Research Projects

Flexible University of Sussex, Brighton, UK


Research in the Reality Bending Lab focuses primarily on the physiological and neurocognitive underpinnings of reality perception and aspects of reality bending (e.g., fiction, deception, fake news, illusions, and altered states of consciousness such as through meditation or immersion). Possible projects include (but are not limited to):

How do we know what is real? And what does it change?

  • Real vs. Fake: This project will typically involve presenting some real vs. “fake” stimuli (e.g., fake news, AI-generated images, …) to participants and investigate what interindividual/cognitive/emotional factors allows them to discriminate between the two.
  • Emotion regulation via fiction: believing that something is unreal (regardless of whether it actually is or is not) seem to have some ripple effect on various facets of our body and brain, such as emotions. This project studies the characteristics and potential use of fiction as an emotion regulation strategy. This project can be focused on negative emotions (with threatening/unpleasant stimuli) or “positive” emotions (e.g., sexual arousal, attractiveness).
  • Authenticity & Neuroaesthetics: This project investigates the effect of believing that an artwork is “forged” (e.g., an imitation of a great painter) on our appraisal of beauty.

Assessment of bodily and cognitive abilities and their relationship

  • Neuropsychological assessment of Cognitive Control: This project focuses on the development, validation and improvement of a neuropsychological task to reliably measure “cognitive control” (executive functions). This project requires some interest in neuropsychological assessment, task development and associated technical skills (programming, game development).
  • Physiological Control: development of measures (questionnaires, physiological tasks) measuring the ability to voluntarily regulate one’s physiology (e.g., heart rate, autonomic reactions, etc.).
  • Relationship between Interoception and higher-order functions: This project involves measuring various aspects of our relationship with our body (e.g., by measuring cardiac activity) and analyzing its relationship with cognitive abilities (e.g., Self control, emotion regulation) or higher-order constructs (e.g., primal world beliefsLinks to an external site.).
  • Secondary EEG data analysis: Investigating an existing dataset containing resting state EEG signal, from which one would extract features to try predicting dispositional indices (such as primal world beliefs).

Non-invasive induction of altered states of consciousness

  • Emotion regulation via distancing: by instructing people to change their state of mind (e.g., “see the events in a detached manner, like a fly on the wall”), we hope to manipulate aspects of the sense of reality - such as absorption and psychological distance - and compare its effect (in particular on emotions) with that of other emotion regulation strategies.
  • Can we manipulate the state of consciousness and observe actual effects on the performance at various cognitive tasks? For instance, via hypnosis or mindfulness-like instructions, sound stimulation (binaural beats, drumming, …), sensory deprivation (“floating” tanks). We study the role of expectations and try to isolate the mechanism of change.
  • Qualitative + quantitative project: Investigation into the world of “reality shifters”, people claiming that have shifted between realities. Understand their language, personality, etc.

Metascience / Data science / Software development

  • Investigation of scientific practices: to what extent scientists engage in “new” practices (e.g., open science, slow science, preregistration, registered reports, …) and what factors (e.g., career level, time, ideology, …) are driving their adoption (or lack thereof). This might involve things like validating assessment tools (such as questionnaires or gamified measures like quizzes), distributing it widely and analysing the results.
  • Improving access of R to psychologists: R outputs can be complex, and we are developing tools to facilitate its understanding (e.g., the reportLinks to an external site. package). This project involves implementing functions in R to help communicate and interpret statistical results. This project requires some interest in programming and stats.
  • Neurophysiological signal analysis in Python: implementation and validation of new algorithms in Python, related for instance to chaos theory, EEG signal analysis, etc. This project requires some interest in programming, computer science and mathematics.
  • Psychophysiological methods: what is the optimal electrode configuration for recording skin conductance responses (often used as a marker of emotions).
  • Role of beauty in science: Is the impact of research publications related to the aeshetic qualities of figures.

Other / Collaborations

  • With Theodoros Karapanagiotidis: project involving secondary behavioural data analysis, exploring questions about the nature of thoughts, their patterns, the impact of mood and ongoing experience , and how they vary in in real-life settings. By analysing existing data, students will be able to examine the links between ongoing thoughts, brain structure and function, and their potential implications for mental health and well-being.

Some of these projects share strong links with philosophical concepts (e.g., the paradox of fiction) and/or carry some clinical relevance (e.g., for the understanding and treatment of mood/psychotic/dissociative disorders). Also, note that the lab is radically engaged in open science and, ultimately, quantitative methodologies: thus, most projects would typically require a substantial use of R (or Python) at some stage. However, it’s totally okay not to feel proficient at these skills at the start, but the important thing is to be interested and motivated to learn.

Projects might be conducted individually, in pairs, or in a group, depending on needs. Attending weekly lab meetings is also expected.


Joining the Reality Bending Lab will help you develop unique skills that your might not find in other labs, that will give an edge to your profile for future applications. These include:

  • Neuroimaging (EEG)
  • Psychophysiology (multimodal bodily recordings)
  • Computational Bayesian modelling with R
  • Advanced programming with Python
  • Open science best practices (using GitHub and various cutting edge tools)

Advice for Students

Choosing Options

Most psychology programs are proposing some optionality, i.e., some modules that you can pick. While many of them look interesting, you often have to make hard choices. Many students pick what looks interesting, from various psychology domains (e.g., a bit of social psychology, a module from cognitive, one from clinical etc.). They might also believe that picking a variety of options will provide them with a multidisciplinary profile, which might be valued later on.

While this is, in principle, true, in practice, a “consistent” profile is often much more appealing to recruiters. For instance, having a set of clinically-relevant options, or cognitive/neuroscience ones, will give you an edge (and sometimes, even for say a “neuroscience” opportunity, recruiters would prefer a clearly clinical profile rather than a “jack of all trades master of none” type of one). Make your choices wisely, and make them with a plan.

But I don’t know what I want to do later, so I want to keep most doors open.

Yes, that’s a common issue. You can still keep doors open while at the same time having a coherent profile. You should at least have an idea of what subbranch of psychology you don’t want to do (e.g., social psychology).

For psychology students at Sussex, if you would like to work with me, I recommend picking some of the following options:

  • Cognitive Neuroscience (must have)
  • Conscious and Unconscious Mental Processes
  • Biological Psychology of Mental Health
  • Perspectives on Psychology
  • Self Regulation: The Science of Achieving Your Goals
  • Attention: Distraction, Daydreaming and Diversity
  • Drugs, Brain and Behaviour

Don’t rely on what is written!

Ask directly members of team (current and past) about their experience in the lab!