Action & Body
+44 20 7679 1153
Our research investigates cognitive aspects of two sensorimotor processes that underlie all human behaviour. These are the control of voluntary action and the experience we have of our own body. Research on voluntary action focusses on understanding the relation between the brain activity in the frontal and parietal lobes that precedes movements, and the conscious experience of controlling our own movements. A key question is whether conscious intentions are an immediate consequence of preparation for action in the frontal lobes, or a retrospective mental justification to explain actions that we have just made.
Studies of body perception focus on the body as a multimodal object: we perceive our bodies in two distinct ways. Vision gives us information about our body as a volumetric object in external space, while proprioception and touch give us information "from the inside". Our research focusses on how these sources of information are combined to give a coherent bodily self. We use a range of experimental methods including psychophysics, TMS, ERP and brain imaging to investigate these questions.
Post-doctoral Research Fellows
- Antonio Cataldo
My research employs psychophysical and neurophysiological techniques to study how the bodily senses shape our perception of the world, while simultaneously creating a representation of our body as a unique object in the world. I'm particularly interested in how somatosensory, sensorimotor, and crossmodal interactions provide us with a coherent perception of the world. Currently, I'm involved in a project investigating the perception of ultrasound-mediated mid-air tactile stimulations. This novel haptic technology allows the delivery of safe, reliable, and contactless tactile information, paving the way for many potential theoretical and practical applications.
- Silvia Seghezzi
My research focuses on the brain activity that precedes voluntary actions. I am interested in how voluntary actions emerge and unfold over time in different uncertainty conditions, and during means-ends planning/problem-solving. I am also interested in the experience of agency over external events that we control through our voluntary actions. I investigate these questions using behavioural, EEG, and fMRI experiments.
- Keiji Ota
The world we live in is the physical world but human actions are fully determined by our beliefs about the state of the world that our brain creates, not the actual physical state itself. For instance, when lifting a stone, you prepare a force based on visual information about how heavy it looks. If it is an artificial stone produced with lightweight aggregates, you might feel an odd sensation of “Oh it’s lighter than I thought” and reduce the force in the next lift. My research focuses on how we mentally represent the state of the world and our own motor actions as a means of interacting with the world, and how these beliefs are used to plan a strategic, goal-directed behaviour. Strategic planning is especially important in competitive games where unpredictability is the key to success. Currently I’m studying voluntary control of randomising motor actions and its neurocognitive processes. I use psychophysics, EEG and computational modelling to address these questions.
- Ivan Ezquerra Romano
My current research focuses on the perception of temperature. I have developed novel methods to study thermal sensation without touch. I hope to combine these methods with psychophysics, EEG, animal studies and computational techniques to understand the mechanisms underlying thermal sensation.
- Gwydion Williams
We occasionally commit ourselves to policies of action in the hope of changing some high-level state of the world (e.g. we might decide to become vegetarian towards improving the state of the climate). My research is focussed on understanding how we motivate (and at times fail to maintain) these long-term policies. I’m interested in how we deal with conflicts between high-level goals and lower-level experiences of reward, and in how we monitor and update beliefs about high-level states of the world whilst we try to act on them. I use computational methods (in particular, reinforcement learning) and behavioural tasks to answer these questions.
- Zheng Huang
I am currently starting a project on volition. Specifically, I'm interested in the aspect of generation in volition. Are people fully aware of their volition? Are there different degrees of volition? Does this volition lead to some desired ends? These are a few of the questions that I'm tempted to answer.