Background: “Social attention”describesa key set of behavioursincluding attention to the social world (social visual attention); the degree to which attending to and/or engaging with the social world yields reward (social motivation);and the behaviours produced to allow and maintain interaction with the social world through joint attention (social behaviour).However, whilst known to be essential for everyday life, the brain activity underlying thesefundamental behavioursis poorly understood, particularlyduringchildhoodwhen they first emerge. We have developeda novel MRI compatible Virtual Reality (VR)systemwhich also providesgaze estimation for subject interaction, but crucially also providesinformation about the subjects’ attention/behaviour. By acquiring functional MRI (fMRI) data whilst they areimmersed in interacting with the VR world, we can precisely identify which regions of a child’sbrain are involvedin different aspects of social attention.
Aims: To study the brain activity associated with social attention in children using fMRI and VR
Techniques, skills, and objectives: The student willbe based in the Centre for the Developing Brain, St Thomas Hospital and have access totheMR compatible VR system and a research MRI scanner.Training will be provided by the supervision team across the project. The project will involve:
1. Developingand optimisinganfMRI experiment with childrento study social attention(yr1).
2. Collectingdata from children aged 3-9 years oldto study how these behaviours emerge(yr2).
3. AnalysingfMRI data and relatingthe findings toMRmeasuresof brain development(yr3).