Our Themes

Neuroscience Methods and Interventions

Developing neuroscientific methods has always been a fundamental driver in research in quantitative psychology. Dr Moreno I. Coco has developed different packages in the R statistical programming language, to perform non-dynamical system analysis, or to extract measures from arm-reaching trajectories. Dr Mark Harwood has developed a new method of combining psychophysical methods with eye-tracking data to obtain potential biological markers for neurological conditions. Gambling disorder (GD) is a behavioural addiction characterised by compulsive and maladaptive gambling behaviour and is linked to a dysregulation of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), and the manifestation of high impulsivity and excessive risk-taking behaviour. Elena Gomis Vicent (with Volker Thoma) investigates the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in GD. The clinical phase of the research consists of studying the effects of tDCS in combination with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in patients that attend the UK National Problem Gambling Clinic.

Relevant publications:

  • M.I. Coco and R. Dale (2014). Cross-Recurrence Quantification Analysis of Categorical and Continuous Time-Series: an R-Package. Frontiers in Psychology, Quantitative Psychology and Measurement, 5:510; DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00510 
  • M.I. Coco, N. Duran (2016). When Expectancies Collide: Action Dynamics reveal the Interaction of Plausibility and Congruency, Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 23(6), = 1920-1931. DOI: 10.3758/s13423-016-1022-9


Members of the research group work collaboratively on phenomena of cognitive processing that are linked to neurally atypical traits.

Synaesthesia is a neurodevelopmental phenomenon, where individuals experience an additional perception (a concurrent) in response to specific perceptual or cognitive inducers. For example, with grapheme-colour synaesthesia, an individual will experience the additional perception of colours upon hearing or reading a grapheme. Our synaesthesia research has focused on understanding the factors contributing to the experience of synaesthesia. For example, we have looked at whether a visual mental image of a grapheme can induce synaesthesia, and we have explored whether enhanced mental imagery abilities are associated with synaesthesia. Recent collaborations include work with Prof. Julia Simner and Prof. Jamie Ward at the University of Sussex.


Dr Mary-Jane Budd has expertise in language, specifically investigating the neural bases to language processing in the human brain. More recently, her research has focused on investigating how spatial frequency of object and word form influences developmental dyslexia. Currently, we are working on clarifying the neural correlates of developmental dyslexia in adults using high-resolution electrophysiological (EEG) measures with a paradigm aimed at the ascending methods of limits. This work will inform a neurally plausible model of developmental dyslexia that can account for current findings in brain and behaviour research.

Relevant publications:

  • Spiller, M.J., Harkry, L., McCullagh, F., Thoma, V., Jonas, C. (2019) Exploring the relationship between grapheme colour-picking consistency and mental imagery. Philosophical Transactions B: Biological Sciences, 374 (1787). https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2019.0023
  • Spiller, M.J., Jonas, C.N, Simner, J., Jansari, A. (2015) Beyond visual imagery: How modality-specific is enhanced mental imagery in synesthesia? Consciousness and cognition, 31, 73-85

Visual Cognition for Faces and Scenes

Across the group, a major area of expertise concerns face processing. This includes the investigation of the cognitive and neural features of typical and atypical face processing. Professor Volker Thoma investigates the role of attentional load in perceiving faces (and everyday objects) and showed that perception of distractor faces is automatic in scenes that involve other objects, but not if the scenes contain other faces. Dr Anna Stone is exploring emotional reactions and attitudes of the general public to people with facial disfigurement. Prof Cynthia Fu investigates face processing in relation to psychiatric disorders, such as depression while Dr Melanie Vitkovitch is interested in how we retrieve the names for faces. Dr Angela Gosling uses EEG to elicit the neural correlates of face perception, while Dr Elley Wakui (with Montserrat Gonzalez) uses tDCS to test possible improvements of object and face recognition in healthy participants after brain stimulation. Dr Moreno Coco explores the role of attention and eye movements in scene recognition.

Relevant publications:

  • Thoma, V., & De Fockert, J.W. (2018). Three-quarter views of depth-rotated faces induce face-specific capacity limits in visual search. Experimental Psychology, 65(6), 360–369. https://doi.org/10.1027/1618-3169/a000421
  • Wakui, E., Thoma, V. & de Fockert, J. (2017). View-sensitive ERP repetition effects indicate automatic holistic processing of spatially unattended objects. Neuropsychologia, 89, 426-436.
  • Thoma, V., & Lavie, N. (2013). Perceptual load effects on processing distractor faces indicate face specific capacity limits. Visual Cognition, 21(8), 1053–1076.
  • M.I. Coco, S. Araujo, and K.M. Petersson (2017). Disentangling Stimulus Plausibility and Contextual Congruency: Electro-Physiological Evidence for Differential Cognitive Dynamics. Neuropsychologia., 96, = 150-163, DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2016.12.008

Object Perception

A long-standing project in the University of East London's CAN research group labs is the role of attention in object perception. Dr Volker Thoma showed that an object's recognition is mediated by a hybrid representation (view-dependent and part-based) depending on whether a seen object receives visual attention or not. Brain imaging data (with Prof. Rik Henson, Cambridge) indicate that while view-based 'automatic' representation components are found in ventral and dorsal object processing streams, part-based representations (depending on attention) appear to be limited to ventral processing areas in the brain. EEG work by Dr Angela Gosling and Dr Elley Wakui indicate a similar distinction, with fast (early) repetition effects for holistic, familiar views of objects, and later effects for unfamiliar or changed views of objects. Crucially, both behavioural and imaging data find evidence for visual processing of objects without attention. Recent collaborations are with Prof. John Dylan Haynes (Humboldt University, Berlin).

Relevant publications:

  • Gosling, A., Thoma, V., De Fockert, J.W., Richardson-Klavehn, A. (2016). Event-Related Potential Effects of Object Repetition Depend on Attention and Part-Whole Configuration. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2016.00478
  • Stein, T.*, Thoma, V.*, Sterzer, P. (2015). Priming of object detection under continuous flash suppression depends on attention but not on part-whole configuration. Journal of Vision. 15(3):15, 1-11. (*equal contribution)
  • Guggenmos, M., Thoma V., Cichy, R.M., Haynes J-D., Sterzer P., Richardson-Klavehn, A. (2015). Non-holistic coding of objects in lateral occipital complex with and without attention. NeuroImage, 107, 356-363
  • Thoma, V., & Henson, R.N. (2011). Object representations in ventral and dorsal visual streams: fMRI repetition effects depend on attention and part–whole configuration. NeuroImage, 57(2), 513-525. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.04.035

Thinking Styles and Decision Making

Members of the lab are contributing to research on the role of heuristics and thinking styles in judgment and decision-making. Volker Thoma's work on consumer choice showed that the familiarity of products or objects is a major determinant of preferential choice even additional information about them was negative. Using eye-tracking, Volker (with Dr Paul Rodway, Chester) investigates the circumstances in which heuristics such as the spatial location of products or the familiarity of brands influence consumer choice. Heuristics can also be linked to thinking styles (e.g., Need for Cognition) as shown in experts (such as financial traders) and a large sample of people with various degrees of schizotypy. Finally, using brain stimulation techniques, Volker's lab showed for the first time that transcranial direct stimulation (tDCS) of the right pre-frontal cortex increases reflective judgment performance. Dr Anna Stone investigates psychological factors in paranormal beliefs, including thinking styles and narrative conventions, and published a questionnaire measuring of paranormal belief.

Relevant publications:

  • Broyd, A., Ettinger, U., & Thoma, V. (2019). Thinking dispositions and cognitive reflection performance in schizotypy. Judgment and Decision Making. Vol. 14, No. 1, January 2019, pp. 80–90.
  • Edgcumbe, D.R., Thoma, V., Rivolta, D., Nitsche, M.A., c, d, Fu, C.H.Y (2019). Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex enhances reflective judgment and decision-making. Brain Stimulation. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.brs.2018.12.003
  • Stone, A. & McDermott, M. (2018) Development and validation of the multi-dimensional questionnaire of scientifically unsubstantiated beliefs. Personality and Individual Differences, 128, 146-156.
  • Thoma, V. White, E., Panigrahi, A., Strowger, V., Anderson, I. (2015). Good thinking or gut feeling? Cognitive reflection and intuition in traders, bankers and financial non-experts. PLoS ONE 10(4):e0123202. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0123202
  • Kreplin, U., Thoma, V., Rodway, P. (2014). Looking behaviour and preference for artworks: the role of emotional valence and location. Acta Psychologica, 152, 00-108.

Cross-modal Processing and Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality (VR) has great potential to test cognitive processes in a controlled environment and for interventions - by enriching the environment of patients recovering from a brain injury. During the last decade a number of members of staff such as Drs Paul Penn, Steven Sharman, and Matteo Martini have used the lab for projects in spatial and prospective memory; vocational training for people with disabilities; the assessment of driving following a brain injury and pain perception, and investigating gambling behaviour. 

Cross-modal perception - Pain: Among one of the most recent research themes for the University of East London CAN's group is the study of pain, in particular of experimentally-induced acute pain states. Following on from his studies at Sapienza University and at the University of Barcelona, Dr Matteo Martini showed how pain perception can be modulated by the vision of different cues, either in immersive virtual reality or in 'normal' computer screens. The interaction between specific tactile stimuli and pain is currently being investigated too.

Relevant publications:

  • Gordon C, Barbullushi A, Tombolini S, Margiotta F, Ciacci A, Yosef LS, Barker L, Martini M. Visuo-tactile stimulation, but not type of movement, modulates pain during the vision of a moving virtual limb. Pain Manag. 2019 Sep;9(5):449-460. doi: 10.2217/pmt-2019-0019.
  • Zanini, A., Montalti, M., Caola, B., Leadbetter, A., Martini, M. (2017). Pain during illusory own arm movement: a study in immersive virtual reality. European Medical Journal. 2[2]:90-97.
  • Martini, M. (2016). Real, rubber or virtual: The vision of 'one's own' body as a means for pain modulation. A narrative review. Consciousness and Cognition, 43, 143-151. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2016.06.005
  • Penn, P.R. and Rose, F.D (2012) The Use of Virtual Reality-Based Environmental Enrichment for Patients Recovering from Brain Injury In R. Bayne & G. Jinks (Eds.), Applied psychology: research, training and practice (2nd ed., pp. 290–292). London: Sage

Sensorimotor Control, Decision Making and Learning

Fast, accurate motor control for movements requires the interaction of sensory, attention, decision making, and learning systems during their development and maintenance. Neuropathology is frequently revealed by deficits in motor control, or in compensatory learning mechanisms. Dr Mark Harwood has shown how the spatial scale of attention is the strongest determinant in the decision of when to move one's eyes our most frequent movement, and critical for information gathering. In collaboration with Prof. Laurent Madelain (University of Lille), we have shown the importance of reinforcement learning on movement timing and accuracy. Electrophysiology has identified cortical and subcortical loci for these effects, in collaboration with Prof. Rob McPeek (SUNY, New York), and we apply computational modelling to explain and interpret the data. Finally, new empirical and theoretical work is applied to multiple human conditions, such as Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, and dyslexia.

Relevant publications:

  • Vullings, C., Harwood, M.R., Madelain, L., (2019). Reinforcement reduces the size-latency phenomenon: a cost-benefit evaluation of saccade triggering. Journal of Vision, 19(4): 16. 10.1167/19.4.16
  • de Vries, J., Azadi, R., & Harwood, M.R. (2016). The saccade size-latency phenomenon explored: Proximal target size is a determining factor in the saccade latency. Vision Research, 129: 87-97. doi.org/10.1016/j.visres.2016.09.006
  • Azadi, R. & Harwood, M.R. (2014). Visual cues that are effective for contextual saccade adaptation. Journal of Neurophysiology, 111(11): 2307-19. Doi.org/0.1152/jn.00894.2013

Memory Processes in Ageing and Sleep

Josie Malinowski investigates sleep-dependent memory transformation processes. Her research has shown that waking-life memories are transformed by the sleeping brain: Waking-life memories are 'tagged' for subsequent consolidation during sleep by their emotional intensity and personal importance. Frontal theta activity (measured with EEG) during sleep is also linked to recent waking-life memories.

Relevant publications:

  • Malinowski, J. E., Carr, M., Edwards, C. L., Ingarfill, A., & Pinto, A. (2019). The effects of dream rebound: Evidence for emotion-processing theories of dreaming. Journal of Sleep Research, e12827. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12827
  • Eichenlaub, J-B, van Rijn, E., Lewis, P., Walker, M., Gaskell, G., Lewis, P. A., Maby, E., Malinowski, J. E., Walker, M. P., Boy, F., & Blagrove, M. (2018). Incorporation of recent waking-life experiences in dreams correlates with frontal theta activity in REM sleep. Social and Affective Neuroscience, 13 (6), 637-647.

Cognition and Language

Members of the CAN research group also cluster on topics related to language understanding and processes. One recently commenced (2018-21) project is 'Growing up bilingual' funded by the ESRC (UBEL-DTP) with external partners, Newham Partnership for Complementary Education (NPCE) and National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRCSE). The project, supervised by Dr Virginia Lam (PI) tracks the development of attentional control, executive function and word comprehension and production abilities, along with social competences and group identities, in primary-school-aged bilinguals. Melanie Vitkovitch investigates the nature of semantic interference effects in picture naming, These studies have also shown that naming a printed word can slow down related object naming. She is also looking at semantic effects during face naming.

Dr Mary-Jane Budd has expertise in the cognition of language, specifically investigating the neural bases to language processing in the human brain. Mary-Jane's research has focused on children's picture naming and auditory repetition along with children's speech errors using a computational model of speech production. This includes neural correlates of developmental dyslexia in adults using high-resolution electrophysiological (EEG) measures.

Relevant publications:

  • Lam, V. L., Chaudry, F. R., Pinder, M., & Sura, T. (in press). Language, cultural participation and identities across generations: A mixed-methods study of British Sikhs in complementary language schooling. Language and Education.
  • Vitkovitch, M., Ghadiri, T. B., & Hersi, F. (2019). Word naming slows picture naming but does not affect cumulative semantic interference. Acta psychologica, 195, 30-38.
  • Clashes, H., Paulmann, S., Budd, M-J., & Barry, C. (2018). Morphological encoding beyond slots and fillers: An ERP study of comparative formation in English. PLOS ONE.

Mental Health Disorders

Professor Cynthia Fu has been looking at the brain regions affected by depression, how they change with talking therapy as well as with pharmacological therapy, what the potential is to develop biomarkers to help us to identify depression and to predict response, and the development of novel forms of treatment.

Recent publications: 

  • Mutz J, Vipulananthan V, Carter B, Hurlemann R, Fu CHY, Young AH. (2019) Comparative efficacy and acceptability of non-surgical brain stimulation for the acute treatment of adult major depressive episodes: systematic review and network meta-analysis. BMJ 364:l1079. doi: 10.1136/bmj.l1079.
  • Edgcumbe DR, Thoma V, Rivolta D, Nitsche MA, Fu CHY. (2019) Anodal transcranial direct current stimulation over the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex enhances reflective judgment & decision making. Brain Stimul12:652-658. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2018.12.003
  • Sankar A, Melin A, Lorenzetti V, Horton P, Costafreda SG, Fu CHY. (2018) A systematic review and meta-analysis of the neural correlates of psychological therapies in major depression. Psychiatry Res Neuroimaging 279:31-39. doi: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2018.07.002.