PhD Position in LaBGAS and Health Psychology
Catholic University of Leuven
Belgium

 
A Ph.D. position is offered in the context of an existing collaboration between two units at KU Leuven: LaBGAS and Health Psychology. The collaboration between both units has already led to joint supervision of master students, a recently defended PhD, and joint publications in leading psychology, gastroenterology, psychosomatic medicine and neuroscience journals. The Health Psychology unit (Facutly of Psychology and Educational Sciences) aims at unravelling how psychological and somatic variables interact in health and disease from a biopsychosocial perspective. Both fundamental and applied research is being conducted to understand how interoceptive sensations are psychologically processed and how cognitive, emotional, learning, and neural processes contribute to the initiation and maintenance of chronic somatic symptoms, illness and disability. Key words in our group are “pain”, “dyspnea”, “psychophysiology”, “associative learning”, “interoception” and “symptom perception”. The prevailing research paradigm is the controlled experiment. Measurements include self-reports, psychophysiological responses, and behavioural data. Collaborative, interdisciplinary research is performed by a network of experienced researchers, clinicians and students who are fascinated by the behavioural science of health and disease. The ultimate goal is to apply the gathered knowledge in the assessment and early identification of those people at risk, and in the development of customized cognitive-behavioural interventions in the pursuit of prevention and treatment of chronic somatic complaints. The group has acquired 250 sq meter lab space, with labs that are well-equipped for the majority of the planned studies (Coulbourn modules for psychophysiological measurement, 128-channel EGI EEG systems, Digitimer DS 5 and DS7, Medoc Pathway, Cold Pressor task, Haptic Master 3-D robot arm). There is also a productive network of collaborative research within and outside Europe. The group has also has strong connections with the University Hospital Leuven, as well as the Centre for Translational Psychological Research of Ziekenhuis Oost-Limburg (TRACE). These partners are particularly valuable for the recruitment of patients, as well as the translation and dissemination of our project to clinical practice. The Laboratory for Brain-Gut Axis Studies (LaBGAS), as part of the Translational Research Center for Gastrointestinal Disorders (TARGID, Faculty of Medicine) at KU Leuven, focuses on the multidisciplinary study of gut-brain interactions, with one of the key research lines being the study of psychobiological mechanisms of gastrointestinal sensitivity and visceral pain perception in health and functional gastrointestinal disorders. The group has extensive experience with visceral stimulation methods, including mechanical and electrical stimulation of the esophagus, which will be used in the present project, as well as measuring various responses to such stimuli, ranging from self-reported perceptual measures to brain responses measured using functional neuroimaging techniques. Furthermore, LaBGAS has a long-standing tradition of multidisciplinary collaborative research both within KU and University Hospitals Leuven and internationally.

Project

As a cardinal symptom of most functional gastrointestinal disorders, visceral pain and discomfort are very common and disabling. Unfortunately, such symptoms remain poorly understood and are hard to treat. There is a general consensus that fear towards gastrointestinal sensations may play an important role, but the mechanisms underlying such fear as well as its impact on visceral symptom perception are unclear. The project aims to elucidate these mechanisms, building on our previous work demonstrating that fear of gastrointestinal sensations can be experimentally established through Pavlovian learning processes and that such fear learning changes the way persons perceive gastrointestinal stimuli (Zamanet al. Psychosom Med, 78, 248-258, 2016). In healthy volunteers, we will investigate the effects of fear learning to an initially non-painful gastrointestinal stimulus on different perceptual outcomes relevant to chronic visceral pain, including discrimination (the ability to discriminate slightly different stimuli) and habituation (decreased intensity perception upon repeated administration of an identical stimulus). These effects will be studied both at the self-report and the neural level (using electroencephalography).

Profile

  • We are looking for an enthusiastic Ph.D. candidate with a Master's degree in psychology, neuroscience, biomedical science, or related fields and with a strong affinity for research in the area of psychophysiology, somatoform/pain/gastro-intestinal disorders, behavioral medicine, health psychology, or cognitive neuroscience.
  • The project comprises a series of 4 experimental studies on visceral fear learning.Visceral stimulation techniques will be performed and will require intense collaboration with biomedical partners. Outcomes will include EEG, startle blink EMG, and perceptual outcome measures. 
  • Besides excellent organizational and research skills, the candidate should possess excellent proficiency and communication skills in English language, both verbally as well as in academic writing are required. 
  • We expect the candidate to know or quickly learn new statistical methods and script-based analysis packages (such as R). Expertise/experience with EEG, startle EMG, and/or Pavlovian conditioning procedures is desirable. 
  • The candidate is expected to defend a PhD based on his/her experimental work after 4 years.

Offer

  • We offer a full-time PhD position for one year, with the perspective of prolongation with another 3 years.
  • As a partner of the Dutch-Flemish postgraduate school Experimental Psychopathology (EPP), the Leuven Research Group on Health Psychology offers the opportunity to follow several courses on both methodology and diverse aspects of health psychology and psychopathology.

Interested?

For more information please contact Prof. dr. Ilse Van Diest, tel.: +32 16 32 60 29, mail: ilse.vandiest@kuleuven.be or Dr. Jonas Zaman, tel.: +32 16 37 31 97, mail: jonas.zaman@kuleuven.be or Prof. dr. Lukas Van Oudenhove, mail: lukas.vanoudenhove@kuleuven.be

You can apply for this job no later than November 01, 2020 via the
KU Leuven seeks to foster an environment where all talents can flourish, regardless of gender, age, cultural background, nationality or impairments. If you have any questions relating to accessibility or support, please contact us at diversiteit.HR@kuleuven.be.
  • Employment percentage: Voltijds
  • Location: Leuven
  • Apply before: November 1, 2020
  • Tags: Psychologie


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