The impact of online communication on interbrain synchronization and collaborative creativity
- Supervisors: Dr Caroline Di Bernardi Luft (primary) and Professor Vito Latora (Maths, secondary)
- Funding: China Scholarship Council (CSC)
- Deadline: 30th January 2022
The School of Biological and Biological 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.
For this project, the PhD student will work within the Department of Biological and Experimental Psychology. This is a vibrant department of Psychology with outstanding academics in several Psychology fields, behavioural Psychology, health and well-being and cognitive neuroscience. Dr Luft's lab has a cognitive neuroscience group focused on investigating creativity in multiple contexts including multi-person collaboration and hyperscanning.The student will also be engaged with Professor Latora's research group in Complex Systems and Networks in the School of Mathematical Sciences. This research environment is a perfect opportunity to develop a truly interdisciplinary career.
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 PhD student will be actively engaged in both groups (Dr Luft and Prof Latora's) and will have great opportunities to develop scientific expertise in hyperscanning using EEG and network analysis of multi-person interaction. The student will be expected to develop independent but will have appropriate support from both supervisors on developing the skills necessary to complete the project.
Recent studies showed that when people communicate, their brains, as well as their behaviours, synchronize; this process is called interbrain synchronization. Higher synchrony between two brains is associated with more effective communication and joint creativity. Interbrain synchronization increases during mutual eye-contact as we observed recently (Luft et al., see reference list). However, as we move our social interactions online, mutual eye-contact is no longer possible due to the positioning of webcams. Looking at the participant’s eyes on the screen means that your own gaze appears averted. There are methods to solve this issue, involving both hardware (using a transparent mirror) and software solutions (warping or replacing the eye). However, we do not know how these methods affect the quality of our interactions, nor whether and how they impact interbrain synchronization. Building up on our work on eye-contact (funded by BIAL Foundation), this PhD proposal will investigate how online interactions affect interbrain synchronization and the creative output of people working together. The project includes 3 main experimental phases, with the objective to: 1) implement, adapt, and evaluate different gaze correction solutions (hardware and freely available software) during online communication; 2) evaluate the differences in interbrain synchronization and creative output during eye-contact online (using the best gaze correction) compared to face-to-face, and its effects on the pair’s creative outputs. This study will also investigate how constant eye-contact affects the pair’s collaboration and interbrain synchronization over time, as constant eye-contact is not the norm in a natural interaction; 3) to develop an adaptive eye-gaze correction application which alternates eye-contact (direct and averted) according to the pairs interbrain synchronization or pupil behaviour. This project should result in a prototype of a system which uses information about the individual’s states to adapt the eye-contact to mimic an in-person interaction online.
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
- 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 outstanding candidates with or expecting to receive a first or upper-second class honours degree in an area relevant to the project including Psychology, Neuroscience, Mathematics, Physics and Electrical Engineering (not limited to those areas). A masters degree is desirable, but not essential. It is important that the applicant is proficient in at least one programming language (preferably Matlab and Python) and has the motivation to improve computational skills. Since the projects will require advanced analysis of EEG signals, experience with signal processing 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.
- Luft, C., Zioga, I., Giannopoulos, A., Di Bona, G., Civilini, A., Latora, V., & Mareschal, I. (2021). Social synchronisation of brain activity by eye-contact. Available in: https://assets.researchsquare.com/files/rs-654192/v1_covered.pdf?c=1631873415
- Alvarez-Rodriguez, U., Battiston, F., de Arruda, G. F., Moreno, Y., Perc, M., & Latora, V. (2021). Evolutionary dynamics of higher-order interactions in social networks. Nature Human Behaviour, 5(5), 586-595.