Human and Health Sciences: Swansea University Research Excellence Scholarship: The Impact of Timing Deficits for Patients with Schizophrenia

Closing date: 22 January 2018

Key Information

Swansea University Research Excellence Scholarships (SURES)

Swansea University is proud to offer 15 fully-funded PhD scholarships for students commencing study in October 2018 or January 2019.

The scholarships will be awarded on the basis of student excellence across a portfolio of 34 potential projects.

Project title: The Impact of Timing Deficits for Patients with Schizophrenia

Start date: October 2018

Scientific goal

The proposed project aims to better understand and help prevent treatment non-compliance in schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is associated with over-activity of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Pharmacological treatment directed at suppressing dopamine release and/or uptake can also effectively suppress symptoms of schizophrenia. However, the side effects of such treatment present significant barriers to treatment compliance. One area affected by these pharmacological treatments is the striatum, an area that is implicated in schizophrenic dysfunction, and also known to be involved in the perception of time. Increases or decreases in levels of dopamine influence performance in timing tasks by slowing or speeding up an internal clock, respectively. Medication used to treat schizophrenia may contribute to treatment non-compliance, by impairing prospective and retrospective time perception (e.g., how much is left before taking the medication, or how much has passed since having taken it). Unfortunately, little is currently known about time perception processes in schizophrenia, and how they may interact with changes in internal clock speed. The goal of the project is to develop a novel model for exploring timing performance in schizophrenia by examining the influence of schizotypy (a closely related set of symptomatology to schizophrenia) on time perception. This model may then serve to help develop knowledge of timing in schizophrenia, and how medication impacts these processes, with an ultimate view to limiting side effects related to failures of timing, and thus helping overcome medication non-compliance.

Description of the project and methods to be employed

Due to the necessary lack of tight experimental control when using schizophrenic patients (e.g., medication, co-morbidity with other conditions), a solution to exploring cognitive deficits associated with the disorder is to use a non-clinical population with schizotypy.  Schizotypy serves as a model for schizophrenia because it is closely related to it in terms of symptoms and experimental effects, but those symptoms are not severe enough to warrant clinical treatment. The proposed project will examine the influence of schizotypy on well-established timing procedures, and how this interacts with alteration in internal clock-speed, to develop a novel model for exploring timing performance in schizophrenia. Two series of timing experiments are planned examining differences in timing between high and low scorers in schizotypy, both in general, and in relation to characteristics associated with the specific symptom areas of schizophrenia. Participants will complete a battery of psychometric assessments including the O-LIFE and Peters’ Delusion Inventory, which measure schizotypy, as well as the Beck’s Depression Inventory and Speilberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory to allow control for confounding depression and anxiety. One series of experiments will be on retrospective timing tasks, which will allow assessment of temporal judgements about passed time. Temporal bisection and generalisation procedures will be used as metrics for such subjective temporal perception. The other series of studies will utilise prospective timing tasks to allow investigation of the perception of currently passed time. In addition, a well-established behavioural method will be used to adjust the speed of the internal clock within high and low schizotypy scorers – a variant of an existing click-training technique (Penton-Voak et al., 1996) – in order to examine the potential effects of clock-speed adjustment on timing (both retrospective and prospective) in individuals differing in schizotypy levels; a factor that may well reflect the impact of medication that adjusts clock speed in a schizophrenic population.

How does this project address the positive symptoms of schizophrenia?

Dopamine over-activity is implicated in the emergence of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia. It is also implicated in timing perception, with dopamine over-activity known to slow down the internal clock, and hypo-activity speeding it up, leading to timing perception impairments. Such impairments may be significant barriers in treatment compliance for positive symptoms experienced by patients with schizophrenia. Examining prospective and retrospective time-perception differences as a function of schizotypy levels, and how these interact with alterations in internal clock speed, may serve to develop models that would be extremely useful in forwarding understanding in this under-researched area. 

What is its impact on people with schizophrenia?

The project aims to facilitate understanding of time perception in schizophrenic patients, and to provide enhanced understanding of the psychological functions disrupted both by dopamine over-activity, and its suppression. Finding will have implications for a range of everyday functioning in patients with schizophrenia, including compliance with treatment regimes.  

Supervisors / Academic Contacts: Dr Irene Reppa / Professor Phil Reed

The successful applicant will have access to our Postgraduate Research Student Training programmes.

Eligibility

Candidates should have (or expect to obtain) a first class honours degree (or equivalent), and/or a master’s degree in psychology with distinction. 

Candidate should also have:

  • Good programming skills
  • Demonstrated eye-tracking experience
  • Demonstrated excellent research methods
  • Data analysis skills

Due to funding restrictions, this scholarship is open to UK/EU candidates only.

Funding

The scholarship covers the full cost of UK/EU tuition fees and an annual stipend of £14,553 for 3 years. 

There will also be £1,000 per annum available for research expenses such as travel, accommodation, field trips and conference attendance.

How to Apply

‌To apply please complete and return the following documents to Dr Vivienne Jenkins (pgrsures@swansea.ac.uk) quoting reference CHHSCi1:

Student applications will be evaluated against the following criteria:

  • Literary and Academic attainments (60%)
  • Demonstrable esteem indicators i.e. ambassadorial skills, instincts and opportunities to demonstrate leadership, experience and interest in extracurricular and community activities (40%)

Informal enquiries before the deadline are welcome and should be directed to Dr Irene Reppa (i.reppa@swansea.ac.uk / +44 (0)1792 295 963).