SSA: Behavioural analysis of cognitive, motivational, and hedonic aspects of reward processing

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: Sch of Psychology


It is essential for a healthy organism to respond appropriately to rewarding events (e.g. foods). Thus investigating the biological substrates of reward processing offers key insights into both normal behaviour and the deficits seen in psychiatric disorders. Appropriate responses to rewards include aspects of cognition (e.g.veridical representations of the distribution of rewards in the environment), affect (e.g. proportionate hedonic responses to different rewards), and motivation (e.g. sensitivity to the relationship between different rewards and current biological needs). Moreover, disturbances in these responses are key aspects of many psychological and psychiatric disorders and thus this work will have a broader impact. This PhD will examine interacting cognitive, affective, and motivational mechanisms involved in reward processing and explore their biological underpinnings. Initially, it will focus on pharmacological anipulations. Subsequently, it will examine environmental changes (e.g. early life adversity), manipulation of the gut microbiome (e.g., administration of dietary probiotics), and the influence of genetic and age-related risk factors that have been linked to affective abnormalities (e.g. using Tg2576 & WT mice to examine aging and amyloid pathology). Thus the project will investigate the general cognitive, motivational and affective processing of rewards, and examine the common biological and behavioural outputs of different psychological and biological challenges. The project takes a cross-disciplinary approach combining behaviour analysis with pharmacology and neuroscience. This will involve bespoke behaviour analysis methods for assessing cognitive, motivational and hedonic processes. In addition it will use magnetic resonance (MR) spectroscopy to evaluate the impact of the manipulations described above on brain metabolite profiles across theoretically relevant brain regions (e.g., hippocampus, cingulate/frontal cortex; supported by the Cardiff University Experimental MRI Centre). This analysis will be followed up with targeted analysis of protein/receptor expression (e.g., 5-HT receptor subunit expression) using either immunohistochemistry or western blot analyses. Acquisition of expertise in these cutting edge behavioural and neuroscientific tools will position the student who undertakes this project at the forefront of behavioural neuroscience as well as allowing them to develop widely applicable skills in in vivo biology and MRspectroscopy that are in great demand within the academic and industrial research sectors.


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Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M009122/1 30/09/2015 29/09/2023
1942393 Studentship BB/M009122/1 30/09/2017 29/09/2021 Lucy Rose Lewis
Description BNA2019 Travel Bursary
Amount £300 (GBP)
Organisation British Neuroscience Association 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2019 
End 04/2019
Description In Vivo Skills Award
Amount £15,000 (GBP)
Organisation Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 08/2018 
End 09/2021
Title Flavour affective bias test 
Description Novel flavour version of a digging behavioural test - to assay for affective biases 
Type Of Material Model of mechanisms or symptoms - mammalian in vivo 
Year Produced 2018 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact Reduces labour and time needed in experiment. Still needs further optimisation. 
Description PHD Collaboration 
Organisation University of Bristol
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Collaboration PhD project between Cardiff and Bristol universities.
Collaborator Contribution Advice on behavioural techniques, training in such techniques, and opportunities for publication collaboration.
Impact Multi-disciplinary - Neuropharmacology combined with psychology and neuroscience Publication outcome (Lewis et al 2019)
Start Year 2017
Description University of the 3rd Age talk 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact 30 minute presentation on this PhD project to approximately 40 members of a "university of the 3rd age science club". Audience members were retired, over 60, men and women from varying backgrounds.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018