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Affective, Behavioural & Cognitive Neuroscience

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 differences
  • 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, motion capture, virtual reality, non-invasive electric (tES) and magnetic (TMS) brain stimulation, and measurement of neural activity (EEG, MEG, fMRI).  See the ‘Spotlight on Research’ section below for details of current projects.  

Graduate opportunities

In 2021 the UCD School of Psychology introduced an MSc in Behavioural Neuroscience. 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 ((opens in a new window)nuala.brady@ucd.ie) or (opens in a new window)mary.boyle@ucd.ie, browse the (opens in a new window)modules on offer and apply (opens in a new window)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 

(opens in a new window)Dr. Jude Bek

(opens in a new window)Associate Professor Nuala Brady

(opens in a new window)Professor Jessica Bramham

(opens in a new window)Dr Méadhbh Brosnan (Director, Cognitive & Translational Neuroscience UCD)

(opens in a new window)Dr. Sarah Cooney  (Director UCD Body Lab)

(opens in a new window)Dr. Michelle Downes (Director UCD Neuropsychology Lab), (Psy MC) Babylab link)

(opens in a new window)Dr Katie Gilligan-Lee 

(opens in a new window)Dr. Patricia Gough ( Perception and Motor Cognition(opens in a new window))

(opens in a new window)Associate Professor Ciara Greene (Director, (opens in a new window)Attention and Memory Lab)

(opens in a new window)Professor Klaus Kessler 

(opens in a new window)Dr. Brendan Rooney (Director, Media and Entertainment Psychology Lab

(opens in a new window)Dr. Flavia H. Santos (Member of (opens in a new window)UCD Neuropsychology Lab, leading The UCD Music and Math Cognition lab)

Postdoctoral Researchers

(opens in a new window)Dr Mariuche Gomides

(opens in a new window)Dr Aine Ni Choisdealbha

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. 

Principal Investigator: Associate Professor 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.(opens in a new window)https://psyarxiv.com/abys2/

Principal Investigator: Professor Jessica Bramham
Funders:Irish Research Council and HSE National Clinical Programme

The project involves the development and evaluation of an App and online psychoeducation and self-help programme for adults with ADHD in conjunction with ADHD-Ireland and the HSE National Clinical Programme for ADHD in Adults Model of Care for Ireland.

Key references:

(opens in a new window)https://adhdireland.ie/umaap/

HSE National Clinical Programme for ADHD in Adults Model of Care for Ireland (2020)(opens in a new window)https://www.hse.ie/eng/about/who/cspd/ncps/mental-health/adhd/adhd-in-adults-ncp-model-of-care/adhd-in-adults-ncp-model-of-care.pdf

(opens in a new window)https://www.hse.ie/eng/services/news/media/pressrel/new-adhd-app-launched-to-support-adults-with-adhd-in-ireland.html

Seery, C., Wrigley, M., O'Riordan, F., Kilbridge, K., & Bramham, J.  (2022).  What adults with ADHD want to know: A Delphi consensus study on the psychoeducational needs of experts by experience. Health Expectations25(5): 2593–2602.

Principal Investigator: Dr Méadhbh Brosnan

Funders: European Commission Horizon 2020 & UCD Ad Astra Fellowship

The way we process sensory information influences the enrichment we receive from our environments. This has consequences for plasticity processes that impact brain health. Correspondingly, deficits in sensory processing can be observed across a multitude of conditions impacting neurocognitive health including dyslexia, ADHD, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and stroke.

Our research aims to understand how inter-individual differences in brain structure and function impact sensory processing. The overarching goal of this work is to inform interventions that can increase resilience to neurocognitive deficits in clinical conditions, especially those occurring with advancing age.

Key References:

Brosnan, M. B., Sabaroedin, K., Silk, T., Genc, S., Newman, D. P., Loughnane, G. M., Fornito, A., O'Connell, R. G., & Bellgrove, M. A. (2020). Evidence accumulation during perceptual decisions in humans varies as a function of dorsal frontoparietal organization. Nature human behaviour4(8), 844–855. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0863-4

Brosnan, M. B., Arvaneh, M., Harty, S., Maguire, T., O'Connell, R., Robertson, I. H., & Dockree, P. M. (2018). Prefrontal Modulation of Visual Processing and Sustained Attention in Aging, a tDCS-EEG Coregistration Approach. Journal of cognitive neuroscience30(11), 1630–1645. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn_a_01307

Brosnan, M. B., O’Neill, M. H., Loughnane, G. M., Pearce, D. J., Fleming, B., Chong, T. J., Nobre, A. C., O’Connell, R. G., Bellgrove, M. A. Age-related response speed deficits arise from specific impairments in sensory evidence accumulation rate. Biorxiv (preprint)
(opens in a new window)https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.10.28.466233v2

Principal investigator: Dr Katie Gilligan-Lee

Funder:UCD Ad Astra Research Fellowship

How do we pack a suitcase, fill the dishwasher, or find our way around a new city? These tasks all rely on spatial thinking, the cognitive ability to manipulate shapes and space. Not only is spatial cognition fundamental to independent living, but there is now convincing research that spatial cognition plays a role in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) achievement. This leads to the exciting question as to whether spatial cognition can be manipulated to improve educational outcomes in STEM. My research explores this question from different perspectives, using different methodological techniques. Current research on this topic includes: 1) An investigation of whether spatial training using Lego can be used to improve mathematics skills in childhood (collaboration with Prof. Emily Farran, University of Surrey and Prof. Camilla Gilmore, University of Loughborough); 2) A review of previous evidence on the associations between spatial skills and science performance (collaboration with Dr Zack Hawes, University of Toronto, Dr Emily Petterson, American University in Washington and Dr. Kinnari Atit, University of California; and 3) An evaluation of how teachers use our Spatial Reasoning Toolkit to embed spatial practices into their teaching (collaboration with the Early Childhood Maths Group (opens in a new window)https://earlymaths.org/spatial-reasoning/)

Key References:

Gilligan-Lee, K. A., Hawes, Z. C., & Mix, K. S. (2022). Spatial cognition: The forgotten piece in mathematics curricula. Nature Partner Journal Science of Learning, 7, 10, (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1038/s41539-022-00128-9

Hawes, Z. C. K., Gilligan-Lee, K. A., & Mix, K. S. (2022). Effects of spatial training on mathematics performance: A meta-analysis. Developmental Psychology, 58(1), 112-137. (opens in a new window)http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0001281

McDougal, E., Silverstein, P., Treleaven, O., Jerrom, L., Gilligan-Lee, K. A., Gilmore, C., & Farran, E. K. (2023). Associations and Indirect Effects Between LEGO® Construction and Mathematics Performance. Child Development, 0, 1-17 (opens in a new window)https://srcd.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdev.13933

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.(opens in a new window)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:(opens in a new window)https://psyarxiv.com/qfnm3/.

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),(opens in a new window)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.

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.(opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1016/j.poetic.2020.101480

Principal Investigator: Professor Klaus Kessler

In our daily interactions with others, we may subconsciously copy their postures and facial expressions or quite literally feel their pain when they hurt themselves. These mimicry and mirroring processes seem to be rooted in basic mechanisms that we share with other species. In contrast, some of our higher-level social abilities appear to be uniquely human. The latter usually involve imagining how another person experiences the world from their perspective and what they believe about the world to be true. In other words, we are capable of generating an explicit “theory of (another’s) mind”.

First, our research aimed at investigating how humans mentally “put themselves into someone else’s shoes”. Interestingly, we observed that humans mentally simulate a rotation of their body into another’s orientation to understand how the world appears from that perspective (Kessler & Thomson, 2010). Thus, humans seem to deliberately repurpose their body-control and -monitoring systems to solve high-level socio-cognitive tasks, which is often referred to as “embodied processing”. More recently, our research investigated the underlying cortical network, revealing important processing hubs and oscillatory rhythms that link the network together (e.g. Wang et al., 2016; Seymour et al., 2018). With the facilities afforded by the new Mental (Neuro-) Chronometry lab in the School, we are currently investigating these oscillatory brain networks in detail, aiming to understand and differentiate between various facets of Theory of Mind, such as perspective vs. belief processing (e.g. Green et al., 2023).

Key references:

Green, R., Shaw, D. J., & Kessler, K. (2023). Dissociating visual perspective taking and belief reasoning using a novel integrated paradigm: A preregistered online study. Cognition, 235, 105397.

Kessler, K., & Thomson, L. A. (2010). The embodied nature of spatial perspective taking: Embodied transformation versus sensorimotor interference.Cognition, 114(1), 72-88.

Seymour, R. A., Wang, H., Rippon, G., &Kessler, K. (2018). Oscillatory networks of high-level mental alignment: A perspective-taking MEG study. NeuroImage, 177, 98-107.

Wang, H., Callaghan, E., Gooding-Williams, G., McAllister, C., &Kessler, K. (2016). Rhythm makes the world go round: An MEG-TMS study on the role of right TPJ theta oscillations in embodied perspective taking. Cortex, 75, 68-81.

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 Language125(1), 54-59.

Principal investigator: Dr Flavia H. Santos
Funder: Irish Research Council & UCD Ad Astra Research Fellowship

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]

Principal investigator: Dr Áine Ní Choisdealbha, Associate Professor Nuala Brady
Funder: European Commission H2020 Marie-Skłodowska Curie Actions

The way we relate to other people is often quite abstract. We think about their thoughts, feelings, and intentions; things we cannot see. Babies do not reason in the abstract, but we nonetheless begin to learn about other people as infants. We do this by watching their actions, and learning how actions are likely to end (and thus what a person’s goal might be). For example, babies can predict that when someone reaches for a cup, they will bring it to their mouth. Learning about other people involves both watching and doing. As babies pick up new motor skills– crawling, walking, reaching, grasping, using objects like cups and spoons – their learning about other people’s experiences improves. Our research, conducted in collaboration from Prof Andrew Meltzoff at the University of Washington, interrogates how motor experience helps this early social development. Are infants using new motor processes to implicitly imitate other people and figure out what they are doing, or is it that, with more experience of doing certain actions, infants get better at visually recognising when other people are doing the same thing? During our project, we will also investigate how infants develop mental motor representations of different parts of the body. We will work with infants and adults to understand how sensorimotor representations of the body can be used to take another person’s perspective.

Key references:

Brady, N., Maguinness, C., & Ní Choisdealbha, Á. (2011). My hand or yours? Markedly different sensitivity to egocentric and allocentric views in the hand laterality task. PloS one, 6(8), (opens in a new window)e23316

Brady, N., Leonard, S., & Ní Choisdealbha, A. (preprint). Visual perspective taking and action understanding. (opens in a new window)SSRN 4750600.

Ní Choisdealbha, Á., & Reid, V. (2014). The developmental cognitive neuroscience of action: semantics, motor resonance and social processing. Experimental Brain Research, 232, 1585-1597. (opens in a new window)https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-014-3924-y

UCD School of Psychology

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