Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience

Researchers within the Affective, Behavioural and Cognitive Neuroscience (ABC) theme at the UCD School of Psychology work on a diverse range of basic and applied questions relating to the human mind and brain. Our goals include contributing to an understanding of the neural and cognitive basis of human behaviour, developing a theoretical basis for understanding the factors influencing neurological and cognitive development and providing insight into how behaviour can be shaped towards achieving societal goals. 

Our research objectives focus on the following topics:

  • Research aimed at understanding the neural foundations of behaviour
  • Research examining the causes and effects of developmental or acquired neuropsychological deficits
  • Research into cognitive, affective and social psychology that is grounded in an understanding of the relationship between brain and behaviour.

Researchers within the ABC theme use a range of tools to address these topics, including eyetracking, brain stimulation (tDCS, TMS) and measurement of neural activity (EEG, fMRI). We work with adults and children, and employ a diverse range of experimental methodologies. See the ‘Spotlight on Research section below for details of current projects. 

Graduate opportunities

Starting in 2021, we are proud to launch a new MSc in Behavioural Neuroscience at the UCD School of Psychology. This one-year, full-time course offers advanced education and training in topics concerning human behaviour and its relation to the brain. The programme provides an excellent preparation for students who wish to pursue doctoral research in psychology, neuroscience or neuropsychology and equips students for work in research, medical and health settings. Students will gain key skills in research methods, experimental design, programming & data analysis. This is achieved through lab rotation and by pairing students with academic supervisors based on their research interests to complete a 30-credit research project.

Find out more by contacting the course director (nuala.brady@ucd.ie) or mary.boyle@ucd.ie, browse the modules on offer and apply here.

 

We also welcome applications for students wishing to pursue a Masters by research or PhD in the areas of affective, behavioural and cognitive neuroscience, and cognitive psychology. If you are interested in discussing the possibility of PhD supervision, please identify the faculty member who best suits your topic of interest and complete the Enquiry Form here.

Core Faculty 

Dr. Jude Bek
Associate Professor Nuala Brady
Professor Jessica Bramham
Dr. Sarah Cooney (Perception and Motor Cognition Labs)
Dr. Michelle Downes (Director, UCD Neuropsychology Lab)
Dr. Maximilian Friehs
Dr. Patricia Gough (
https://www.ucdperceptionmotorcog.com/)
Associate Professor Ciara Greene (Director, Attention and Memory Lab)
Dr. Brendan Rooney (Director, Media and Entertainment Psychology Lab
Dr. Flavia H. Santos (Member of UCD Neuropsychology Lab, leading The UCD Music and Math Cognition lab)

Affiliate researchers

Dr. Helen O'Shea

Spotlight on Research

Below are some selected research projects that represent the diversity of work in our theme. For more information on the specific projects, feel free to contact the relevant researcher. 

Words, Faces, Reading and Dyslexia
Principal Investigator: Nuala Brady

Although usually defined as a learning disorder that is specific to reading, dyslexia reflects natural variations in neurological processing of the visual form of words and their associated sounds. Recent advances in neuroscience show that in learning to read we ‘reuse’ parts of the brain that are initially involved in face and object recognition.

The starting point for our research in this area is the observation that recognition of words and faces present similar challenges to the visual system. Both are made up of parts, features (eyes, nose and mouth) in the case of faces and individual letters in the case of words. Spatial configuration - the specific way in which these parts are arranged – is very important to recognizing individual faces and individual words. Our first study borrows two well-known experimental paradigms from face perception research to study word recognition and shows clear differences in how dyslexic and typical readers utilize configural information (Conway et al., 2017). More recently, and working with Dr Sarah Cooney (UCD) and Professor Fiona Newell (TCD), we show that holistic processing in a faces task predicts differences in reading performance (word and pseudoword accuracy and speed) between dyslexic and typical readers. This research suggests that the factors underlying ‘dyslexia’ are multifactorial, and that broadening our thinking about reading may help de-emphasise dyslexia as a ‘disability’ while furthering our ability to support students for whom reading is challenging.

Key references:

  • Conway, A., Brady, N., & Misra, K. (2017). Holistic word processing in dyslexia. PloS one12(11), e0187326.
  • Brady, N., Darmody, K., Newell, F., & Cooney, SM (2020) Holistic processing of words and faces in dyslexia. https://psyarxiv.com/abys2/

 

Inoculating against COVID-19 misinformation
Principal investigator: Associate Professor Ciara Greene
Collaborators: Dr. Gillian Murphy, University College Cork
Funder: Health Research Board COVID-19 Rapid Response Funding Call

The COVID-19 outbreak has been accompanied by a wave of misinformation whose impact has been increased by isolation, and many people’s subsequent reliance on social media as a source of news. This has significant implications for health behaviours and compliance with public health guidance. Building on our previous work investigating the drivers of misinformation acceptance, this project aims to establish (1) the factors affecting an individual’s response to misinformation about COVID-19, and (2) the effectiveness of a range of cognitive interventions aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19-related misinformation. Understanding why people believe in, share or act on misinformation is critical to slowing its spread. The interventions developed in this project will give people the tools to evaluate information and become more critical consumers of news media. In doing so, we hope to empower citizens to protect themselves and their families from public health threats.

Key references:

  • Greene, C.M. & Murphy, G. (2020) Individual differences in false memory for COVID-19 fake news.  Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, 5(1), 63. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41235-020-00262-1
  • Greene, C.M. & Murphy, G. Can fake news really change behaviour? Evidence from a study of COVID-19 misinformation. Under review. Preprint: https://psyarxiv.com/qfnm3/.

  

Individual differences in body perception
Principal investigator: Dr Sarah Cooney
Funder: UCD Ad Astra Research Fellowship

How do we perceive our own and other peoples bodies? How does multisensory information ( e.g., vision, touch, interoception and proprioception) give rise to body perception? This project looks at cases where people experience anomalous multisensory perception — such as those with mirror touch synaesthesia — and cases where body perception is disrupted, such as Anorexia. Body image disorders are associated with a host of cognitive, affective, and perceptual issues. Using a mixed-method approach, work in the lab utilizes large scale online data collection and Virtual Reality to study the relationships between the complex and multifaceted characteristics of body perception. Forthcoming studies in this project investigate recent neuroscientific models of body perception in individuals with body image disturbances and explore the translational potential of VR within clinical health interventions. 

Key References

  • O'Dowd, A., Cooney, S. M., McGovern, D. P., & Newell, F. N. (2019). Do synaesthesia and mental imagery tap into similar cross-modal processes? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 374(1787), https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2018.0359
  • O'Dowd, A., Cooney, S.M., Sorgini, F., O'Rourke, E., Reilly, R.B., Newell, F.N., Hirst, R. (2021). The role of development on visuo-tactile interactions in the discrimination of sequences of events. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.

  

Media entertainment for neuropsychological assessment of social cognition.
Principal investigator: Dr Brendan Rooney
Collaborators: Dr Katalin Bálint (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Dr Tom Burke (UCD, RCSI), Prof Thomas Parsons (University of North Texas)

To study, diagnose and treat disease and disorders that impact neuropsychological function, researchers and health professionals rely heavily on standardised assessments. While reliable and relatively easy to administer, traditional standardised assessments have been criticised for their lack of ecological validity. Assessment of social cognition (our ability to process social information) is particularly susceptible to this problem. Social cognition processes are incredibly sensitive to the rich and complex dynamics of naturalistic social interactions. Assessment of this capacity requires meaningful and emotionally laden stimuli with precise and nuanced measurement. Media entertainment experiences lend themselves well to the requirements of experimental control, yet they are designed specifically to move emotion and capture attention, using meaningful social interactions. This project explores the ways in which social cognition responses are shaped by media design features, with a view to validating their use in neuropsychological assessment.

Key references:

  • Burke, T., & Rooney, B. (2021). Multi-modal dual-task measurement: A new virtual reality for assessment. Frontiers in Psychology, section Neuropsychology, 11,3999. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2020.635413
  • Bálint, K.E., Blessing, J.N., & Rooney, B. (2020). Shot Scale Matters: The Effect of Close Up Frequency on Social Cognition Responses in Film Viewers. Poetics. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2020.101480

 

Embodiment and the role of the motor system in language
Investigators: Dr. Patricia Gough, Prof. Seán Commins (Maynooth), Keith O’Donnell (Maynooth)

Previous work has demonstrated that the processing of action-related language leads to modulation of activity in the motor system. This supports the idea that our representation of language is not entirely amodal and involves our sensori-motor systems. Weaknesses in previous work, however, include a narrow range of language stimuli (mainly verbs) and a failure to address factors such as the depth of processing involved in a given task, and the age of acquisition of the stimuli employed. This project aims to widen the categories of stimuli used and to vary the level of processing required as well as controlling for age of acquisition. The work measures excitability of the motor system through reaction time data. 

Key references:

  • Gough, P.M., Campione G.C., Buccino, G. (2013). Fine tuned modulation of the motor system by adjectives expressing positive and negative properties. Brain and Language 125(1), 54-59.
  • Santos, F.H., Mosbacher, J.A., Meghini, D., Rubia, K., Grabner, R.H., and Cohen Kadosh, R. (2021) Effects of Transcranial Stimulation in Developmental Neurocognitive Disorders: A Critical Appraisal. Progress in Brain Research. [ISBN: 9780128223444]
  • Ribeiro, F.S., Santos, F.H. (2020). Persistent effects of musical training on mathematical skills of children with Developmental Dyscalculia. Frontiers in Psychology. 10:2888. [doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02888]
  • Hartwright, C.E., Looi, C.Y., Sella, F., Inuggi, A., Santos, F.H., Gonzalez-Salinas, C., Jose M. Garcia-Santos, J.M., Cohen Kadosh, R., Fuentes, L.J. (2018). The Neurocognitive Architecture of Individual Differences in Math Anxiety in Typical Children. Scientific Reports, 31; 8(1):8500. [https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-26912-5]

 

UCD Music and Math Cognition
Principal investigator: Dr Flavia H. Santos

Our projects include undergraduate, master and PhD students at the UCD Psychology, UCD Neuropsychology Lab, respecting ethical and open science principles. In the UCD Music and Math Cognition, we are studying the mechanisms by which numerical cognition interacts with spatial skills using EEG and Eye-Tracking. We are developing with Dr Pierpaolo Dondio (Technological University Dublin, Ireland) digital games to improve mathematics learning and reduce mathematics anxiety in children. We are collaborating in a Multi-Site study regarding Statistics Anxiety with Jenny Terry and Professor Field (University of Sussex, UK) and Angelica Trassi (UNESP, Sao Paulo State University, Brazil). We are also investigating how feelings about mathematics influences career choice in undergraduate students, which is another international collaboration with Krzysztof Cipora (Loughborough University, UK) and Sara Caviola (University of Padua, Italy). Concerning Music Science, we are interested in how musicians experience and cope with emotions pre-concerts. Another study explores specifically whether consumers will be more likely to choose seasonal clothes after listening to seasonal music.

Key references:

  • Santos, F.H., Mosbacher, J.A., Meghini, D., Rubia, K., Grabner, R.H., and Cohen Kadosh, R. (2021) Effects of Transcranial Stimulation in Developmental Neurocognitive Disorders: A Critical Appraisal. Progress in Brain Research. [ISBN: 9780128223444]
  • Ribeiro, F.S., Santos, F.H. (2020). Persistent effects of musical training on mathematical skills of children with Developmental Dyscalculia. Frontiers in Psychology. 10:2888. [doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02888]
  • Hartwright, C.E., Looi, C.Y., Sella, F., Inuggi, A., Santos, F.H., Gonzalez-Salinas, C., Jose M. Garcia-Santos, J.M., Cohen Kadosh, R., Fuentes, L.J. (2018). The Neurocognitive Architecture of Individual Differences in Math Anxiety in Typical Children. Scientific Reports, 31; 8(1):8500. [https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-26912-5]

 

Modulating action control and executive functioning
Principal Investigator: Dr. rer. nat. Maximilian A. Friehs

Although most neuroimaging studies implicitly assume a causal relation between increased task-related activation and the subject’s behavior, they cannot draw strong conclusions on the functional relevance of task-related activity for a given cognitive process. A way to bridge this gap is by experimentally manipulating the neural state of the area. This has the advantage, that given everything else is held constant and confounds are controlled for, any observed changes can be causally traced back to the experimental manipulation.

In my research I use non-invasive brain stimulation techniques (e.g. tDCS, TMS) to probe the neurophysiological underpinnings of action control and executive functioning. Further, I investigate the effect of acute stress (e.g. as induced by the SECPT) on performance and behavior.

Key References:

  • Friehs, M. A., Klaus, J., Singh, T., Frings, C., & Hartwigsen, G. (2020). Perturbation of the right prefrontal cortex disrupts interference control. NeuroImage, 222, 117279.
  • Friehs, M. A., & Frings, C. (2019). Cathodal tDCS increases stop-signal reaction time. Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 19(5), 1129-1142.
  • Friehs, M. A., & Frings, C. (2020). Evidence Against Combined Effects of Stress and Brain Stimulation on Working Memory. Open Psychology, 2(1), 40-56.