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School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences

Losing flexible behaviour? Mapping effects of GPS on prefrontal function during wayfinding

Research environment

The School of Biological and Behavioural Sciences at Queen Mary is one of the UK’s elite research centres, according to the 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF). We offer a multi-disciplinary research environment and have approximately 150 PhD students working on projects in the biological and psychological sciences. Our students have access to a variety of research facilities supported by experienced staff, as well as a range of student support services.

Dr Daniel Bor and Dr Zita Patai have a strong research track record, published approximately 70 articles, including in journals such as Science, Neuron, Nature: Scientific Reports and Physical Review Letters.

The Psychology Department houses multiple human testing facilities, including equipment such EEG, TMS, eyetracking and Virtual Reality (human and rodent), as well as animal testing facilities.

Training and development

Our PhD students become part of Queen Mary’s Doctoral College which provides training and development opportunities, advice on funding, and financial support for research. Our students also have access to a Researcher Development Programme designed to help recognise and develop key skills and attributes needed to effectively manage research, and to prepare and plan for the next stages of their career.

The student will learn to utilize and interpret human (EEG, TMS, VR) testing and analysis methods.

Project description

As we enter an ever-automatised world, it is important to understand the neural mechanisms underlying flexible and future-directed thought, whether we are navigating the physical or virtual space around us. GPS, for example is a helpful tool. However, it has been shown to shut off the neural networks that normally support this behaviour. Navigation is a fundamental behaviour exhibited by all motile animals and for those with complex wayfinding behaviour, such as humans, this ability is thought to be supported by the ‘cognitive map’, a neural representation that underlies our ability to mentally frame our surroundings over space and time (for example  such a map can encompasses the relationships between physical landmarks in your local area to facilitate finding your way).

Brain areas such as the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are imperative to build these representations, the former of which is an early target in dementia, while the latter is often damaged during stroke, leading to severe cognitive deficits. How will the continued use of automatic tools affect the healthy function of these areas and what will the downstream ‘cognitive price’ be?

In this project we will leverage the power of virtual reality (VR) and temporary ‘lesions’ induced in healthy participants via transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to explore the effects of specific regional prefrontal inactivation on the ability to flexibly adapt to dynamic spatial changes during navigation (project 1) and how different attentional states influence our levels of consciousness and how we interact with the world – thus we will recreate the effects of GPS and chart the involvement of different prefrontal regions and how it affects behaviour and the formation of these cognitive maps (project 2), and thus memory of spatial relationships.

These findings will contribute to our understanding of how automatised tools will contribute to cognitive (un)fitness, the developmental consequences of  such dependency, and can provide a springboard for future cognitive rehabilitation studies.


This studentship is open to students applying for China Scholarship Council funding. Queen Mary University of London has partnered with the China Scholarship Council (CSC) to offer a joint scholarship programme to enable Chinese students to study for a PhD programme at Queen Mary. Under the scheme, Queen Mary will provide scholarships to cover all tuition fees, whilst the CSC will provide living expenses for 4 years and one return flight ticket to successful applicants. 

Eligibility and applying

Applicants must:

  • Be Chinese students with a strong academic background.
  • Students must hold a PR Chinese passport.
  • Applicants can either be resident in China at the time of application or studying overseas. 
  • Students with prior experience of studying overseas (including in the UK) are eligible to apply. Chinese QMUL graduates/Masters’ students are therefore eligible for the scheme.

Please refer to the CSC website for full details on eligibility and conditions on the scholarship.

Applications are invited from candidates with, or expecting to be awarded, at least an upper-second class bachelors degree, in an area relevant to the project. A masters degree is desirable, but not essential. Familiarity with Matlab,R,Python (any) is desirable. 

Applicants are required to provide evidence of their English language ability. Please see our English language requirements page for details.

The deadline for applications to Queen Mary is 30th January 2022. Applicants will need to complete an online application form by this date to be considered, including a CV, personal statement and qualifications. Shortlisted applicants will be invited for a formal interview by the project supervisor. Those who are successful in their application for our PhD programme will be issued with an offer letter which is conditional on securing a CSC scholarship (as well as any academic conditions still required to meet our entry requirements).

Once applicants have obtained their offer letter from Queen Mary they should then apply to CSC for the scholarship by the advertised deadline with the support of the project supervisor. For September 2022 entry, applicants must complete the CSC application on the CSC website between 10th March - 31st March 2022.

Only applicants who are successful in their application to CSC can be issued an unconditional offer and enrol on our PhD programme.

Apply Online


  • Patai, E. Z., & Spiers, H. J. (2021). The Versatile Way fi nder : Prefrontal Contributions to Spatial Navigation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 1–14.
  • Javadi, A.-H., *Patai, E. Z., Marin-Garcia, E., Margolis, A., Tan, H.-R. M., Kumaran, D., Nardini, M., Penny, W., Duzel, E., Dayan, P., & Spiers, H. J. (2019). Prefrontal Dynamics Associated with Efficient Detours and Shortcuts: A Combined Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging and Magnetoencenphalography Study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 31(8), 1227–1247.
  • Javadi, A.-H., *Patai, E. Z., Marin-Garcia, E., Margolis, A., Tan, H.-R. M., Kumaran, D., Nardini, M., Penny, W., Duzel, E., Dayan, P., & Spiers, H. J. (2019). Backtracking during navigation is correlated with enhanced anterior cingulate activity and suppression of alpha oscillations and the ‘default-mode’ network. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286(1908), 20191016.
  • Bor D, Schwartzman DJ, Barrett AB, Seth AK (2017) Theta-burst transcranial magnetic stimulation to the prefrontal or parietal cortex does not impair metacognitive visual awareness. PLoS ONE 12(2): e0171793.
  • Bor D, Seth AK (2012) Consciousness and the prefrontal parietal network: Insights from attention, working memory and chunking. Frontiers in Psychology. 3(article 63).
  • Luppi AI, Mediano PAM, Rosas FE, Allanson J, Pickard JD, Carhart-Harris RL, Williams GB, Craig MM, Finoia P, Owen AM, Naci L, Menon DK, Bor D, Stamatakis EA (2020) A Synergistic Workspace for Human Consciousness Revealed by Integrated Information Decomposition bioRxiv 2020.11.25.398081; doi:
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