Postgraduate Research Opportunities, 2018
There are a number of potential research projects available to students considering a MSc by Research or a PhD. If interested in any of these projects, please contact the identified supervisor for further discussion.
Dr Seán Commins (Sean.Commins@mu.ie)
Project 1: How different training schedules can impact on short and long-term memory.
Learning is critical in everyday life, from studying for an exam to learning a new set of skills at work. However, how much information we retain depends on the type of training. For example, using multiple trials spread across time is a more effective method compared to binge learning. However, is such a procedure applicable across multiple tasks, also what are the neural correlates underlying such procedures? Using EEG and possibly patients with memory difficulties, attempts will be made to address these questions and understand why some training schedules are more effective than others.
Project 2: The role of cues in spatial navigation and memory.
Spatial memory relies on associating prominent landmarks in the environment with a goal or target location. Upon recognition of this landmark memory of where the goal is located is then triggered. Knowledge of how landmarks are integrated into our memories is currently a matter of debate, furthermore, the neural mechanism and brain structures that are thought to underlie such landmark-goal associations are not well known. Using a virtual watermaze this project aims to examine the use of landmarks in spatial memory, investigating how stable are the landmark-goal associations across time and to understand the role of brain structures in the formation of such memories.
Dr. Michael Cooke (Michael.Cooke@mu.ie)
The TRESSPASS project is an EU funded Innovation Action on the topic of risk-based screening at border crossings. The project will develop and demonstrate innovative technologies for improving the security of border crossing points while maintaining a good flow of people and goods. Maynooth’s role in the project is to support the technology design and implementation process through human-factors analysis of the operational context. This means using psychological and social science methods and knowledge to understand the daily activities, needs and requirements of the border crossing agencies (e.g., immigration, customs, and police) and help define the specifications for the technology, the context of use and evaluate its effectiveness. This includes the cognitive, affective, social and cultural aspects and how they are relevant to the design and quality of the tools. There may be opportunities for PhD candidates to work on the project with an interest in studying the interaction between people and technology and how they co-define each other within the broader organisational and operational context.
Dr. Rebecca Maguire (Rebecca.Maguire@mu.ie)
Project 1: Psychological well-being following health-related decisions.
The management of any health condition involves a number of decisions that must be made by patients, especially regarding treatment. Although some of these decisions are straightforward, others are more difficult as patients struggle to interpret the consequences associated with various courses of action. It is widely acknowledged that when making health-related decisions, people do not operate in a purely mathematical fashion, objectively weighing up probabilities of risk and efficacy. Instead, decisions are influenced by a range of psychological, social and emotional variables. This project aims to examine how such factors influence individuals’ decisions surrounding their health and how this decision-making process may impact on their later well-being. Specifically we are interested in examining when and why people experience regret over health-related decisions. Decisional regret has been demonstrated to be associated with lower quality of life regardless of a person’s objective health status. Therefore, by exploring how such regret may be mitigated, the findings of this project have the potential to inform interventions aimed at increasing well-being in a range of patient populations post-treatment.
Project 2: Health anxiety following engagement with online information: exploring the risk factors for cyberchondria.
It is becoming increasingly more common for people to seek out information about their health online, with many individuals visiting patient sites for guidance regarding possible diagnoses for conditions, treatments, and associated side effects. As well as seeking out such information, individuals may actively engage with others by means of chat forums or patient groups, often as an alternative to directly consulting health care professionals. The availability of such a vast amount of health-related information (or, at times, misinformation) online has led to an increased prevalence of a specific type of health anxiety termed “cyberchondria”. This project aims to investigate what puts people at risk of experiencing cyberchondria, with particular attention paid to health literacy as a possible protective factor. A more in-depth analysis of this process has the potential to inform interventions aimed at helping patients to more critically engage with online health information in conjunction with support from healthcare services.
Dr. Brenda O’Connell (Brenda.H.OConnell@mu.ie)
My main research interests are in the field of positive psychology, health, and wellbeing. Positive psychology is an overarching term for the scientific study of character strengths and virtues, positive emotions, and positive phenomena that cultivate wellbeing and optimal functioning in individuals, institutions, and society. It covers a large range of psychological topics and research questions, with the goal of improving and promoting mental health. I am particularly interested in how positive psychological constructs (e.g. gratitude, optimism, compassion) may act as protective factors or psychological buffers against stress and mental and/or physical ill-health.
Possible Project: More Thankful, Less Stressed?
Previous research has identified stable characteristics (age, gender, personality, andepigenetics) that render certain people more susceptible to the harmful effects of stress than others. Similarly, psychophysiological scholars have explored the role of psychosocial factors, such as social support, in buffering against pathogenic effects of stressful events. However, none of these works have addressed the central question of how positive psychological constructs, such as gratitude, may serve a protective role in how stress is perceived and affects the physiological systems that regulate stress. Students could therefore explore how gratitude, or gratitude inductions or interventions, influences psychophysiological reactivity to stressors and health outcomes.
Dr. Unai Diaz-Orueta (Unai.DiazOrueta@mu.ie)
Project 1: E-SPACEDEMENTIAPROJECT
It continues from a project previously funded with a MSCA-IF grant. The goal would be to modify traditional cognitive screening tasks and neuropsychological assessment tools, using a process-based approach and validate them with different healthy and clinical populations (e.g. Alzheimer’s dementia, Parkinson’s dementia, vascular dementia, etc.) in order to check to what extent the modified versions are more accurate than the traditional ones in detecting subtle cognitive changes in neurodegenerative diseases. There is a current agreement for collaboration between partners from Ireland, Spain and USA.
Project 2: VALIDATION OF VIRTUAL REALITY BASED NEUROPSYCHOLOGICAL TOOLS
There is a possibility to validate and test some VR based neuropsychological assessment tests with Irish populations, and use them for different goals. One would be an attention test from children between 6 and 16 years old, with existing literature on ADHD, but not for other kind of conditions or learning disorders/disabilities. The other is an executive function (EF) VR-based test for individuals with a minimum of 16 years old, targeting different conditions involving defective EF functioning.
Project 3: EFFECTS OF VIDEOGAMES IN PSYCHOLOGICAL HEALTH
The goal would be to explore the features of specific entertaining videogames of different kind and analyse their impact in psychological health, either in terms of improvement of cognitive function or in terms of managing anxiety and stress levels.
Professor Andrew Coogan (Andrew.Coogan@mu.ie)
Project: Developing a novel model of social jetlag.
Social jetlag is the mismatch between our internal biological clock and our social schedule; if you need an alarm clock to wake up, you most likely have social jetlag. Social jetlag is increasingly linked to adverse outcomes for physical and psychological health. There are many unanswered questions regarding social jetlag. The aim of this project is to develop a novel mouse model of social jetlag, building on our considerable expertise in circadian neuroscience. We will use this model for longitudinal study of the effect of ongoing social jetlag on cognitive, affective and psychoneuroimmune factors. This project will provide an excellent grounding in behavioural neuroscience, statistical analysis and analytical thinking in an important emerging public health concern.