Project overview

On this page, you will find an overview of all available forskerlinje projects on offer for 2019/2020 in psychology.

 


Action planning in an if-then format (e.g., “If I enter the cafeteria, then I will buy healthy fruits”) is receiving increasing attention in applied research to induce health-related behavior change. Thus, there is a large set of published studies providing a unique insight on the relation between thought (in this case, specific if-then action plans) and subsequent actual behavior. The current project sets out to systematically analyze this relation between thought and action using previously published studies of if-then action planning from basic and applied research.

Aims of the current project:

1) Facilitate understanding of the relation between thought and action and

2) provide information to optimize behavioral health interventions.

Supervisor
Torsten Martiny-Huenger, Førsteamanuensis, Social Psychology Group

Theoretical background 
Formulating intentions (i.e., I want to eat more healthy fruits) has surprisingly little effects on actual behavior (e.g., Sheeran & Webb, 2016). However, formulating intentions in an if(situation)-then(response) format has been shown to be an effective self-regulation strategy (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006). The basic idea behind if-then planning is linking an anticipated critical situation (e.g., cafeteria) with an intended behavior (e.g., buy healthy fruits) in the form of an if-then plan: If I enter the cafeteria, then I will buy some healthy fruits. Formulating such an if-then plan increases the likelihood of actually performing the intended behavior in the anticipated situation; thereby increasing the likelihood of actually achieving one’s goals. The main theoretical assumption underlying the effects of if-then planning is that the verbal formulation of the plan creates a link between the critical situation (e.g., stimulus: cafeteria) and the response (buy healthy fruits). This link increases the likelihood that encountering the situation will activate the intended response automatically (Martiny-Huenger, Martiny, Parks-Stamm, Pfeiffer, & Gollwitzer, 2017).
Research question/ research hypothesis

Example questions (they will be adjusted to the prospective candidates competency and interests):

1) Do the if-then plans studied in published research actually fit the theoretical assumptions specified in the if-then planning theory?

2) Does the quality of the if-then plans predict their effectiveness?

3) What are best-practice rules for health interventions that use action planning as a intervention strategy?

Design, Procedure and Method
The current project follows an exploratory approach that uses already published data. The project is exploratory, because the investigated research questions will form during the initial screening of the published literature. The methods will vary depending on the research questions. These methods can range from a systematic review of research on a specific topic to a meta-analytical approach to statistically investigate a set of research questions.

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes

TASKS

1) Get familiar with if-then planning research.

2) Continue to collect a list of research using the if-then planning strategy.

3) Develop and investigate a research question that can be answered with the collected data.

4) Write a research report.

LEARNING OUTCOMES

1) Health interventions. The student will become familiar with a promising self-regulation strategy that is receiving increasing attention in health-related interventions.

2) Basic research. The if-then planning strategy provides a unique insight into basic mechanisms of human cognition and action control and the broader question of how mere thought influences subsequent actual, physical responses.

3) Methods. The evaluation of published studies will provide deep insights into research methods in basic and applied settings.

Research environment and research group
The student will work within a small research group consisting of the main supervisor Torsten Martiny-Huenger and two PhD students with related but more experimentally focused topics. The current project’s theoretical focus will mutually benefit all members of the group.


Triadic interactions (that is between two persons and a third object or event) in the first year of life are important for infants’ development. Through these interactions infants learn that there are things that they can refer to, enabling gestural and ultimately verbal communication. How and how frequent dyads engage in these kinds of interactions can be expected to depend on their (eco-cultural) environment, which will be studied in this project.

Supervisor(s)
Monika Abels, Dr. rer. nat. (PhD), Førsteamanuensis, Forskningsgruppe for barns utvikling / Research group for child development

The second supervisor could be somebody working on child development in India or on child-focused vs. hierarchical interactions and can be contacted through the supervisor’s network.

Theoretical background 
During the first year of life infants develop socio-cognitive skills (secondary intersubjectivity; Trevarthen, 1993; joint attention, Moore & Dunham, 1995) that allow them to communicate with an interactional partner about an external object. Interactions can be distinguished by who initiated them and who follows (Bakeman & Adamson, 1984; Mastin, 2013); caregivers’ following has been shown to be particularly beneficial to language learning (Tomasello & Farrar, 1986). However, cultural communities differ in how and how frequently they engage in triadic interactions (Salomo & Liszkowski, 2013). Based on an eco-cultural framework (Whiting & Whiting, 1981) it can be assumed that there should also be socio-economic differences (Abels & Hutman, 2015) and differences related to place of habitation and family livelihood. Differences between rural and urban families in India are an example of such eco-cultural differences. While urban infants experience more independent or child-centered interactions, rural infants experience interdependent or hierarchical interactions (Abels et. al., 2005; Abels, submitted), probably also in triadic interactions.

Research question/ research hypothesis 
H1: The frequency and type of Indian infants triadic interactions with their caregivers differ from those in other cultural communities

H2: Urban and rural Indian infants differ in their triadic interactions:
Urban infants experience more child-centered interactions, i. e. caregivers follow more
Rural infants experience more hierarchical interactions, i.e. infants follow more

H3: Differences in triadic interactions are related to caregivers’ socialization goals

A greater emphasis on hierarchy in socialization goals is related to more hierarchical interactions.
A greater emphasis on individuality in socialization goals is related to more child-centered interactions.

Design, Procedure and Method
Video recordings of everyday interactions of rural and urban Indian infants will be analyzed. Nine-month-old infants were video-recorded in their home without any instruction for app. 30 minutes. If the mother was absent during the first half of the recording, she was asked to “sit with the child” but not instructed to interact with the child. The sample consists of 21rural and 20 urban families. Data on their living situation and a questionnaire on socialization goals (hierarchy, individuality and connectedness) are available.

The videos will be analyzed according to the types of triadic interactions, according to a coding scheme suggested by Bakeman & Adamson (1984) and developed further by Mastin (2013). It differentiates infants’ attention to a partner and an object; the partner’s attention to the infant and the object and whether or not mutual interaction goals is observed. The data from this project will be compared to the previously published data (Bakeman & Admason, 1984; Mastin, 2013; Salomo & Liszkowski, 2013) to assess how much and which types triadic interactions Indian infants experience in comparison to other cultural groups. Additionally, the samples will be compared to each other and related to their caregivers’ socialization goals.

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
It will be the student’s task to adapt the coding scheme, code the video-recorded situations and do the statistics in cooperation with the supervisor. Furthermore, the student will be involved in preparing a manuscript for publication. He/she will learn about a research process excluding recruitment and data collection and will gain knowledge about child-rearing processes in a different cultural community.

Research environment and research group
The student will be affiliated with the Research group for child development which currently consists of three Associate Professors who are all experts on development in infancy. This is a new, dynamic and possibly expanding research group, which will by that time include one or more PhD students and research assistants. The supervisor has extensive experience in cross-cultural research, particularly in rural India and has collected the data for this project in the past.


Pictures containing emotional stimuli has been widely used to induce affect. A relatively simple, but effective, tool for indexing emotional reactions is the startle eyeblink reflex. The typical emotional modulation is increased startle to negative pictures and, to lesser extent, inhibited startle to positive pictures. However, research on startle in relation to emotional facial expressions has not revealed a clear pattern. This project aims to investigate factors influencing startle reactions to emotional facial expressions.

Supervisor(s)
Ole Åsli, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Research Group for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Theoretical background 
Visual stimuli are one of the most powerful sources of information regarding our immediate environment. Emotional visual stimuli gives us information important for our wellbeing, and reactions to these stimuli has been investigated in numerous studies. The common finding is that negative emotional scenes produce more intense reactions compared to neutral and positive scenes. Furthermore, pictures of emotional faces have frequently been included in the category of emotional scenes. However, the effects of emotional facial expressions are not as clear-cut. Recent research indicate that factors other than facial expressions influence responses to such stimuli. E.g. Åsli, Michalsen & Øvervoll (2017) showed that face direction interacts with emotional expressions to potentiate startle. Other studies has implied that model gender and/or participant gender may also influence reactions. In sum, the notion that negative facial expressions potentiates startle and positive facial expressions inhibits startle is too simplistic, and needs revision.

Research questions:

1. The relevance of model gaze direction: Gaze direction of the expresser may modify the relevance of emotional expression as implied in the study investigating face direction. This study will investigate how the model’s gaze direction modify the startle response to emotional faces.

2. Gender and emotional facial expressions: Several studies has implied that gender may be important in relation to startle responses to emotional facial expressions. This study aims to investigate the effect of model gender, and participant gender, on startle responding to emotional facial expressions.

3. Fake versus authentic facial expressions: Almost every study investigating the effect of facial expressions uses models imitating emotional facial expressions. Given that we are experts on reading facial expressions, this study will investigate differences in responding to real expressions, using pictures of real people experiencing real emotions, in relation to the standard picture material.

Design, Procedure and Method
Design: Study one will be a 2 Face direction (directed, averted) by 5 Emotion (neutral, fearful, angry, happy, neutral) within factors design. Experiment two will be a 2 Model gender (male, female) by 5 Emotion (neutral, fearful, angry, happy, neutral) by 2 Participant sex (men, women) mixed design, where the two first factors will be within factors and the last a between factor. For study three the design will be a 2 Picture type (authentic, fake) by 5 Emotion (neutral, fearful, angry, happy, neutral) within factors design.

There will be sufficient data from one experiment to write one paper. As such, there is flexibility in the project in regard to which part one wishes to focus on.

Programs for experimental control will be written in Coulbourn Human Startle System HSW v. 7.500–00 and run on a Microsoft Windows XP Dell PC controlling presentation of experimental stimuli and data acquisition. Stimuli will be from the Radboud Faces Database. Study three will also include pictures from other sources. Pictures will be resented for 5s in a random order. Intertrial interval will be between 17 and 23s (mean 20s). Pictures will be presented on a 17in. monitor situated 70 cm in front of the participants.
Startle-eliciting noise will have an intensity of 95 dB, instantaneous rise time, and 50 ms duration. The startle-eliciting noise will be presented 3500 ms after picture onset.

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
The student will partake in the final planning of study/studies, learning about the methodological considerations and the demands of the experiment. He/she will do most of the data collection (which is not extensive with about 40 participant to each experiment, and each session taking about half an hour. One experiment will produce sufficient data for one paper). As such, the student will learn skills and procedures needed to do a psychophysiological experiment. In addition, he/she will take part in the statistical analyses of the data and be first author on one paper, learning the final steps of the process also.

Research environment and research group
The student will be included in the Research Group for Cognitive Neuroscience. The group consist of four current Ph.D. students, one Post.Doc., and six full positions. The research group has a good record for Ph.D. completion, and a young and dynamic environment. Two of the members of the group, Åsli (supervisor) and Øvervoll has published a paper on the project topic. This paper was co-authored by a student.


Emotionally-relevant stimuli can influence our decisions by initiating approach behavior for reward or response inhibition for punishment. For example, our predisposition to pursue reward can facilitate the formation of habits (e.g., automatically turning left in the supermarket to visit the smågodt shelves) and can also interact with our deliberate, goal-directed decisions (e.g., traveling to Belgium because of its reputation of delicious chocolates). Despite these rather trivial examples, we know surprisingly little about the underlying behavioral and neural characteristics of these processes.

Supervisors
Gábor Csifcsák (Førsteamanuensis, Forskningsgruppe for kognitiv nevrovitenskap) and Matthias Mittner (PhD
Førsteamanuensis, Forskningsgruppe for kognitiv nevrovitenskap).

Theoretical background 
Our voluntary actions can either be goal-directed (results of careful consideration of possible action consequences) or habitual (relying on already learned stimulus-response associations). These two modes of action control are associated with distinct behavioral, computational and neural mechanisms. In addition, our choices are influenced by a third, so-called Pavlovian system that triggers automatic response tendencies to reward and behavioral passivity when facing potentially aversive events. Dysfunction of emotionally-driven, Pavlovian response tendencies has been associated with several psychopathological conditions (depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, anxiety disorders). Therefore, it is essential to understand how the Pavlovian system mediates goal-directed vs. habitual choices, and to develop new interventional methods for improving emotionally-driven decision-making. To this end, we plan to combine a cognitive task with non-invasive brain stimulation targeting different regions within the prefrontal cortex to improve decision-making in healthy adults.

This project addresses the following research questions:

Can our new cognitive task differentiate between Pavlovian-habitual and Pavlovian-goal-directed interactions? What are the behavioral and computational characteristics of these interactions? 
Can we improve decision-making by modulating the degree of Pavlovian influences on the goal-directed vs. habitual systems via non-invasive brain stimulation targeting the lateral and medial parts of the prefrontal cortex?

Design, Procedure and Method

We will use a special computer-based card game that has been designed to enable assessing the interaction between the Pavlovian, goal-directed and habitual systems. Participants will be randomized to 3 experimental groups: placebo (sham) stimulation, stimulation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the medial prefrontal cortex. Brain stimulation will be delivered via high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS; http://www.neuroelectrics.com/products/starstim/starstim-8/) using 5 scalp electrodes. This stimulation technique has been widely used in a safe manner to modulate brain activity and cognitive performance in various experimental setups in healthy adults. With an estimated effect size of 0.3, we will need 25 healthy adult participants per group (N=75 in total) to detect a significant effect at an alpha level of 0.05 and power of 0.8. Our main (dependent) variables will be overall task performance and behavioral indices that measure the degree of Pavlovian influences during the card game. We will also collect data from questionnaires that ask about mood and personality traits, and use cognitive tests to measure working memory capacity. Scores from the questionnaires and cognitive tests will be used to control for latent factors (covariates) that might also influence task performance. We will use both conventional frequentist statistics and Bayesian approaches.

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
The student will be responsible for recruiting participants, conducting data collection (setting up the brain stimulation protocol, supervising the card game, assessing questionnaires and cognitive tests) and contributing to data analysis. She/he will learn about the psychological and neurobiological background of emotionally-driven decision-making and the main characteristics of the experimental protocol (including all practical aspects of tDCS). The student will be also named as a co-author on all publications related to this project.

Research environment and research group
The study will be performed within the research group for cognitive neuroscience at IPS. This research group has a good track record of conducting high-quality research (both in the field of tDCS and decision-making) and publishing in international peer-reviewed journals. The project will be supervised by Gábor Csifcsák and co-supervised by Matthias Mittner. All technical aspects of the study (i.e., lab equipment) are already available at IPS. Our group has already conducted two studies using similar stimuli and tasks and we are therefore confident about its suitability as a productive student project.

References

Rangel, A., Camerer, C. & Montague, P. R. A framework for studying the neurobiology of value-based decision making. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 9, 545–556 (2008)

Cavanagh, J. F. & Frank, M. J. Frontal theta as a mechanism for cognitive control. Trends Cogn. Sci. 18, 414–421 (2014).

Ly, V. et al. Reduced Affective Biasing of Instrumental Action With tDCS Over the Prefrontal Cortex. Brain Stimulat. 9, 380–387 (2016).


When we make decisions, we rely on our estimate of the value associated with possible outcomes. Learning these values, is called reward-based learning and is influenced by two processes: A model-free process characterized by slow and cumulative learning from errors and a model-based process based on building a mental model of the environment to predict the optimal decision. Previous research showed that expectations influence performance in reward learning. We want to investigate the influence of non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) and expectations on model-free and model-based reward learning. This is relevant for understanding how NIBS and expectations influence cognition.


Supervisors
Espen Bjørkedal (PhD, Universitetslektor, Forskningsgruppe for kognitiv nevrovitenskap) and Matthias Mittner (PhD
Førsteamanuensis, Forskningsgruppe for kognitiv nevrovitenskap).

Theoretical background 
Experimental research on reward learning utilize learning tasks where participants has to make decisions that lead to different outcomes. Their task is to learn the value associated with the outcomes of their decisions in order to perform optimally. By using computational modeling it has been shown that performance is guided by two fundamentally different processes: by building a mental model of the environment and try to predict the best option (model-based) or relying on results from choices that we have previously made in the assumption that these positive or negative outcomes will generalize to the new choice (model-free). Previous research show that expectations increase performance on the learning task by improving the model-free system. On the other hand, expectations can both improve or impair the model-based process. Previous research has not been able to separate the influence of expectations on these two processes in a single experiment. We propose a novel experiment which investigate the respective effects on both of these systems to get a better understanding of these learning-related effects. An important aspect in this regard is the involvement of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), the area associated with model-based learning, which can be stimulated using non-invasive brain stimulation techniques (NIBS).


Research question/ research hypothesis 
This project addresses the following research questions:

Is it possible to differentiate between model-based and model-free performance using a modified version of a reinforcement learning task? 
Can we induce expectation-effect on either of the two modes of processing?
What is the relative strength of these effects on the model-free and model-based systems, respectively and is this related to the application of NIBS?

Design, Procedure and Method
In order to estimate the relative usage of the model-free or model-based strategies, we developed a special gambling game that involved choosing between different lotteries. This experimental task can be used, by applying computational cognitive models of reinforcement learning, to disentangle the use of the two different learning systems. In addition, previous research recently showed that performance in this task is positively correlated with usage of the model-based system, thus allowing separate indices for involvement. The relevant feature of this task is a two-step decision requirement, meaning that a user has to make to interrelated choices. Model-based performance is indicated when the participant uses relevant information from previous encounters of the second-stage choices to inform her first-stage choice. We will use a reinforcement procedure together with an active NIBS intervention to investigate this. This will result in an experimental design composed of three different groups undergoing slightly different versions of the task. Transcranial direct current stimulation, a well-researched NIBS technique, will be used to stimulate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex using a high-definition, 4x1 pattern of electrode positioning. We will use both conventional frequentist statistics and Bayesian approaches to analyze the data.

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
The student will be responsible for recruiting participants, conducting data collection and contributing to data analysis. She/he will learn about the psychological and neurobiological background of reward-based decision making and transcranial direct current stimulation, a non-invasive brain stimulation technique. The student will have the opportunity to actively participate in design decisions, task/lab preparation and all aspects of the research. In addition, the student will have the opportunity to study computational cognitive models of reinforcement making (though that is not a requirement). The student will be also named as a co-author on all publications related to this project.

Research environment and research group
The study will be performed within the research group for cognitive neuroscience at IPS. This research group has a good track record of conducting high-quality research (both in the field of tDCS and value-based decision making) and publishing in international peer-reviewed journals. The project will be supervised by Espen Bjørkedal and co-supervised by Matthias Mittner. All technical aspects of the study (i.e., lab equipment) are already available at IPS. The research proposed here will be conducted in close collaboration with our long-term collaborator Dr. Zsolt Turi from the University Hospital of Göttingen. Our group has already conducted two studies using similar stimuli and tasks and we are therefore confident about its suitability as a productive student project.


Mind-wandering (MW) is our tendency to experience frequent drifts of attention away from a set task that we want to concentrate on. Research suggests that we spend a surprising amount of our daily lives engaging in this kind of thinking. Not being fully concentrated on a task can lead to errors which can have severe consequences in situations where accuracy is crucial (e.g., driving). It is therefore important to better understand how such off-task thoughts are being generated and, potentially, how we can influence their occurrence. Here we want to investigate how non-invasive brain-stimulation of prefrontal areas involved in executive control may influence the occurrence of off-task thinking.

 
Supervisors
Matthias Mittner, Førsteamanuensis, Forskningsgruppe for kognitiv nevrovitenskap and Gabor Csifcsák
Førsteamanuensis, Forskningsgruppe for kognitiv nevrovitenskap.

Theoretical background 
In many real-life situations, maintaining task-focus in a monotonous setting can be challenging. Failure to maintain task-focus can lead to a train of thoughts away from the primary task and result in the phenomenon of mind-wandering. Most researchers agree that executive control is intimately related to this phenomenon. The prefrontal cortex is the brain area that is most often related to executive functions and has been shown to be related to mind-wandering in neuroimaging studies. This relationship has sparked a series of studies investigating whether stimulation of prefrontal areas using transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) can modulate the self-reported occurence of such thoughts. The results of these studies have been mixed where some studies have found an increase in mind-wandering when stimulating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex while others have failed to do so. Our analyses based on computational modeling and our own results suggest a possible mediating role of medial prefrontal areas. In this project, we therefore plan to investigate whether a systematic variation of stimulation parameters targeting both medial and dorsolateral prefrontal brain areas can have systematic effects on self-reported mind wandering.

This project addresses the following research questions:

If non-invasive brain-stimulation of the dorsolateral or medial pre-frontal cortex can influence the occurrence of mind-wandering.
Whether anodal and cathodal stimulation of different intensities have qualitatively different effects on the rate of mind-wandering.
Whether and how measures of executive function are related to mind-wandering and whether they can be manipulated using targeted non-invasive brain stimulation.

Design, Procedure and Method
To study MW, we use a specialized task that allows to measure behavioural variability, approximate entropy (a measure of executive functioning) and mind-wandering. We have used this task in previous studies and it is well suited for our purposes. We will pair this task with non-invasive brain-stimulation protocols targeting dorsolateral and medial prefrontal areas using anodal and cathodal stimulation parameters. Administration of tDCS will be done in a double-blind mode using a high-focality, multi-electrode setup (http://www.neuroelectrics.com/products/starstim/starstim-8/) above the prefrontal cortex. We will also collect data from questionnaires that ask about mood and personality traits, and use cognitive tests to measure working memory capacity.

Our main (dependent) variables will be overall task performance and behavioral indices that measure behavioural variability, executive functioning and mind-wandering. We will compare these across the experimental groups to assess if tDCS over different areas can influence any of those variables. Scores from the questionnaires and cognitive tests will be used to control for latent factors (covariates) that might also influence task performance. We will use both conventional frequentist statistics and Bayesian approaches. Based on our effect-sizes from our previous studies, we will need to collect a sample of approximately 90 subjects.

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
The student will be responsible for recruiting participants, conducting data collection (setting up the brain stimulation protocol, supervising the experiment, assessing questionnaires and cognitive tests) and contributing to data analysis. She/he will learn about the psychological and neurobiological background of attention and executive functioning and the main characteristics of the experimental protocol (including all practical aspects of non-invasive brain stimulation). The student will be also named as a co-author on all publications related to this project.

Research environment and research group
The study will be performed within the research group for cognitive neuroscience at IPS. This research group has a good track record of conducting high-quality research (both in the field of mind-wandering and non-invasive brain stimulation) and publishing in international peer-reviewed journals. The project will be supervised by Matthias Mittner and co-supervised by Gabor Csifcsák. All technical aspects of the study (i.e., lab equipment) are already available at IPS. Our group has already conducted several studies using similar stimuli and tasks and we are therefore confident about its suitability as a productive student project.

References

Axelrod, V., Rees, G., Lavidor, M., & Bar, M. (2015). Increasing propensity to mind-wander with transcranial direct current stimulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(11), 3314-3319.

Boayue, N. M., Csifcsák, G., Aslaksen, P., Turi, Z., Antal, A., Groot, J., ... & Mittner, M. (2019). Increasing propensity to mind‐wander by transcranial direct current stimulation? A registered report. European Journal of Neuroscience.

Csifcsák, G., Boayue, N. M., Aslaksen, P. M., Turi, Z., Antal, A., Groot, J., ... & Mittner, M. (2019). Commentary:“Transcranial stimulation of the frontal lobes increases propensity of mind-wandering without changing meta-awareness”. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 130.


Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has a preclinical phase of 10-15 years before the onset of clinical memory  dysfunction. The entorhinal cortex is linked to spatial memory function, and atrophy of this structure is an early event in AD. The Four Mountains test (4MT) is a short test of spatial working memory, which may show deficits in very early AD, possibly in the preclinical phase before the onset of clinical impairment in other memory functions. This project employs magnetic resonance neuroimaging (MRI), cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) AD biomarkers and conventional memory tests to investigate if a) the 4MT is related to entorhinal cortex thickness and b) if the 4MT sensitively detects AD related pathology, even before deficits in other memory functions are evident. 

Supervisors: 
1) Knut Waterloo, Professor, IPS, UIT
2) Bjørn-Eivind Kirsebom, PhD, Department of Neurology, UNN, Tromsø. 
Research group: “Atferd, aldring og demens” (previously known as “Nevrofag for utvikling og atferd”) (Behavioral Neuroscience and Human Development (BNHD))

Theoretical background 
In order to identify patients eligible for early intervention trials, novel biological and cognitive markers of early pre-dementia phases of AD are sought. The presence of amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles and neurodegeneration in the brain are hallmark pathological markers of AD and can be determined by cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) biomarkers. Atrophy and formation of neurofibrillary tangles in the entorhinal cortex (EC) is an early event in AD, which may precede pathology to the hippocampus proper. In recent years, spatial memory and navigation have been linked to specialized cells such as “grid cells” found in the medial EC. Thus, deficits in spatial navigation and memory may be an early cognitive marker in AD, perhaps even preceding decline in other memory functions. The 4MT is a short test of spatial working memory linked to EC and hippocampal spatial functions and may putatively serve as a preclinical marker of cognitive decline due to AD.

Research question/ research hypothesis 
RQ1: Is 4MT performance worse in cases with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) AD biomarkers, as compared to MCI cases with normal CSF?
RQ2: Is 4MT performance worse in cognitively normal participants with CSF AD biomarkers as compared to participants with normal CSF?
RQ3: Is 4MT performance related to entorhinal cortical thickness and/or hippocampal volumes?

Design, Procedure and Method
Methods: Data will be sourced from the Dementia Disease Initiation (DDI) cohort. Inclusions began in 2013 with planned reassessments every 2 years until study completions (REK approval 2025). The cohort currently comprises 658 participants with completed baseline assessments. Procedure: All participants complete a standardized assessment protocol including neuropsychological assessment and lumbare puncture with collection of CSF for biomarker analysis as well as magnetic resonance image (MRI) brain scan. Entorhinal cortical thickness and hippocampal volume is determined using FreeSurfer 6.0 through an automated pipeline in TSD (tjenester for sensitive data) at the University of Oslo (UiO). Administration of the 4MT began in 2018 to all DDI participants from UNN, Tromsø, Ahus, St. Olavs (Trondheim) and Stavanger university hospital, with a projected n=300 cases and controls with completed 4MT in 2020. Data from these sites will be available for analysis for the student. Design: Participants are classified as cognitively normal or having MCI according to published criteria and further classified by CSF AD biomarker status (AD+ or AD-) for both cognitively normal and MCI. 4MT performance is then compared between groups using independent samples t-tests with appropriate post-hoc correction for multiple comparisons.


Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
The student will receive training in neuropsychological assessment, and do clinical examinations of research participants, write neuropsychological reports and plot the collected data at the Department of Neurology, UNN Tromsø. He/she will participate in collaborative research efforts within the DDI national network, including attending workshops with other PhD students, post-docs and professors from different disciplines in medicine, psychology, informatics, physics and molecular biology. He/she will have access to the DDI database and extract data pertinent to the research questions described above. Under the guidance of the aforementioned supervisors, and in collaboration with researchers within DDI, he/she will analyze data and draft a manuscript to answer the research questions outlined in this proposal. The manuscript will be submitted to a peer-reviewed open access journal.

Research environment and research group
At DDI Tromsø, the project is led by Professor Knut Waterloo, UiT/IPS. The project is a part of the research group “behavior, aging and dementia” at IPS and “brain and circulation group” at IKM. In addition, we are supported by DDI sites nationally with experts within clinical and cognitive neuroscience (molecular biology, genetics, informatics, geriatrics, neurology, neuropsychiatry, and neuropsychology). Most notably  Professor Tormod Fladby (DDI national leader, Ahus/UiO) and  Professor Erik Hessen (responsible for neuropsychology in DDI, Ahus, UiO). The student will attend seminars and workshops hosted by the DDI group.


Eyebrow flash – brief raising of eyebrows, when initiating a social exchange with another person – is one of the most basic and universally understood signals of nonverbal communication. Surprisingly, we know little about when babies become sensitive to this signal and how they interpret it. In this project we will use infant eye-tracking, and in particular pupilometry – measurement of changes in the pupil size – in order to study the sensitivity to the eyebrow raise during the first months of infant life.

Supervisor
Mikołaj Hernik, PhD, Associate Professor in the Research group on child development.

Theoretical background
Human infants are competent recipients of communicative signals, such as eye-contact and gaze-shifts. It has been argued that this early competencies are based on a system of biological adaptations that make human infants well equipped to receive communication from the very beginning of their lives. Others argue that infant responses to the simple communicative signals develop merely through exposure to such behaviors in their environment and through basic learning. These questions are difficult to answer in part because our knowledge of the communicative signals that infants are sensitive to is still fragmentary and based on a small set of methods. This project will rely on a method, which is relatively new in infancy research and based on the phenomenon of pupil dilation in response to positive social stimuli. This way we will study a prime example of a nonverbal communicative signal widespread among diverse cultural contexts, yet understudied in infants.

Research hypothesis 
Hypothesis 1: Human infants from early on are sensitive to the communicative signal of eyebrow raising, as evidenced by pupil dilation in response to schematic animations of face-like stimuli with “eye-brows” moving up, relative to baseline and to matched face-like stimuli with other features moving.

Hypothesis 2: The effect of pupil-dilation will be restricted to the social stimuli and absent when viewing matched control non-face-like stimuli.

Design, Procedure and Method
During the study infants will seat in the caregiver’s lap and watch a series of many simple short animations, where colorful geometrical figures will appear on the screen and some of their features will change position from one frame to the next. By using the schematic geometrical stimuli we will be able to control perfectly luminance of the stimuli across the conditions. Depending on the condition, the features will either form a well-formed face-like pattern or not, and the moving features will either be the dark horizontal lines positioned above the “eyes” or not. The exact age of participants and sample-size will be established through a pilot before the project starts. But we can estimate that the project will involve testing about 48 babies in their first year of life. While infants free-view the animations, the size of their pupil will be recorded remotely using an Eyelink 1000Plus eyetracker for later offline analysis.

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
The student will receive hands-on training in conducting infant eye-tracking experiments and the use of software: Experiment Builder, Data Viewer and R. They will be responsible for testing the infant participants at the UiT babylab. They will contribute to: describing the project for ethics-board application and for preregistration, recruiting the participants, analyzing the data, preparing conference presentations of the results, as well as the final publication.

Research environment and research group
The project will be conducted in the Research group for child development, which is a recently established vibrant research unit consisting of three associate professors, one PhD student as well as student assistants. The supervisor has extensive experience in infant eyetracking and research on related topics. The study will be conducted using a recently purchased Eyelink eyetracer dedicated to infant studies.


Avalanches kill 250 people every year world-wide. 90% of the fatal avalanches are triggered by the victims, making human factor the most important factor in preventing avalanche accidents.

Supervisors
Main supervisor: Audun Hetland, Associate professor.  Human factor in high risk environment – CARE. Second supervisor: George Lowenstein, professor, Carneige Mellon University, Pennsylvania, USA.

Theoretical background 
Affect influences literally all aspects of human functioning like attention, inference, learning, memory, physiology, self-concept, goal choice, perception and decision making (Cosmides & Tooby, 2000). In fact, the very function of our emotions is assisting us in adapting to the environment by guiding our attention and prepare us to act according to a goal (Oatley, 2009; Vittersø, 2013). Several studies show that we are likely to make radically different decisions in a hot (in affect) state compared to a cold (rational) state (Ariely & Loewenstein, 2006). Emotions often work well as a guide for our decisions.  However, in avalanche terrain feedback is scarce or non-existing and dangers may therefore not trigger crucial negative emotions like fear, but rather leave us pray to our own craving for powder.

Research hypothesis 
Participants will be more willing to take risk and persuade their partner to take more dangerous decisions in a hot state (in the ski lift on powder days) compared to in a cold state (the day after while home).

Design, Procedure and Method
Participants will be more willing to take risk and persuade their partner to take more dangerous decisions in a hot state (in the ski lift on powder days) compared to in a cold state (the day after while home).
Within participant design with repeated measures in two different conditions; hot and cold state. The sample will be recruited among our pre-registered panel of skiers. They will answer the first questionnaire at home several days before skiing. They will answer the second questionnaire while sitting in the ski-lift on a powder day. We plan to recruit N=100. 
While sitting in the ski lift participants answer questions on risk willingness, preferences and behaving ethically towards ski partners (like not talking people into skiing risky terrain against their will etc). We compare being in a “hot” (perfect powder) days with a “cold” state (answering the same questions at home). This study is currently running as a pilot study with our international partners in Montana, USA.
The study apply the same methodology and rest on the same theoretical background as Ariely and Lowensteins  (2006) study. They found sexual arousal to severely amplify people’s willingness to engage in risky and morally questionable sexual activities. In this study we apply the same ideas but exchange sex with snow and the bedroom with a skiresort.

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
Tasks

1) Get familiar with the most relevant literature on affect and affect driven decisions.

2) Collect questionnaire data in the field. 

3) Write a research report and

4) co-author a paper together with our international partners.


Learning outcomes

1) The student will become familiar with human factor and its importance in risk related decision making.

2) The student will learn how to set up and conduct a in the field study and

3) thorough the writing process learn and develop skills in how to structure and write a scientific paper.

Research environment and research group
CARE is a cross disciplinary research group involving people from four different departments at three different faculties (IPS and IH/Helsefak, ITS/NT-fak, and HH/BFE-fak) NVE is also a partner in the center. The core group consists currently of three associate professors in 100%, three PhD students, two (soon four) professor II and one assistant professor in 50%. To strengthen the interdisciplinarity and international collaborations all PhD students have one co or main supervisors outside CARE and one international co-supervisor. CARE collaborates with leading international scientists and research groups at Snow and Avalanche Lab at Montana State University, Simon Fraser University, USA and Carnegie Mellon University, USA and soon also the Max Planck Institute, Germany


Despite increasing gender equality worldwide, certain beliefs persist about what social and occupational roles men and women should have (Croft et al., 2015; Haines et al., 2016). These prescriptive stereotypes define how men and women should behave (Eagly et al., 2000). These traditional gender stereotypes are problematic as they restrict people in the choices they make throughout their lives (e.g., career choices). As gender stereotypes and gender roles develop in childhood, it is important to get a better understanding of the development of gender stereotypes in young children.

Supervisor
First supervisor: Dr. Sarah E. Martiny, Professor, Social and Community Psychology

Theoretical background 
Despite Norway being one of the most gender-egalitarian countries in the world, gender segregation in the labor market persists, with men underrepresented in health care and early education and women underrepresented in science and technology. This gender segregation is problematic, for example when considering the growing labor shortages in healthcare and early education. One reason for this gender segregation is gender stereotypes: socially constructed beliefs about what it means to be a man or a woman, learned in early childhood. Thus, it is important to gain more knowledge about the development of gender stereotypes and career aspirations in early childhood. The present project investigates how young children (4-6 years) will develop an understanding of gender and gender roles. Based on our earlier work (Olsson & Martiny, 2019), we will develop an implicit method to measure young children’s gender stereotypes (that are gender related associations) and relate them to existing, explicit methods. With the results of the present project, we will gain knowledge about the processes that shape children’s concept of gender. This is an important step in reducing gender-segregated labor and thus may contribute to even more equality in Norwegian society.

Research questions 
Can an age-appropriate modification of the Auditory Stroop Task (implicit measure) internally reliable measure young children’s gender stereotypes?
Does this implicit measure (Auditory Stroop Task) correlate with established self-report measures?
Does this implicit measure (Auditory Stroop Task) predict behavioral outcome measures? 

Design, Procedure and Method
We will use a between-subjects design and test about 60 four to six old kindergarten children in local kindergartens. The children will be tested by trained students. The children will first work on the Auditory Stroop Task and then fill in explicit measures about their gender stereotypes, their self-perception, and their career aspirations. The materials of this study will be based on our earlier work (Olsson & Martiny, 2019).

Student’s tasks and learning outcomes
The student will work on the following tasks:

get an overview of the literature on factors influencing children’s development of (gender) stereotypes
work on the application for ethical approval and NSD
develop the material for the study based on our earlier work
recruit local kindergarten groups and collect the data
analyze the collected data
write up and publish the results
Through this work the student will develop an elaborate understanding of the complete research process, including all levels of research projects such as conducting literature searches, coming up with research hypotheses, developing study materials, conducting studies, analyzing the data, and writing scientific publications. This experience will be invaluable for any student who later wishes to pursue a career in research.

Research environment and research group
The student will be integrated into an ongoing research project. Part of the research group working on this research project is one PhD student, Maria Olsson, up to four research assistants and potentially master students. In additional, we work in close collaboration with international researchers (Prof. Dr. Melanie Steffens, University of Koblenz-Landau, Germany; Dr. Harriet Tenenbaum, University of Surrey, UK). In addition, the FL-student will be part of the Social and Community Psychology Research Group at IPS.

References

Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L. S. (2006). A developmental intergroup theory of social stereotypes and prejudice. InAdvances in child development and behavior (Vol. 34, pp. 39-89).

Olsson, M. I. T., & Martiny, S. E. (2018). Does Exposure to Counterstereotypical Role Models Influence Girls’ and Women’s Gender Stereotypes and Career Choices? A Review of Social Psychological Research. Frontiers in psychology, 9, 2264.

Most, S. B., Sorber, A. V., & Cunningham, J. G. (2007). Auditory Stroop reveals implicit gender associations in adults and children. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43(2), 287-294.




Ansvarlig for siden: Julie Utler Gjengedal
Sist oppdatert: 20.08.2019 20:37