Edinburgh Imaging

22 Mar 22. Studentship - Theory of mind development

"Structural and functional neural mechanisms of theory of mind development"

DEADLINE: 14 Apr 22
PROJECT TITLE: "Structural and functional neural mechanisms of theory of mind development"
CENTRE: School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences
SUPERVISOR: Dr Hilary Richardson, Dr Mark Bastin



The scholarship is available as a +3 (3 year PhD) or a 1+3 (Masters year and 3 year PhD) studentship depending on prior research training.

Throughout childhood, children develop a rich, intuitive theory of mind (ToM)- a ‘commonsense psychology’ for understanding and predicting the thoughts, emotions, and desires of others. ToM reasoning helps children to build and maintain social relationships, predicts school readiness, and supports mental health. A specific network of brain regions supports ToM reasoning. These brain regions become increasingly functionally specialized for processing mental states, and increasingly anatomically connected by white matter tracts, throughout childhood.

In this proposal, we will measure both functional development within ToM brain regions and anatomical connections between these regions – within the same child participants – as candidate neural mechanisms of ToM development. We propose to analyse functional and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (f/dMRI) data and behavioural data to

  1. measure the relative contributions of functional specialization and anatomical connectivity to ToM development,
  2. test whether functional specialization precedes the development of anatomical connectivity between ToM regions or vice versa, and
  3. develop robust measures of ToM brain development that can be applied to representative and/or clinical samples.

We will conduct this research in three existing cross- sectional datasets: a large, publicly available dataset designed to be a nationally representative sample of healthy children, which includes a parent-report measure of social development, and two smaller datasets previously collected by Dr Richardson, which include targeted behavioural tasks designed to measure ToM reasoning.

This project will inform basic, critical questions about the development of specialized brain regions and the cognitive capacities they support. Additionally, by measuring functional specialization during movie-viewing experiments that are easier to replicate and participate in, the current project will enable future studies using large, representative samples and/or clinical populations. The proposed research will provide a mechanistic understanding of ToM development, which is a critical step towards identifying early markers of atypical development and designing interventions to support healthy outcomes.


Please find further information on the PhD/MSc studentship, here.



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SGSSS-funded post-grad studentship at MSc or PhD level, "Structural and functional neural mechanisms of theory of mind development", at the School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences, supervised by Dr Hilary Richardson and Dr Mark Bastin.

@hil_richardson @SchoolofPPLS