Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme PhD Position: Incentive salience attribution drives top-down perceptual function and bias- University of Sussex

Closing Date
31 Jan 2020

Incentive salience attribution is an associative learning mechanism by which neutral stimuli or cues, as a function of repeated pairing with rewarding or otherwise biologically relevant events, become endowed with motivational significance.

In this way, reward-paired cues become more salient, stand out from the background to attract attention, and become highly wanted or desired. Surprisingly, the extent to which incentive salience attribution may involve mechanisms at the perceptual/attentional level, i.e. how visual or auditory incentive cues are more likely detected or perceived via top-down control mechanisms, is largely unknown.

However, a small neuroscience literature in humans is developing (e.g. Hickey and Peelen, J Neurosci 2015), supported by earlier work on attentional bias effects from many experimental psychology labs.

Studies in laboratory animals allow for more in-depth examinations of underlying brain mechanisms of perception and attention.

To measure incentive learning effects, researchers typically use measures, such as approach behaviour or lever pressing, which fail to dissociate perceptual, attentional processes from motivational ones; the proposed project seeks to remedy this.

Using both established and/or newly developed signal detection-based methods, the project will examine the effects of (reward-based) incentive learning on visual or auditory perception thresholds and biases, and establish whether fluctuations in incentive value (e.g. as a result of devaluation, hunger), are expressed at the perceptual level.

This project will involve a combination of  modern  neuroscience  approaches,  including  fibre  photometry,  optogenetics,  and ex  vivo electrophysiology, to precisely characterise underlying neurobiological mechanisms; including in neocortex (our initial pilot data show cue-evoked neuronal responses in auditory cortex) and the basal ganglia.

For further information and to apply, please click here. 

Contact Details

Co-supervisors: Drs Hans Crombag (H.Crombag@sussex.ac.uk) and Eisuke Koya (e.koya@sussex.ac.uk), School of Psychology and Sussex Neuroscience.