Project code



Department of Psychology

This project is now closed. The details below are for information purposes only.
View our current projects here.


Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD project.

The PhD will be based in the Department of Psychology and will be supervised by Dr Sophie Milward (University of Portsmouth, Psychology), Dr Matt Parker (University of Portsmouth, Pharmacy and Biomedical Science) and Professor Bridget Waller (Nottingham Trent University, Psychology).

The work on this project will:

  • Experience working with an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Biology and Psychology.
  • Experience using behavioural and physiological measures.
  • Experience working with children at Winchester Science Centre.

Impaired understanding of others’ emotions can be debilitating in developmental disorders such as autism. This ability has often been referred to rather indiscriminately in psychological literature as ‘Empathy’. However, there is little consensus on what kind of behaviours or processes should be included under this term, limiting our understanding of the underlying construct. There is also debate around whether understanding of emotion states involves the same self-other distinction mechanisms as cognitive states (de Guzman et al., 2015), or whether these involve different processes (Preckel et al., 2018). One distinction that has been made is between empathy and emotion contagion (e.g. Preckel et al., 2018), the former of which involves understanding that the emotion felt by the self actually originates in the other person (self-other distinction), whereas the latter does not, and may simply manifest as felt emotion. A similar distinction has also been made in the literature on cognitive state understanding, whereby we can either actively calculate another’s cognitive state or alternatively experience automatic interference from another person’s conflicting perspective (Samson et al., 2010). This project will directly compare children’s performance on tasks that involve understanding versus contagion of others’ emotions versus thoughts. We will use lab-based experiments employing physiological (salivary cortisol/alpha-amylase) and behavioural (response times, errors, self-report) measures to investigate developmental differences in onset of these abilities. Further, we will investigate individual differences in these abilities to identify whether variance is shared across emotion and cognition domains and across tasks involving self-other distinction or not.

Fees and funding

Self-funded PhD students only

PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).

2020/2021 entry (for October 2020 and February 2021 entries)

Home/EU/CI full-time students: £4,407 p/a

Home/EU/CI part-time students: £2,204 p/a

International full-time students: £16,400 p/a

International part-time students: £8,200 p/a

2021/2022 entry (for October 2021 and February 2022 entries)

Home/EU/CI full-time students: £4,407 p/a*

Home/EU/CI part-time students: £2,204 p/a* 

International full-time students: £17,600 p/a

International part-time students: £8,800 p/a

All fees are subject to annual increase.

If you are an EU student starting a programme in 2021/22 please visit this page.

*This is the 2020/21 UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) maximum studentship fee; this fee will increase to the 2021/22 UKRI maximum studentship fee when UKRI announces this rate in Spring 2021. 

Bench fees

Some PhD projects may include additional fees – known as bench fees – for equipment and other consumables, and these will be added to your standard tuition fee. Speak to the supervisory team during your interview about any additional fees you may have to pay. Please note, bench fees are not eligible for discounts and are non-refundable.

Entry requirements

You'll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in Psychology or a related area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.


  • Strong interest in developmental psychology.
  • Knowledge of quantitative research methods.


  • Experience working with children.
  • Experience using physiological measures

How to apply

We’d encourage you to contact Dr Sophie Milward ( to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV.  Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process. 

Please also include a research proposal of max 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, details on data collection and analysis, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field.

When applying please quote project code: PYSC5031021