PhD studentship: Behavioural and brain mechanisms of social decision-making across the lifespan and in antisocial behaviour

Closing Date
12 Jan 2020
Competition funded (UK/European students only).

Project Description

The social decision neuroscience lab ( is offering a competitively funded project examining the fundamental behavioural, computational and neural mechanisms of social decision-making in humans. The lab is moving from the University of Oxford to the University of Birmingham in summer 2020, where the PhD student would be hosted


Humans are highly social creatures, spending much of their lives thinking about and making decisions that affect other people. However, whilst the capacity to successfully engage in social interactions is critical, social cognition and behaviour can be profoundly disrupted across a wide-range of neurological and psychiatric disorders (Lockwood, 2016). Currently, there is a limited understanding of the mechanisms that underpin social decision-making in health, disease and development.

Recent advances in cognitive neuroscience have allowed the combination of measures of behaviour, computational models of decision-making, neuroimaging and self-report which can get us closer to understanding why there are differences in social behaviour between people, and the fundamental mechanisms (Ruff & Fehr, 2014; Wittmann, Lockwood & Rushworth, 2018; Lockwood & Klein-Flugge, 2019). Moreover, such models can bridge levels of explanation from neuroscience to psychology.

The proposed project will use these novel approaches to examine the behavioural and neural basis of social decision-making across the lifespan and in an important case of disrupted social behaviour – adolescents with persistent antisocial behaviour. Students will receive advanced training in methods from psychology, cognitive neuroscience, neuroimaging, and computational modelling. The findings will have important implications for basic decision neuroscience, healthy lifespan development, our understanding of an increasing ageing population, and potential interventions to reduce antisocial behaviour. The student working on this project will also have the opportunity to work with world-leading national and international collaborators at the Universities of Oxford and Zurich, and to contribute to the development and nature of the project based on their interests.

Research techniques and training

• Advanced techniques in computational modelling (model fitting, model simulation, model generation)
• Analysis of brain imaging data (functional MRI, structural MRI, connectivity analyses)
• Programming of behavioural tasks (Matlab, Presentation)
• Advanced statistical analysis (Matlab, R)
• Additional opportunities for learning of cutting-edge cognitive neuroscience techniques with collaborators at University of Birmingham, University of Oxford and University of Zurich.

Funding Notes

This studentship is competition funded by the BBSRC MIBTP scheme:

View Website and View Website

Please read the eligibility criteria: View Website

Deadline: January 12th 2020

Number of Studentships available at UOB: 18

***IMPORTANT*** Prior to submitting a PhD application to the University of Birmingham, all interested candidates should first contact Dr Patricia Lockwood ( Following this, only applicants with the most competitive CV will be requested to submit a PhD application using the University of Birmingham on-line application system. Candidates should submit a personal statement, CV, 2 references, and transcript of grades.


Blair, R. J. R. (2013). The neurobiology of psychopathic traits in youths. Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Lockwood, P. L. et al., (2013). Association of callous traits with reduced neural responses to others pain in children with conduct problems. Current Biology.

Ruff, C., & Fehr, E. (2014). The neurobiology of rewards and values in social decision making. Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

Lockwood, P. L., Apps, M. A. J., Valton, V., Viding, E. & Roiser, J. P. (2016). Neurocomputational mechanisms of prosocial learning and links to empathy. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.

Lockwood, P. L. et al. (2017). Prosocial apathy for helping others when effort is required. Nature Human Behaviour.

Lockwood, P. L. et al. (2018). Neural mechanisms for learning self and other ownership. Nature Communications.

Wittmann, M. K., Lockwood, P. L. & Rushworth, M. F. S. (2018). Neural Mechanisms of Social Cognition in Primates. Annu. Rev. Neurosci.

Lockwood, P. L. & Klein-Flugge, M. C. (2019). Computational modelling of social cognition and behaviour – a reinforcement learning primer. PsyArXiv (preprint).

Contact: Dr Patricia Lockwood, University of Birmingham