.


3 years


As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is expected to have:

  • a First or Upper Second Class undergraduate degree and/or a master’s degree, in neuroimaging, neuroscience, psychology, biology, engineering, mathematics, computer science, or related disciplines
  • strong motivation, curiosity and passion for research
  • strong analytic background
  • strong programming skills
  • good scientific writing skills