Don’t do it: Oculomotor approaches to inhibitory control


The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is part of the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences. We excel in high quality research that contributes to improved health and quality of life for older people and animals and alleviates chronic diseases at all ages. Our departments are now seeking to attract highly motivated self-funded PhD candidates of outstanding ability to join our internationally rated research teams. 

Being able to not do things is of critical importance. This ability (usually called “behavioural inhibitory control”; BIC) frees us from being prisoners of our immediate sensory environment. It is impaired in conditions like Schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s disease and in substance use disorders. The aim of this project is to investigate BIC using a new eye movement task and to investigate whether it can be trained, modified or enhanced using this task. 

BIC is measured in the laboratory by asking participants to inhibit actions. Fast eye movements (saccades) provide a particularly good way of probing BIC because they are (a) easily measured, (b) closely linked with underlying cognitive processes, and (c) less affected by conscious strategies than other overt actions. We recently developed the minimally delayed oculomotor response (MDOR) task to probe BIC. Participants respond to the offset of a suddenly appearing target, rather than its onset, while their eye movements are recorded. By analysing these recordings it is possible to calculate an error rate and the oculomotor response time of any eye movements made. This task both evokes inhibition and provides information about the level and temporal dynamics of that inhibition. The aim of this project is to study the MDOR task further (including training effects and the effects of ageing) and to compare it with other inbitory control tasks. Links between inhibition generated in the MDOR task and other aspects of processing will also be investigated. 

The project will include recruiting and consenting research participants, human behavioural testing and analysis of oculomotor and manual response time data. There will be scope for paradigm development, with potentially an extension to performance in participant groups with cognitive problems. 

Because of the level of interaction with participants, a good level of English language skills will be necessary. Some experience of, or interest in, computer programming (eg Python/PsychoPy) would be an advantage. 

The successful candidate should have, or expect to have an Honours Degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent). Candidates whose first language is not English should have an IELTS score of 6.5 or equivalent. 

The Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease is fully committed to promoting gender equality in all activities. We offer a supportive working environment with flexible family support for all our staff and students and applications for part-time study are encouraged. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

To apply please click here.


Open to students worldwide

Funding information

Self-funded project

The successful applicant will be expected to provide the funding for tuition fees, living expenses and research costs of £1,200 per year. There is NO funding attached to this project. Details of costs can be found on the University website. We have a thriving international researcher community and encourage applications from students of any nationality able to fund their own studies or who wish to apply for their own funding.



Aichert DS, Wöstmann NM, Costa A, Macare C, Wenig JR, Möller H-J, Rubia K & Ettinger U. (2012) Associations between trait impulsivity and prepotent response inhibition. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology 34:1016-1032. 

Aron AR. (2011) From reactive to proactive and selective control: Developing a richer model for stopping inappropriate responses. Biological Psychiatry 69:e55-e68. 

Wolohan FDA & Knox PC. (2014) Oculomotor inhibitory control in express saccade makers. Experimental Brain Research 232, 3949–3963. 


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