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Sense of agency, outcome processing and learning under social influence

  • Supervisor: Dr Frederike Beyer
  • Deadline: 12th March 2018
  • Funding: QMUL (UK/EU students only)

Project Description

The acquisition of social skills is arguably one of the most complex learning processes during human development. Many psychiatric disorders are associated with changes in social behaviours like aggression or prosocial behaviour. The aim of this project is to better understand how the cognitive processing of social signals is related to the sense of agency and learning. Sense of agency, that is, the feeling that we are in control over our actions and their consequences, has been linked to the processing of action outcomes and is closely related to the social concept of responsibility. In previous work, we have shown that social situations affect the sense of agency and the monitoring of action outcomes, and how this is related to activity in brain areas associated with the processing of social information. 

This PhD project will investigate links between the processing of social cues, sense of agency, outcome-driven learning and ultimately the emergence of social behaviours. It will investigate both the conditions associated with aggressive behaviour, and the conditions required for the emergence of pro-social reactions such as empathy and helping. 

A key focus will be on interactions between the social context in which an action is made, the processing of action consequences on a neural level, and the subsequent adaptation of behaviour. To this end, the project will combine the development of novel behavioural paradigms with the use of electroencephalography (EEG) to tap into the neural correlates of action and outcome processing. 

Queen Mary University of London (QMUL)

QMUL is one of UK’s leading research-focused higher education institutions and is a member of the prestigious Russell group. The Psychology Department is part of the School of Biological and Chemical Sciences, offering a highly interdisciplinary research environment. Excellent research facilities are available, including eye tracking and EEG. The School holds an Athena SWAN Silver Award and is committed to supporting equality and diversity for all staff and students. 


The studentship is open to UK and EU nationals. It will cover tuition fees and provide an annual tax-free maintenance allowance for 3 years at Research Councils UK rates (£16,553 in 2017/18).

Eligibility and Applying

Outstanding, highly motivated students with, or expecting to receive, at least an upper-second class honours degree (or equivalent) and preferably a masters degree in psychology, cognitive neuroscience or a related subject. A strong interest in social and cognitive neuroscience is essential. Prior experience in programming, developing experimental designs or working with EEG data is desirable.

Informal enquiries can be send to Frederike Beyer () and should include a full CV. Full applications need to be submitted online before the stated deadline.

Apply Online


  • Beyer, F.*, Sidarus, N.*, Bonicalzi, S. & Haggard, P. (2017). Beyond self-serving bias: diffusion of responsibility reduces sense of agency and outcome monitoring. Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 12(1),138-145.
  • Beyer, F.*, Buades-Rotger, M.*, Claes, M., Krämer, U.M. (2017). Hit or Run: Exploring Aggressive and Avoidant Reactions to Interpersonal Provocation Using a Novel Fight-or-Escape Paradigm (FOE). Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 
  • Beyer, F., Münte, T. F.,Göttlich, M. & Krämer, U. M. (2015). Orbitofrontal cortex reactivity to angry facial expression in a social interaction correlates with aggressive behavior. Cerebral Cortex, 25(9), 3057-63.
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