PhD Opportunities

Sport & Exercise Psychology

Adam Bruton

Facilitating motor skill learning in sport: A comparison of action observation and imagery-based methods

Use of imagery (IM) can enhance motor skill learning, although its effectiveness is dependent upon an individual's ability to image. Action observation (AO) provides a suitable alternative to imagery, but can also be used in conjunction with imagery (AO+IM). This project will compare the effects of AO, IM, and AO+IM on motor skill learning across different sports. Motor skill performance will be assessed using sport-specific metrics and associated attentional and psychological processes will also be compared.

Assessing human mirror neuron activity and eye movements underpinning action prediction and self-efficacy beliefs

Despite literature discussing the potential involvement of the mirror neuron system (MNS) in the development of efficacy perceptions and prediction of actions, there is a surprising lack of research examining the cognitive and neural processes underlying both. This project aims to address these issues by analysing the human mirror neuron activity and eye-gaze patterns that support action prediction and self-efficacy judgments of participants when viewing task performance of differing complexities. To achieve these aims, this project will combine eye-tracking and electroencephalography methods across different experimental designs.

Investigating inter-relations between efficacy perceptions and action prediction in individual and team sports

Efficacy perceptions refer to a person's beliefs in his/her/a team's capabilities to produce given levels of attainment in a specific situation. Both self- and collective efficacy are key determinants of performance in individual and team sports. It is likely that efficacy beliefs play a key role in an individual's ability to accurately predict the outcome of an action. However, research has yet to explore the relationship between efficacy levels and action prediction in sport. This study aims to investigate the relationship between efficacy perceptions and action prediction across individual and team sports using eye-tracking methods.

Luke Felton

Coach-athlete attachment and well-being: An exploration of direct and indirect effects

Recent studies have demonstrated the value in examining athlete psychological well-being from an attachment theory perspective. However, our understanding of the associations between attachment styles and well-being are still in their infancy. This PhD will aim to further explore how attachment theory can help develop of understanding of psychological well-being, with particular focus on the attachment developed between athletes and coaches and potential mediators of this association.

Student athlete mental well-being: Examining the role of sport participation on psychological health

Mental well-being is an area of growing importance within sport, with several governing bodies beginning to acknowledge that more must be done to support athletes' mental well-being. Similarly, student athletes face the dual pressure of achieving sporting success alongside academic achievements and research has shown that their mental well-being may be impacted as a consequence. This PhD will explore the prevalence of mental well-being issues within student athletes in order to further understanding the benefits, and potential draw backs, of participating in sport.

Efficacy beliefs and well-being

The study of efficacy beliefs in sport, in particular self-efficacy and collective efficacy, has provided much important advancement for athletic performance. In addition, recent research has begun to explore the role of tripartite efficacy beliefs, which include the concept of relation-inferred efficacy, on performance. How these beliefs link to experiences of well-being is of equal importance, however research is currently lacking in this area. This PhD will explore the associations between various efficacy beliefs and well-being within athletes and coaches, with the potential to develop an intervention aimed at improving well-being by targeting efficacy (i.e., self-efficacy, collective efficacy, relation-inferred self-efficacy).

Vaithehy Shanmuganathan-Felton

Mental Health in sport 

Recent studies have demonstrated that competitive athletes are at greater risk of developing psychopathological disorders.  However, there is limited evidence on athletes’ and coaches’ experiences and awareness of mental health.  This study seeks to examine athletes, coaches and other relevant stakeholders’ awareness, understanding and experience with mental health as well as the psychosocial, environmental, biological risk factors and consequences.  There is also scope to examine the impact of educational interventions to enhance understanding and to reduce and manage symptoms.  

Exercise and mental Health 

While there is vast amount of literature highlighting the positive role of exercise in minimising and treating mental health disorders, there is very little known about the role of excessive/compulsive exercise in mental health.  This study seeks to examine the experiences of compulsive exercisers and the implications of the compulsive exercise in the treatment of mental health.   


Sandra Klaperski

Exploring the effects of specific exercise modes on stress regulation

Chronic stress is a major threat for physical and mental health. Empirical evidence shows that physical exercise is closely related to stress and health but surprisingly little is known about the stress-regulative effects of different exercise modes. This project will expand on previous work and investigate the stress buffer effect of physical exercise with regard to different modes of physical exercise.

Physical exercise and stress management in outdoor settings

Chronic stress is a major threat for physical and mental health. Nonetheless, stress levels in the population are high and effective stress regulation methods are warranted. This project will expand on previous work and investigate new ways to regulate stress in outdoor settings. Candidates should have an interest in green exercise and/or outdoor education.

Exploring the relationship between gender roles, stress, and exercise behaviour

Gender roles still influence our attitudes and daily behaviour. For instance, empirical evidence suggests that women avoid particular exercise spaces where many men watch them perform because they are afraid of being judged. This project will innovatively explore the relationship between gender roles, stress and exercise behaviour in different exercise and sport setting.

Sport and Exercise Biomechanics

Ceri Diss

Running gait-retraining: An integrative approach

Empirical evidence has shown that gait-retraining can be used to reduce knee pain during gait. Verbal and visual interventions are typical, but long term interventions have not been documented from a biomechanical and psychological stand point. Literature indicates that video self-modeling can be used to supplement motor learning across skills and actions of varying complexity. Therefore, this project will investigate the immediate and long term effects of a combine gait-retraining and video self-modeling protocol on biomechanical and psychological indicators associated with knee pain and well-being.

Omar Mian

Use of vestibular information during locomotor tasks 

In contrast to studies of the role of vestibular information in the control of balance during standing, such studies during dynamic tasks are limited in number and scope. This project will use galvanic vestibular stimulation in combination with motion capture and electromyography to study vestibular induced balance reflexes during the execution of locomotor tasks such as walking and running.

Enhancing balance and movement with sensory noise stimulation

Neural noise is conventionally considered to be detrimental to motor control. However, a number of studies have shown that artificially stimulating sensory systems with low (usually sub-perceptual) levels of noise can actually lead to improvements in motor performance. This includes beneficial effects in individuals with motor deficits, raising the possibility that sensory noise stimulation could play some role in treatment in such individuals. This project will investigate the effect of low-level sensory noise stimulation through a variety of sensory channels on performance of balance and locomotor tasks. Recording techniques will include motion capture.

Determinants of superior balance performance in expert performers

It is known that individuals who participate in certain sports exhibit superior balance performance to untrained individuals. Similar observations have been made for performers in certain disciplines of dance. In spite of this, few studies have investigated determinants of superior balance performance in such individuals. One possible set of determinants may be altered gain of balance reflexes. This project will investigate balance responses to different modes of sensory stimulation in a group of highly trained sport performers or dancers with high balance ability. The group to focus on is open to discussion and likely closely aligned to interests of the student.

Andrew Greene

Landing mechanics in sporting populations

Poor landing technique, as well as muscle weakness and impaired joint coordination are often cited as underlying causes of joint loading injuries in sports. The inability to control and resist excess movements during landing and cutting tasks are thought to be particularly problematic across a range of sporting situations. Both the ankle and knee joints are particularly susceptible to injuries occurring from excessive loads during landing tasks, with up to 70% of ACL injuries in sport resulting from non-contact situations. This project will examine the techniques used and muscle coordination's present in sport specific landing tasks in sporting populations who may be at risk of developing injuries of the lower limb and will explore the use of landing specific interventions and neuromuscular training in an attempt to reduce future risk.

The use of gait intervention in the slowing of disease progression

Biomechanics is used to improve the quality of life of older individuals and those living with conditions that affect their mobility and physical capabilities. Changes in function with disease or condition progression are often very limiting. Early intervention strategies in arthritis patients, particularly rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may have a potential role in slowing disease progression. Biomechanics research should strive for more thorough clinical translation and interpretation of findings, leading eventually to better understanding and treatment of gait problems in RA. This project will examine the gait effects of early stage RA and will study the effect of early intervention gait and mobility training within this cohort to see what, if any effects it may have upon the slowing of the onset of RA.

Sport and Exercise Physiology

Richard Mackenzie

Effects of novel exercise interventions on skeletal muscle homeostasis and whole body health (protein synthesis / insulin resistance or cancer prevention) 

Exercise is known to have many health benefits including improving metabolic health, cancer prevention and decreased cardiovascular health. This PhD project aims to explore the benefits of exercise on local skeletal muscle homeostasis and whole body health. The cellular pathways connecting diseases processes in cancer, muscle atrophy and insulin resistance are similar thus the scope of this project is open.

Does IP6K1 inhibition increase Akt2 & the non-Akt2 substrates Rac1 and PAK1

Type 2 diabetes (T2Ds) is an endocrine/metabolic disease categorised by a reduction in peripheral insulin sensitivity and an associated and progressive decrease in b-cell function. The resulting hyperglycaemia is directly related to the 2nd complications associated with this condition. The devastating complications of diabetes are primary macrovascular and microvascular in nature. Indeed, cardiovascular morbidity is 2-4 times higher in T2Ds than healthy controls. Decreased Akt activity is associated with insulin resistance in skeletal muscle with a novel inositol hexakisphosphate Kinase 1 (IP6K1) pathway recently implicated in Akt inhibition, reduced insulin stimulated glucose uptake and hyperglycaemia (Mackenzie; Diab Metabol 2014:7 55-64).

Recent emerging evidence suggests that upon insulin stimulation of the class I phosphatidylinositol-3-kinase (PI3K), a signal bifurcation occurs, with stream leading to Akt2 activation and GLUT-4 translocation. The second stream leads to the activation of Rac1, a Rho-family GTPase (Bailey; Mol Endo 2004;18:359–372) which stimulates actin filament remodeling through the Arp2/3 complex, ultimately increases GLUT-4 mobilisation and glucose uptake (Rudich; Diabetes 2013; 62 (6) 1831-1832) independent of Akt2. If correct, insulin stimulation should result in GLUT-4 translocation regardless of IP6K1 activity and Akt2 inhibition. The aim of this project is to determine protein content of muscle specific Akt2 and its potential downstream targets Rac1, PAK1 and Arp2/3 complex in C2C12 muscle cells human muscle tissue.

Inositol hexakisphosphate (IP6) kinase 1 (IP6K1) and its novel role in protein synthesis and Akt signaling in health and disease.

Muscle mass is the product of both the rate of protein synthesis and protein degradation. In addition, there is a strong negative relationship between loss of muscle mass (atrophy) and diseases progression in all populations. Thus exercise is a useful tool in improving this relation and offering many health benefits. Yet we still do not know the mechanisms involved in these processes and whether a loss of muscle mass is due to a decrease in protein synthesis (Akt-mTOR), and increase in degradation pathways (FOXO1- atrogin-1 and MuRF1). Recently, Mackenzie's lab has shown that IP6K1 inhibition increases Akt-mTOR signalling. This project aims to examine if this occurs in both athletic and aging populations.

Neale Tillin

The neuromechanics of explosive muscle contractions

Explosive force production is important in rapid human movements such as in sprinting or recovering from a loss of balance. The neural, morphological, and mechanical factors that influence explosive force have largely been investigated for isometric contractions, which are not always functionally relevant. This project will expand on that work and investigate the neuro-mechanical factors (such as neural activation, muscle-tendon interactions, and contractile properties) influencing explosive force in dynamic situations.

The physiology of disused skeletal muscles in unilateral trans-tibial amputees

Unilateral trans-tibial amputees tend to not use the intact quadriceps muscles of their amputated limb. This project will investigate the effects of that disuse on muscle physiology with the opportunity to focus on a number of different areas e.g., neuromuscular function, cellular changes, protein synthesis/degradation, association of muscle physiology with functional movement. This work has the potential to benefit amputees whilst also offering novel insight into the effects of disuse and ageing.

The adaptations to resistance training with explosive muscle contractions

Recent studies have shown a wide range of functional benefits to training with explosive (1-s fast) isometric contractions, without the discomfort and fatigue typically associated with conventional resistance training. This project will build on this work, focusing on developing a model of dynamic explosive contraction training that is applicable to human movement and different subject populations.

Chris Tyler

Optimising heat adaptation strategies 

Exercise performance and capacity are impaired in hot conditions and as a result a number of strategies designed to minimise this impairment are commonly adopted by athletes. One such strategy is heat acclimation- a process whereby the athlete is routinely exposed to hot conditions to induce beneficial adaptations. Despite the well-documented use of heat acclimation and acclimatisation the optimal heat acclimation approach is unknown and a recent meta-analysis has highlighted a number of gaps in our understanding. This project aims to identify the optimal heat adaptation protocol for performance benefits; physiological, biochemical and perceptual adaptations, and the retention of these adaptations.

The role of passive hyperthermia in cardiovascular health, and glucose control 

Recent data suggest that passive hyperthermia may improve cardiovascular health, and glucose regulation in healthy, and clinical populations; however, the mechanisms are unclear. The current evidence suggests that passive heat exposure improves insulin sensitivity yet there is now clear cellular pathway to explain this. It is likely that passive heat exposure increases heat shock protein expression and AMPKα2 activity making any improvements in glucose control likely to be independent to the classical insulin (i.e. Akt-AS160) signalling transduction pathway and therefore related to glucose effectiveness (SG2*). This project aims to gain a greater understanding of the mechanisms that explain the health benefits associated with passive hyperthermia using in vivo and in vitro techniques.

Practical cooling during uncompensable heat stress

Many athletic and occupational settings require protective clothing to be worn which can create conditions of uncompensable heat stress - especially in warm or hot environments. This heat stress can be dangerous to the individual's health and can also reduce the ability to perform physical, and cognitive tasks. This project aims to investigate the efficacy and safety of practical cooling during uncompensable heat stress.