Psychologist helps debunk theory of why our brains can predict the next word

When people read or listen to a conversation, their brains sometimes pro-actively predict which words come next.

Research carried out in 2005 suggested that these brain predictions are very detailed and can even include the first sound of an upcoming word. However, these findings have never been replicated since the study was published.

Now a team of scientists, including Dr Heather Ferguson, has demonstrated that the predictive function of the human language system may operate differently than previously thought.

The latest research involved a large-scale brain imaging study, carried out in part at Kent. More than 300 participants read sentences that were presented one word at a time, while electrical brain activity was recorded at the scalp. The findings demonstrated that there is no convincing evidence for the original claim.

Read the full story at the Kent News Centre.

Dr Heather Ferguson awarded Leverhulme Trust grant

Dr Heather Ferguson has been awarded a three-year Leverhulme Trust Research Grant for a project entitled “Learning from Fiction: A Philosophical and Psychological Study”.

The project represents an interdisciplinary collaboration between Heather and the philosophers Gregory Currie (University of York) and Stacie Friend (Birkbeck), and will explore the effect that reading fiction has on imagination, attitudes, moral sensitivity, and psychological insight.  The project will employ neuropsychological and cognitive-experimental methods within a philosophical framework to understand this important issue from multiple perspectives.

The grant is worth £342,223 in total, with £176,157 coming directly to Kent, and is part of an emerging body of interdisciplinary research in the School, especially funded by Leverhulme.

Controlled temperature change inside ear can prevent migraines

Volunteers in the study who had a history of migraines experienced a significant reduction in the number of migraines they normally experienced in a month after using a technique known as caloric vestibular stimulation (CVS).

CVS activates the balance organs which are believed to alter activity in the area of the brain, known as the brainstem, associated with the onset of migraine headaches.

Dr David Wilkinson helped lead the randomised, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial. It was carried out across the US and UK, involving 81 volunteers with a history of between four and 14 migraine attacks per month.

The volunteers self-administered caloric vestibular stimulation daily for 20 minutes over a period of three months. The thermal currents were delivered by aluminium earpieces seated within padded headphones, powered and controlled by a small, hand-held device.

The findings demonstrated that the treatment reduced both the number of migraine days per month (the active treatment group experienced a reduction of 3.6 days compared to 0.9 days in the placebo group) as well as headache pain and the consequent need for migraine abortive prescription medications.

Read more on the Kent News Centre pages. Full research available here.

ERC MSc Scholarship 2017

Applications are invited for a £2,000 MSc scholarship, funded by a European Research Council (ERC) grant on the project: Tracking the cognitive basis of social communication across the life-span (see The successful applicant will undertake their Dissertation under the supervision of Dr Heather Ferguson at the University of Kent’s School of Psychology, starting in September 2017. Also collaborating on the research project are Dr Victoria Brunsdon and Dr Lizzie Bradford (University of Kent).

For more details on the project, eligibility and how to apply, please see the full advertisement. Deadline for applications is 31 July 2017.

Why we underestimate time when we’re on Facebook

Updating your Facebook status can be a fun way to while away the hours – but now it seems it really is making us lose track of time as we do it.

New research from PhD student Lazaros Gonidis and Dr Dinkar Sharma suggests that people who are using Facebook or surfing the web suffer impaired perception of time.

Researchers from the University’s School of Psychology found that the way people perceived time varied according to whether their internet use was specifically Facebook related or more general.

Using well-established internal clock models, researchers attempted to separate the roles of ‘attention’ and ‘arousal’ as drivers for time distortion. The researchers found that Facebook-related stimuli can lead to an underestimate of time compared to general internet use, but that both lead to a distortion of time.

For more information, please see the Kent News Centre pages.

Kent hosts BPS seminar on vestibular cognition

An international symposium is being held in the School of Psychology today entitled “The Vestibular System: A System for Mental Life”.

The seminar, organised by Dr David Wilkinson, is part of a series supported by the British Psychological Society (BPS) focusing on the psychological principles that govern vestibular-cognitive interactions.

For further details see the seminar series website.


Treatment can offer hope for relief of Parkinson’s symptoms

A non-invasive, home-based procedure to stimulate the inner ear and brain functions that control balance and eye movement can offer hope for the relief of Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.

Research carried out by the University and East Kent Hospitals University NHS Trust involving a patient with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) provided evidence of behavioural improvement across some of the disease’s most common and debilitating symptoms.

Now the researchers, led by Dr David Wilkinson, of the School of Psychology, and Dr Mohamed Sakel, director of East Kent Neuro-Rehabilitation Service, are testing if the beneficial effects of the new treatment – which involves non-invasive, thermal stimulation of the balance organs – are evident in a larger group.

For more details, please go to the Kent News Centre.

Leverhulme Trust PhD Studentship 2016

Applications are invited for a Leverhulme Trust 3 year PhD studentship, on the project: Imagining the self in fictional worlds: evidence from Autism Spectrum Disorder (see also The studentship will be undertaken under the supervision of Dr Heather Ferguson and Dr David Williams at the University of Kent’s School of Psychology, starting in September 2016.

Deadline for applications is 13 May 2016; all materials, including references, must be received by that date. Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in the week beginning 23 May.

For more details and information on eligibility and how to apply, please see the full advertisement.

Dr Heather Ferguson wins University Research Prize

The School of Psychology is delighted to announce that Dr Heather Ferguson is the winner of the prestigious and competitive University Prize for Research. Congratulations, Heather!

Heather receives the award in recognition of her internationally esteemed work bridging the gap between cognitive neuroscience, linguistics, and social psychology. It will be presented at a ceremony in April.

Postgraduate students to attend science infographics event

Congratulations to Lauren SpinnerAife Hopkins-Doyle and Kiran Purewal, who have been awarded £120, £80 and £80 respectively by the Graduate School Eastern ARC Student Mobility Fund to assist them in attending the science infographics hack event, INFOHACKIT. This is a unique opportunity for PhD and postdoctoral researchers to work with infographic designers and data developers to produce amazing graphics to communicate research – all within an intense 12 hour period!

INFOHACKIT 2016 is free to attend, and takes place on Monday 22 February at the Open venue in Norwich city centre. It follows a previous event run with the Marine Knowledge Exchange Network (M-KEN).