The feeling of what (does not) happen: A multimodal neurobehavioural account of somatosensory misperceptions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Leeds
Department Name: School of Psychology

Abstract

Sometimes our bodily sensations do not always reflect sensory reality. For example, how many times have you felt itchy or even scratched yourself when watching TV programmes where people have insects crawling over their hands and faces? In this case we know that the insects are not actually on us but the ability to recognise what is a 'true' bodily event vs. a 'false' one has implications for many common and distressing unexplained medical symptoms such as itch, numbness, tickling or tingling sensations and even some forms of pain. The purpose of our research is to find better biological markers of these bodily symptoms and help explain how the brain can 'create' bodily sensations in the absence of any actual physical input.
In five experimental studies we will use state-of-the-art brain imaging techniques to measure the activity of the brain before the person actually reports feeling touch or thinks they have been touched in cases when no touch has even been applied to them. We will measure the brain's response before the stimulation occurs and we will measure the person's own behavioural response indicating whether they think they have been touched or not. We will then compare the brain response to the 'true' (i.e., when touch has occurred) vs. 'false' (i.e., when it didn't) bodily event. In another study we will ask people to focus their attention on their own internal bodily sensations (such as their heartbeat) to see whether this increases the number of false bodily events reported by people and changes their brain response in a predictable way. In the final study, we will use a method that allows us to directly stimulate the brain to see whether this changes the number of false bodily events that people report in a predictable way, thus giving us a likely cause, based on differences in brain function, as to why some people experience a higher number of bodily symptoms that don't seem to have any physical cause.
Based on evidence from our previous studies we predict that people who show a particular pattern of brain activity (involving the medial frontal and parietal regions at the centre of the brain) will say they feel touch (even when they haven't been touched) more than other people who have the opposite pattern of brain activity (involving lateral frontal and parietal regions at the outer edges of the brain). These regions in the middle of the brain have been linked to studies involving pain and hallucinations but this will be the first time they have been linked to creating bodily symptoms and the first time anyone has recorded their activity before the person is actually touched. By measuring this activity we aim to be able to predict who is more likely to be susceptible to experiencing these false bodily sensations and in the future be able to help them by developing more effective treatments that target these overactive parts of the brain and stop them producing symptoms like itch and pain.
The outcomes of this research have the potential to benefit a wide variety of people, from basic scientists to people with medical conditions. We will know more about the brain after completing this project, which will help other scientists to understand the brain and its role in controlling bodily awareness. It will also give us more information on the possible causes of some medical conditions such as some forms of itch, numbness and pain, which at the moment are difficult to treat because there doesn't seem to be anything physically wrong with the body. Ultimately, this research will provide us with a better understanding of the brain systems responsible for bodily awareness and improved methods for measuring these systems, which can then be used to develop more effective treatments for people with medically unexplained somatic conditions.

Technical Summary

A major goal of cognitive neuroscience is to explain the causal links between brain function and behaviour. This novel research project brings together experts in neuroscience, psychology and engineering to determine the role of pre-stimulus brain activity in the subsequent detection of near-threshold tactile events particularly when an absent tactile event is misperceived as being present. In three work packages we will extend the behavioural, EEG and fMRI approaches used successfully in our previous work to develop an overarching model of the influence of baseline neural activity on somatosensory perception using a signal detection approach. We predict that the correct detection of touch will be preceded by activity in lateral fronto-parietal (lFP) brain regions, involved in monitoring external events, whereas the misperception of touch will be preceded by activity in medial fronto-parietal (mFP) regions, involved in monitoring internal bodily sensations. We will then use interoceptive and exteroceptive attention tasks to increase the 'top-down' influence from these frontal brain regions on somatosensory perception. We predict that focussing on internal bodily sensations (counting heartbeats) prior to the task will activate mFP (and insula) cortex and increase the number of tactile misperceptions more than focussing on external tactile sensations. In the final phase of the research we will directly stimulate somatosensory cortex (using transcranial Direct Current Stimulation) to determine the causal role of intrinsic neural activity on tactile perception. We predict that applying stimulation at a frequency that increases resting alpha-oscillatory activity will increase the number of tactile misperceptions, thereby establishing a causal link between intrinsic neural activity and somatosensory perception. Overall, the outcomes of this research will reveal the fundamental role of dynamic brain networks and oscillatory activity in bodily consciousness.

Planned Impact

The primary goal of our research is to impact on the scientific study of brain-body interactions by contributing experimental brain data to validate recent theoretical models of brain function and systems approaches to the biosciences. It will stimulate collaboration between interdisciplinary scientists who are interested in furthering the scientific discovery of brain function and its role in human behaviour including enhancing quality of life, health and well-being. Through dissemination of our results at national and international conferences and in high-impact peer-reviewed journals we will benefit other academic researchers in neuroimaging, electrophysiology, behavioural and cognitive neuroscience, and experimental psychology by demonstrating the role of intrinsic brain activity in perception and behaviour. Our findings also have significant implications for measuring, understanding and improving the treatment of a variety of medical conditions that defy a physical explanation for their cause. 'Medically unexplained' symptoms (such as some forms of musculoskeletal pain, itch, and gastrointestinal problems) are a common and conceptually difficult area of research but of huge importance. Over one quarter of primary care patients in England have these symptoms and because they cause similar levels of disability as disease if not treated properly they can have serious social and economic consequences. By improving the predictive neural markers of somatic awareness we will deepen our scientific understanding of the underlying biological and cognitive mechanisms of these conditions leading to more powerful tools for their treatment. Our on-going collaborations and local collaborative opportunities provide specific pathways to impact for the proposed work. We will host a series of workshops and seminars with clinical psychologists specialising in the treatment of medially unexplained symptoms and the effectiveness of interventions for chronic pain and pain clinicians in the North West, with whom we have long-standing collaborations. We will disseminate the findings and discuss ways in which our detailed understanding of how the brain mediates the perception of bodily events can be used to develop novel therapeutic strategies developed through experimentation, by implementation of a translational medicine framework. We will also discuss the findings with a patient user-group who we regularly consult to gain feedback on the importance and benefits of research to clinical conditions. This information will also be used in the longer-term to provide up-to-date knowledge for decision-making by charities such as Arthritis Research UK, BackCare and the Pain Relief Foundation and potential policy makers. We will also increase public understanding of these conditions through our outreach activities to non-academic audiences and through research-led teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate students at our respective institutions. Dr Poliakoff is the Public Engagement Officer for Psychological Sciences at the University of Manchester. She has co-organised many events involving hands-on activities about the brain and senses for the public at different venues. Dr Lloyd has previously presented at the British Association for the Advancement of Science on sensory illusions, co-hosted a Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition 'Fooling the Senses' and worked with the British media. All senior researchers involved in the project will share their technical skills with the post-doctoral research fellow and other research students to advance professional development of cognitive neuroscience methods and application in the UK.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Consultant on theatre production 
Description I acted as a consultant on a theatre piece as part of an Arts-Sciences collaboration with the University of Manchester about the placebo effect entitled 'Kiss it Better' with the poet and spoken word artist Ben Mellor. My expertise was required to guide the scientific aspect of the performance, providing a 'piece to camera' about the role that expecting a particular sensory input (be it pain, touch or itch) has on our perception, which was used in the final production. 
Type Of Art Performance (Music, Dance, Drama, etc) 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact The product was first performed at the Lowry Theatre, Salford in June 2015 to a selected crowd of artists, scientists and other relevant audience members for feedback. Following revision it was then performed to a paying public the following year (2016) at the Contact Theatre, Manchester. Additional funding was sought from the Wellcome Trust Small Arts Award Scheme (Co-I D Lloyd) to be able to take the production to venues across the North of England but this was not successful. However, another member of the collaboration, Prof. Anthony Jones, University of Manchester, has since produced his own show called 'Pain, the Brain and a little bit of Magic' based on these ideas (see http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/pain-the-brain-and-a-little-bit-of-magic-as-research-goes-from-lab-to-stage) 
URL http://www.benmellor.net/gigs-2/
 
Description The most significant achievements from this award thus far have been:
1. The demonstration that it is possible to effectively measure pre-stimulus baseline neural activity (using fMRI and EEG) and show there are distinct networks of activation that predict correct and incorrect identification of near-threshold tactile events (Objective 1). We met the first objective of the project, which was to optimise our experimental paradigm (the somatic signal detection task; SSDT) to effectively measure pre-stimulus baseline neural activity. In Work Package 1 we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to demonstrate that pre-stimulus activity (as a function of response), was associated with greater activity in ipsilateral sensorimotor cortex, and bilateral insula, premotor and parietal cortex to tactile hits vs. misses, with significantly greater activity in extrastriate cortex prior to misses vs. hits. Strikingly, elevated activity in ipsilateral sensorimotor and dorsal premotor cortex also preceded reports of tactile stimuli when none were present (false alarms) when compared to correct reports of absence. Thus, our results suggest that fluctuations in pre-stimulus activity in ipsilateral sensorimotor cortex are a determinant of both hits and false alarms. We also met the third objective of the project to explore whether the amplitude and/or phase of on-going pre-stimulus alpha oscillations in somatosensory cortex (also known as the mu-rhythm) predicts the subsequent perception and misperception of tactile events. We recorded EEG while participants performed the SSDT. We found that pre-stimulus oscillatory power in the somatosensory mu range exhibited a negative linear relationship with reporting of touch at electrode clusters over both contralateral and ipsilateral somatosensory regions. As pre-stimulus mu power increased, the probability of reporting touch declined; as it decreased, the probability of reporting touch increased. This relationship was stronger on trials where no touch was present than on trials where a touch was present. Spatiotemporal cluster-based permutation analysis also found that pre-stimulus mu was lower on trials when touch was reported - irrespective of whether it was present - over contralateral and ipsilateral somatosensory cortices, as well as left frontocentral areas. We argue that mu power may reflect changes in response criterion related to changes in cortical excitability. Low mu power is linked to high cortical excitability and thus a low barrier to reporting a touch even when one is not present, which has not been reported before and is a highly novel finding resulting from this work, while high mu power is linked to low cortical excitability and a lower, though more accurate rate of reporting of touch. This study was subsequently published by Neuropsychologia in 2017.
2. To show that there are distinct brain circuits involved in the correct and incorrect identification of touch that can be explicitly manipulated by focusing on either the internal sensations (interoceptive) or external sensations (exteroceptive) of the body prior to receiving touch (Objective 2). We met the second objective of the project investigating the role of pre-stimulus alpha and medial and lateral fronto-parietal networks in the 'top-down' modulation of tactile perception by explicitly manipulating interoceptive and exteroceptive attention to the body prior to performing the SSDT, again using EEG and fMRI (Work Package 2). Initial analyses of the EEG data show a significant difference in pre-stimulus alpha prior to a reported vs. unreported touch dependent on whether participants focus their attention interoceptively vs. exteroceptively on the body. This work was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Neuroscience Society in San Francisco, March 2017.
4. To show that transcranial electrical current stimulation over somatosensory cortex alters this ability to detect touch thus demonstrating a causal role of increasing the resting mu-rhythm on tactile perception (Objective 4). This study has now been published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology (Craddock et al., 2019). This work was subsequently translated to look at the role of altering alpha oscillations during pain and has shown that pain experience during the application of somatosensory alpha tACS was significantly lowered compared to sham stimulation, but only when the intensity of an upcoming stimulus was uncertain. This work is now being continued at the Human Pain Research Group (University of Manchester).
From our existing datasets we are also looking at the influence of individual alpha-rhythms on tactile decision making and the possibility of visual entrainment of touch (fifth objective) and, in addition to our original objectives, we have also investigated the relationship between individual subjective measures of bodily experience (as measured by standardised questionnaires) and performance on the SSDT (again with existing datasets).
Exploitation Route Our findings will have most impact on advancing research and scholarship in the basic neuroscience underlying somatosensory perception and misperception through dissemination to other scientists via journal publications and regular attendance at international conferences. We have formed a research group with a specialized interest in cognitive neuroimaging and use social media (Website: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/coni; Twitter: @LeedsCoNi; Facebook page to follow) to promote our research, which has enabled us to capacity-build neurosciences expertise in the department with colleagues using cognitive neuroscience methodologies, such as EEG, fMRI and tES. This increased web presence has meant we have so far been able to attract 4 excellent PhD students working on related projects of pain, itch and sensory misperceptions (with funding from the University of Leeds and British Skin Foundation) and establish collaborations with clinician scientists wanting to use our approach and techniques to understand and treat bodily disorders. For example, the results of this research are now being applied in a clinical pain setting to patients with chronic widespread pain. We have also been able to disseminate our research to the wider general public (including A-level students wanting to take up STEM subjects at University and patients with somatic conditions) through local media, theatre productions and outreach events and internationally through taking part in television documentaries for the Discovery Channel and Canadian Broadcasting Company. All of these activities meet the objectives of the original impact plan.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL http://www.leeds.ac.uk/coni/research/index.html
 
Description The findings from this work have been used to: 1. Increase STEM intake of A-level students into a career in the sciences through our participation in outreach events (Science Uncovered, Manchester Museum and Be Curious Festival, University of Leeds). 2. Increase the awareness of research in sensory misperceptions and what they can tell us about human behaviour through media work at both the local (Radio Leeds), national (theatre productions, 'Kiss it Better') and international (TV programmes for the Discovery Channel and Canadian Broadcasting Company) level. 3. Make patients and healthcare workers aware of the role that basic science plays in understanding conditions of the body (such as pain, touch and itch) by taking part in creative performances ('Kiss it Better' and 'Pain, the Brain and a little bit of Magic') where patients and healthcare workers formed members of the audience and gave feedback to the scientists and artists involved on their perspectives of having particular conditions and through establishing collaborations with clinical psychologists to directly impact on their treatment of conditions involving somatic misperceptions (such as medically unexplained symptoms, chronic pain and non-epileptic attack disorder). 4. Neuromodulation of the somatosensory cortex by tACS is now being conducted at the Human Pain Research Group at the University of Manchester (http://research.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/pain) by Dr Laura Arendsen (ex-PhD student in the lab, now Research Associate). Laura's work currently focuses on neuromodulatory interventions in the management of chronic pain and will have the greatest impact on patients with chronic widespread pain and has the potential to provide a lower cost alternative therapy to medication.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Healthcare
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description Cutting EEG conference
Geographic Reach Europe 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL http://cuttingeeg.ccni.gla.ac.uk/
 
Description Academic Development Fund
Amount £6,058 (GBP)
Organisation University of Leeds 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 07/2018 
End 10/2018
 
Description Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship 2016
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Leeds 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 09/2019
 
Description Leeds University Research Scholarship
Amount £80,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Leeds 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2017
 
Description PhD Studentship
Amount £81,000 (GBP)
Organisation British Skin Foundation 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2014 
End 09/2017
 
Title Generalised linear mixed models for EEG analysis 
Description This method of analysing time-frequency data from EEG allows the user to input a behavioural measure into the T-F analysis to measure the relationship between the two (such as alpha and reported touches). 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact This method has been published in research papers and presented at international conferences. 
URL https://craddm.github.io
 
Title MR-compatible vibrotactile stimulation 
Description This research method uses highly controlled vibrotactile stimulation to enable us to record brain activity in response to touch with fMRI and EEG with psychophysical precision and is not widely available. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact This method has allowed us to secure further funding for experiments into the brain mechanisms of somatosensory health and disease. 
 
Title Using tACS for somatosensory perception studies 
Description Extending research infrastructure at Leeds using tACS to stimulate the somatosensory CNS to measure effects on pain and touch processing. 
Type Of Material Improvements to research infrastructure 
Year Produced 2016 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Manuscript published in Journal of Pain (Arendsen, L. J., Hugh-Jones, S., Lloyd, D. M. (2018). Transcranial alternating current stimulation at alpha frequency reduces pain when the intensity of pain is uncertain. Journal of Pain, 19, 807-818.) 
 
Title GMLMM for EEG analysis 
Description Development of generalised multilevel mixed model approach for EEG analysis allows behavioural outcomes to be used as predictors on EEG data. 
Type Of Material Data analysis technique 
Year Produced 2017 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact Craddock M, Poliakoff E, El-deredy W, Klepousniotou E, Lloyd DM. Pre-stimulus alpha oscillations over somatosensory cortex predict tactile misperceptions. Neuropsychologia. 2017; 96 ():9-18. 
 
Description Alpha stimulation for chronic pain 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I have helped to co-write a grant application to investigate the role of alpha in pain perception. This project will investigate whether we can develop a device that is capable of delivering alpha stimulation to patients with chronic pain that might be acceptable; design a prototype device and perform two pilot intervention trails of the device in patients with chronic rheumatic pain from which to develop a definitive physiological trial.
Collaborator Contribution Co-written grant application (likely submitted to MRC/NIHR DPFS grant by Prof A Jones, University of Manchester)
Impact Grant application (multidisciplinary: cognitive neuroscience, chronic pain); review article (in prep)
Start Year 2014
 
Description Alpha waves as an early marker of pain perception 
Organisation University of Leeds
Department Leeds Institute of Health Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As stated in our short-term impact plan, we have also disseminated the findings to potential end-users of the applications of this research through our links with clinical psychologists specializing in the effectiveness of interventions for chronic pain (Prof S. Morley, University of Leeds). We have secured funding from the University of Leeds to fund a PhD studentship investigating the role of alpha waves in the anticipation of pain and also built a partnership with the University of Leeds, Occupational Health Department to begin a study ingratiating the effect of Mindfulness Meditation on alpha and pain perception.
Collaborator Contribution Prof Morley continues to provide support in the design and interpretation of our results. The Occupational Health Department have agreed to help us recruit from their intake of people taking the mindfulness course for the next year and have also put us in contact with other mindfulness practitioners in the Leeds area.
Impact Leeds University Research Scholarship funding obtained for one PhD student (multidisciplinary: cognitive neuroscience, health psychology) Review paper in preparation of the role of alpha oscillations in chronic pain (likely to be submitted April 2019 to the Journal of Pain)
Start Year 2014
 
Description Alpha waves as an early marker of pain perception 
Organisation University of Leeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As stated in our short-term impact plan, we have also disseminated the findings to potential end-users of the applications of this research through our links with clinical psychologists specializing in the effectiveness of interventions for chronic pain (Prof S. Morley, University of Leeds). We have secured funding from the University of Leeds to fund a PhD studentship investigating the role of alpha waves in the anticipation of pain and also built a partnership with the University of Leeds, Occupational Health Department to begin a study ingratiating the effect of Mindfulness Meditation on alpha and pain perception.
Collaborator Contribution Prof Morley continues to provide support in the design and interpretation of our results. The Occupational Health Department have agreed to help us recruit from their intake of people taking the mindfulness course for the next year and have also put us in contact with other mindfulness practitioners in the Leeds area.
Impact Leeds University Research Scholarship funding obtained for one PhD student (multidisciplinary: cognitive neuroscience, health psychology) Review paper in preparation of the role of alpha oscillations in chronic pain (likely to be submitted April 2019 to the Journal of Pain)
Start Year 2014
 
Description CoNi group 
Organisation University of Leeds
Department Faculty of Medicine and Health
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As stated in our medium-term impact plans we have started the process of capacity-building neurosciences expertise at the School of Psychology (formerly Institute of Psychological Sciences) at the University of Leeds by starting the Cognitive Neuroimaging (CoNi) Group. This group of academic members, post-doctoral researchers, PhD students and research assistants uses cognitive neuroscience methodologies, such as EEG, fMRI and tDCS, to address questions of brain-behaviour relationships. We have been able to recruit talented researchers and funding for PhD students into this group and bring outside expertise into Leeds from experts in signal processing and computational models of cognition. I have organised several research seminars inviting people from across the North and abroad (University of Singapore) to share their knowledge and foster future research collaborations and attract competitive funding to bring further resources into the department for neurosciences research. This has resulted in us being able to purchase a second EEG system with support from the department.
Collaborator Contribution The members of this group are all active in disseminating research findings to other neuroscientists through international conference attendance and publication in high-impact journals as well as at outreach events. In March 2016 the CoNi group increased public understanding of the brain and behaviour to a non-academic audience at the Be Curious Festival Leeds, where we presented the findings of the BBSRC project. In September 2015 we also presented these findings at a public engagement event at Science Uncovered Manchester (Friday 25 September, Manchester Museum) to a mixed audience of A-level students and the general public.
Impact Public engagement events (Manchester and Leeds) Second EEG system in the department (funded by the School)
Start Year 2014
 
Description LJMU SSDT collaboration 
Organisation Liverpool John Moores University
Department Natural Sciences and Neuroscience
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Contribution to design and interpretation of results on a REF returnable publication. Input into PhD studies of body misperception in eating disorder populations using the SSDT
Collaborator Contribution Publication of a REF returnable journal article.
Impact Mirams L, Poliakoff E, Lloyd DM. Spatial limits of visuotactile interactions in the presence and absence of tactile stimulation. Experimental Brain Research. 2017; 235 (9):2591-2600.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) 
Organisation University of Leeds
Department Leeds Institute of Health Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As part of the stated short-term and long-term impact plan for this project we have disseminated the findings to potential end-users of the applications of this research through our links with clinical psychologists specializing in the treatment of medically unexplained symptoms (Dr R. Brown, University of Manchester; Dr Chris Graham and Prof Allan House; University of Leeds). I am a named co-supervisor of one DClinPsy student and a co-supervisor of a PhD student with Dr Graham (funded by the University of Leeds).
Collaborator Contribution Dr Chris Graham, a clinical psychologist and University Academic Fellow at the University of Leeds, is using the research findings to develop a model of MUS based on changes in interoception. A DClinPsy student will conduct initial studies in a patient population and another student will conduct studies in healthy controls (funding application submitted to the British Psychological Society). Dr Graham is also applying for funding to external organisations and has secured funding from the University of Leeds to fund a 3-year PhD studentship.
Impact Application to the British Psychological Society Research Assistantship Scheme (multi-disciplinary: cognitive neuroscience and clinical psychology) Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship for PhD funding secured and student recruited (September 2016).
Start Year 2015
 
Description Medically unexplained symptoms (MUS) 
Organisation University of Manchester
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution As part of the stated short-term and long-term impact plan for this project we have disseminated the findings to potential end-users of the applications of this research through our links with clinical psychologists specializing in the treatment of medically unexplained symptoms (Dr R. Brown, University of Manchester; Dr Chris Graham and Prof Allan House; University of Leeds). I am a named co-supervisor of one DClinPsy student and a co-supervisor of a PhD student with Dr Graham (funded by the University of Leeds).
Collaborator Contribution Dr Chris Graham, a clinical psychologist and University Academic Fellow at the University of Leeds, is using the research findings to develop a model of MUS based on changes in interoception. A DClinPsy student will conduct initial studies in a patient population and another student will conduct studies in healthy controls (funding application submitted to the British Psychological Society). Dr Graham is also applying for funding to external organisations and has secured funding from the University of Leeds to fund a 3-year PhD studentship.
Impact Application to the British Psychological Society Research Assistantship Scheme (multi-disciplinary: cognitive neuroscience and clinical psychology) Leeds Anniversary Research Scholarship for PhD funding secured and student recruited (September 2016).
Start Year 2015
 
Description Virtual reality studies of pain processing 
Organisation University of Leeds
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Lead supervisor for one PhD student investigating the effect of virtual reality (VR) visual feedback on subjective pain experience (funds secured from the University of Leeds). Funds secured from the Department to house a state-of-the-art VR lab to conduct these investigations. Co-supervision of two undergraduate students also funded by the University of Leeds Research and Leadership Scholarships. My contribution is securing Academic Development Funds awarded to D Lloyd (PI) to support an RA to complete work on systematic reviews and write-up of experimental work, the use of pain equipment and my insight on the design of the experiments and interpretation of the results into how vision can modify the sense of pain.
Collaborator Contribution Funding received from the School of Psychology, University of Leeds to build a a state-of-the-art VR lab to conduct this research under the supervision of Dr Jac Billington (expert in VR) and to support an RA.
Impact One PhD studentship (funded by the University of Leeds), one PhD studentship application to the Pain Relief Foundation and a further application to the University of Leeds. One systematic review (in preparation) and one abstract submission to the CyberPsychology conference (June 2017), one paper in prep.
Start Year 2016
 
Description Visual feedback and pain 
Organisation Leeds Beckett University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Co-supervision of one PhD student (funded by the Brazilian Government). Devising experiments to look at the effects of mirror visual feedback on pain processing and embodiment. My expertise is used to devise appropriate paradigms and interpretation of results based on my knowledge of sensory misperceptions, bodily awareness and pain processing.
Collaborator Contribution Prof Mark Johnson (Leeds-Beckett University) is the lead supervisor and an expert in the physiological processes underlying pain modulation using non-pharmacological techniques (particularly TENS). He has provided the lab space and pain equipment for the studies.
Impact Thus far this research has resulted in several publications: 1. Wittkopf, P.G., Lloyd, D. M., Johnson, M. I. Managing limb pain using virtual reality: a systematic review of clinical and experimental studies. Disability and Rehabilitation (in press). https://doi.org/10.1080/09638288.2018.1485183 2. Wittkopf, P.G., Lloyd, D. M., Johnson, M. I. (2018). Changing the size of a mirrorreflected hand does not affect pain perception: A repeated measures study on healthy human participants. European Journal of Pain, 22, 527-537. 3. Wittkopf, P. I., Lloyd, D. M., Johnson, M. I. (2018). The effect of visual feedback of body parts on pain perception: A systematic review of clinical and experimental studies. European Journal of Pain, 22, 647-662. 4. Wittkopf, P. G., Lloyd, D. M., & Johnson, M. I. (2017). Changing the size of a mirror reflected hand moderates the experience of embodiment but not proprioceptive drift: A repeated measures study on healthy human participants. Experimental Brain Research, 235, 1933-1944. and conference presentations at the British Pain Society and EFIC.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Visually-evoked itch 
Organisation British Skin Foundation
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Funds acquired to supervise one PhD student looking at how itch can be evoked visually.
Collaborator Contribution Funds awarded to support the PhD student through their studies.
Impact Two papers in preparation. Two conference presentations.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Be Curious Festival Leeds 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The research group hosted several demonstrations based on work from the grant for members of the public to try out and read about.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.stem.leeds.ac.uk/events/lfos/lfos-public-programme/becurious/
 
Description Blog post for EEG analysis 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A blog post has been developed by the post-doc on the grant, Dr Matt Craddock, to show people how to analyse EEG data using examples of data from the grant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL https://craddm.github.io
 
Description Cognitive Neuroscience Society meeting 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poster presented to an academic audience on work directly from the grant, which was well received and has sparked a lot of interest.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.cogneurosociety.org/annual-meeting/
 
Description Experimental Psychology Society (Leeds 2015) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk given at the Experimental Psychology Society meeting (Leeds, 2015). This was well-received and has resulted in significant national interest in our research method.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Human brain mapping conference (Hawaii) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Poster presented at the Annual Meeting of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping, which was well received and sparked international interest from researchers conducting similar work and a new audience wanting to try our techniques.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description IMRF conference (Pisa, Italy) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Talk given at the 16th International Multisensory Research Forum (IMRF; Pisa, Italy) on the role of pre-stimulus alpha oscillations on somatosensory perception. This was well-received and has resulted in interest from other research groups wanting to use our techniques and collaborate.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Radio interview for Radio Leeds 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was interviewed for BBC Radio Leeds by the breakfast show host, Liz Green, on what makes people's skin itch and crawl when they see insects (28/09/15 - available on the BBC I-Player at http://goo.gl/35Pv16).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://goo.gl/35Pv16
 
Description Science Uncovered (Manchester) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact The aim of the event (part of European Researchers Night) was to increase awareness that researchers are a diverse community and offer the public an opportunity to explore the key roles of researchers, benefits of research to society, the diversity of science careers and hopefully to inspire young people to take part in other science activities or to consider research careers. Our stand told the visitors all about the role of alpha brain waves and their role in misperception using fun demonstrations and flash cards. Several A-level students reported they were inspired to take Psychology at University after visiting our stand. Our exhibit was also reported on by the University of Leeds media centre and featured in the University magazine and Dr Lloyd was interviewed by Radio Leeds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://events.manchester.ac.uk/event/event:hno-id8uglqd-6ffd2a/science-uncovered-manchester
 
Description Senior seminar talk at the University of Hull 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A senior seminar talk was given the the Psychology department on work from the grant.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Television programme for Canadian Broadcasting Company 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact In 2016 I was also filmed for a programme called 'Myth or Science: The Secrets of Our Senses'. The film premiered Jan 26th 2017 on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's flagship program, 'The Nature of Things' (the Canadian equivalent of 'Horizon' in the UK, see http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/myth-or-science-the-secrets-of-our-senses) in which I demonstrated the power of visually-evoked itch to a naïve audience and was interviewed about the underlying mechanisms of this research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016,2017
URL http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/myth-or-science-the-secrets-of-our-senses
 
Description Television programme for Discovery channel 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I have also recently taken part in a programme for the Discovery Channel on Near Death Experiences (filming in London on 21st Jan 2016) - my experiment consisted of showing how we misperceive the world and our own bodily sensations when deprived of normal sensory input. This was demonstrated on the host of the programme Prof Steven Laureys and the programme aired on 17th April 2016 ('Return from the Dead' on the National Geographic Channel at 22:00 (Eastern Time) in the United States).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=55K1ZULDCUE