Brain and Behaviour Research Group
Enhancing the performance and learning of skilled behaviour
We study the perceptual, cognitive and motor processes that underpin human skill development, control and learning.
The Brain and Behaviour Research Group take a multidisciplinary approach using methods from neurophysiology, biomechanics and experimental psychology to investigate two broad and related themes: 1) sensorimotor control of action; 2) expert performance and learning.
Sensorimotor control of action
Our research seeks to better understand the sensorimotor processes involved in typical and atypical (e.g., autism spectrum condition, stroke patients) human motor behaviour, with the intention to facilitate performance and learning across the lifespan.
Central to our projects is the detailed analysis of human movement across a range of scales from whole-body to upper limb fine motor control, as well as the underlying cognitive, visual, ocular and neural processes.
Our research is conducted in three co-located, purpose-built laboratories that are uniquely equipped for motion analysis (Vicon Nexus; Vicon Bonita; Optotrak 3D Investigator), high resolution eye movement registration and gaze tracking (Chronos Vision C-ETD, EyeLink 1000, BlueGain EOG; Pupil Labs, Tobii), non-invasive brain imaging (Brainsight NIRS) and stimulation (Magstim BiStim; Brainbox neuroConn tDCS), electromyography (DelSys Bagnoli), and visual stimulus generation with high spatial and temporal resolution at near (ViewPixx EEG) or far space (Barco Graphics 908).Brainsight NIRS) and stimulation (Magstim BiStim; Brainbox neuroConn tDCS), electromyography (DelSys Bagnoli), and visual stimulus generation with high spatial and temporal resolution at near (ViewPixx EEG) or far space (Barco Graphics 908).
Expert performance and learning
Our goal is to improve the performance, training and learning of complex, dynamic tasks and domains through research, education and applied solutions.
Expert motor performance is required in most domains including sport, medicine, academia, business, music, law enforcement, teaching and firefighting, among many others. We seek to optimise the acquisition of expert performance in these domains using research evidence and cutting-edge technology.
For our research on issues such as expert anticipation and decision making, and quiet eye training, our lab has two life-size simulation video screens, head-free eye tracking systems (ASL Mobile Eye, ASL EYE-TRAC®5), motion analysis and digital video recording apparatus, and a video editing suite.
Projects and collaborations
Selection of current projects
Gait and postural control
Our aims are to determine the mechanisms underlying the sensory motor transformations serving locomotion and how they are adversely affected by the aging process and neuropathology (e.g stroke, Parkinson's disease) and to apply knowledge of these mechanisms to the development of novel diagnostic tests, technologies and rehabilitation techniques for improving functional mobility and preventing falls in at-risk populations (e.g. older adults, children with Developmental Coordination Disorder). Examples of recent projects include understanding the role of neck stiffness in the turning problems of PD patients, elucidating the mechanisms underlying increased trips and falls in children with DCD and optimising the visual properties of staircases to reduce falls risk. Some of this work is carried out in collaboration with the biomechanics research group.
Optimal lighting levels for stair safety: Influence of lightbulb type and brightness on confidence, dynamic balance and stepping characteristics. (2020) Thomas NM, Skervin T, Foster RJ, O'Brien TD, Carpenter MG, Maganaris CN, Baltzopoulos V, Lees C, Hollands MA. Exp Gerontol. 2020 Apr;132:110839. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2020.110839. Epub 2020 Jan 17.
Weerdesteyn V, Hollands KL, Hollands MA. (2020) Gait adaptability. Handb Clin Neurol. 2018;159:135-146. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63916-5.00008-2.
Chayasit P, Hollands K, Hollands M, Boonsinsukh R.(2020). Immediate effect of voluntary-induced stepping response training on protective stepping in persons with chronic stroke: a randomized controlled trial. Disabil Rehabil. 2020 Jun 1:1-8. doi: 10.1080/09638288.2020.1769205. Online ahead of print. PMID: 32475182
Oculomotor and oculomanual control
Many human behaviours performed on a daily basis, whether it be during feeding and tool use, or ambulatory activities such as navigating along a busy road, are supported by an interrupted flow of visual information. Although these typically go unnoticed, the human brain’s ability to fill in the gaps in missing visual information is not infallible. For example, while we have shown that neurotypical young adults use predictive processes to control ocular pursuit of transiently occluded trajectories, these same processes can be impaired in those with developmental (e.g., Autism) and acquired brain disorders (e.g., mild traumatic brain injury), as well as mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease. In this project, we combine behavioural and neurophysiological protocols to investigate key areas of the cortical network that underlie complex oculo-manual behaviour of young neurotypical adults, with the overall aim to advance knowledge of normal human function in a task that requires sensorimotor processes common to those of everyday activities. For this purpose, we have developed an innovative experimental protocol (i.e., dual-task remembered pursuit) that requires a momentary shirt of eye gaze, and thereby overt attention, between a moving and stationary object. The shift of eye gaze places greater demand on attentional and representation process in order keep track of the primary object as it moves in an eccentric location. The task is performed with eyes alone or eyes and upper limb (active or passive movement), thus enabling us to investigate specific parts of the cortical network in the presence of motor afference and/or efference. Insights from our work with neurotypical young adults will inform future research with neuroatypical populations who have impaired predictive sensorimotor processing that underpin eye-hand coordination.
Bennett, S. J., & Barnes, G. R. (2003). Human ocular pursuit during the transient disappearance of a visual target. Journal of Neurophysiology, 90(4), 2504-2520.
Bennett, S. J., O'Donnell, D., Hansen, S., & Barnes, G. R. (2012). Facilitation of ocular pursuit during transient occlusion of externally-generated target motion by concurrent upper limb movement. Journal of Vision, 12(13), 17-17.
Bennett, S. J., Uji, M., & Baurès, R. (2018). Asymmetrical time-to-contact error with two moving objects persists across different vertical separations. Acta psychologica, 185, 146-154.
Adaptation to (simulated) visual impairment
It is widely recognised that vision plays a substantial role within the control of movement, although much of our understanding is adapted from coarse manipulations such as comparing conditions of normal vision vs. no vision. This approach has limited relevance to understanding visuomotor control of individuals with ocular disorders (e.g., glaucoma, macular degeneration). Moreover, within these populations, it is questionable whether the categorisation of visual impairment using clinical diagnostic tools adequately recognises the dynamic contexts in which we use vision. Indeed, there is a growing body of research that suggests the unique organisation of visual neural pathways could offset impairments to static visual acuity and/or visual fields on movement control. Specifically, the magnocellular layers of the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), which project to the area of the parietal cortex (dorsal pathway), are sensitive to low spatial-high temporal frequency visual inputs, and could thus provide important for online control of dynamic tasks such as aiming, reaching and interception. Thus, this line of research is devoted to examining dynamic visual and visual-motor performance (e.g., global motion perception, manual control) under habitual and simulated impaired vision.
Roberts, J. W., Thompson, B., Leat, S. J, & Dalton, K. (2020). Towards developing a test of global motion for use with Paralympic athletes. Scientific Reports, 10, 8482. doi>
Elliott, D., Lyons, J., Hayes, S. J., Burkitt, J. J., Roberts, J. W., Grierson, L. & Bennett, S. J. (2017). The multiple process model of goal-directed reaching revisited. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 72, 95-110.
Young Minds on the Move
Young Minds on the Move is a series of studies to assess whether dance lessons in physical education can act as an intervention to strengthen executive functions and, so aid general cognition and improve academic achievement, at the same time as enhancing children’s movement skills. In brief, this research found that children who learned a complex dance choreography enhanced their executive function (working memory capacity and inhibitory control) to a greater extent than children who continued with traditional PE. Furthermore, it was found that subtleties in the teacher’s pedagogical choices and practices had a direct impact upon children’s learning: in this case limiting visual demonstrations and encouraging children to memorise and recall movement sequences, as opposed to the teacher providing continuous demonstrations, promoted the development of children’s working memory capacity to a greater extent than continuous demonstrations
Oppici, L., Rudd, J., Buszard, T., & Spittle, S. (2020). Efficacy of a 7-week dance (RCT) PE curriculum with different teaching pedagogies and levels of cognitive challenge to improve working memory capacity and motor competence in 8–10 years old children. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 101675.
Crotti, M., Foweather, L., Rudd, J. R., Hurter, L., Schwarz, S., & Boddy, L. M. (2020). Development of raw acceleration cut-points for wrist and hip accelerometers to assess sedentary behaviour and physical activity in 5–7-year-old children. Journal of Sports Sciences, 38(9), 1036-1045.
To successfully imitate, an individual translates visual information observed from a human action (i.e., biological motion) into a sensorimotor representation that contains the outcome-goal (i.e., touching the ear) and the ‘means’ or ‘style’ (i.e., limb velocity) to achieve said outcome-goal. The sensorimotor representation serves as a motor plan and is mapped onto the motor system for motor-execution, as well as providing the expected consequences of the movement required for motor control. It is suggested that the process of imitation is altered in those with Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC), and that this could underpin the difficulties in social interactions. Our aim is to examine whether autistic individuals can adapt imitation and represent biological motion kinematics following specific manipulations to the learning context such as practice structure and attentional instructions.
Foster, N. C., Bennett, S. J., Causer, J., Elliott, D., Bird, G., & Hayes, S. J. (2020). Getting off to a shaky start: Specificity in planning and feedforward control during sensorimotor learning in autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research, 13(3), 423-435.
Hayes, S. J., Andrew, M., Foster, N. C., Elliott, D., Gowen, E., & Bennett, S. J. (2018). Sensorimotor learning and associated visual perception are intact but unrelated in autism spectrum disorder. Autism Research, 11(2), 296-304.
Hayes, S. J., Andrew, M., Elliott, D., Gowen, E., & Bennett, S. J. (2016). Low fidelity imitation of atypical biological kinematics in autism spectrum disorders is modulated by self-generated selective attention. Journal of autism and developmental disorders, 46(2), 502-513.
Vision and Elite Sports Performance
It seems obvious that good vision is a pre-requisite for the exceptional visuo-motor skills needed in many sports. For example, to catch a cricket ball requires anticipation of the speed and direction of travel of the ball. Clearly, vision plays a crucially important role in this and other sporting tasks but do elite sports people have superior vision to non-elites? Is excellent vision a marker for sporting ability, and can visual performance affect our ability to acquire and/or retain visuo-motor skills? Our aim is to answer these questions by characterising the nature of the relationship between visual and visuo-motor ability in a cohort of sports players (from novice to elite). Similar to our work on adaptation to (simulated) visual impairment, here we think about visual function according to clinical/laboratory assessment (i.e., static vision) and its role in visuo-motor skills (i.e., dynamic vision). For more details see this article at bbsrcmedia: https://youtu.be/9gj--73CpIo
Roberts, J. W., Strudwick, A. J., & Bennett, S. J. (2017). Visual function of English Premier League soccer players. Science and Medicine in Football, 1(2), 178-182.
Barrett, B. T., Flavell, J. C., Bennett, S. J., Cruickshank, A. G., Mankowska, A., Harris, J. M., & Buckley, J. G. (2017). Vision and Visual History in Elite/Near-Elite-Level Cricketers and Rugby-League Players. Sports Medicine-Open, 3(1), 39.
Skilled performers utilise critical information from the environment and integrate it with pre-existing knowledge in order to make the most appropriate action under severe temporal pressure. For example, in a soccer penalty kick, the goalkeeper must use prior knowledge of situational probabilities, contextual information from the current game situation and penalty taker, as well as use an efficient visual search strategy to pick up on postural cues as they develop across the action, in order to anticipate the ball direction and intercept successfully. In order to develop future expert performers, it is important to understand the difference in these perceptual-cognitive skills across skill levels in order to develop the most efficient methods of training. Identifying the underlying mechanisms of expert performance, as well as the practice activities that develop expert memory and domain specific knowledge ensure a systematic and evidence-based approach to expediate acquisition of superior perceptual-cognitive skills.
Broadbent, D., Causer, J., Williams, A. M., & Ford, P. R. (2015). Perceptual-cognitive skill training and its transfer to expert performance in the field: Future research directions. European Journal of Sport Science, 15(4), 322-331. https://doi.org/10.1080/17461391.2014.957727
Causer, J., & Williams, A. M. (2015). The use of patterns to disguise environmental cues during an anticipatory judgment task. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 37, 74-82. https://doi.org/10.1123/jsep.2014-0200
Causer, J., Hayes, S. J., Hooper, J. M., & Bennett, S. J. (2017). Quiet eye contains information on sensorimotor preprograming and online control. Cognitive Processing, 18(1), 47-54. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10339-016-0783-4
Vickers, J. N., Causer, J., & Vanhooren, D. (2019, 2019-October-30). The Role of Quiet Eye Timing and Location in the Basketball Three-Point Shot: A New Research Paradigm [Original Research]. Frontiers in Psychology, 10(2424). https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02424
We work with a global network of collaborative partners from academia and industry, including the English Institute of Sport, England and Wales Cricket Board, The Football Association, Sydney Clinical Skills and Simulation Centre (Royal North Shore Hospital, Sydney), Prozone, sportscotland and Manchester United FC.
Current and previous funders for our research include: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, Wellcome Trust, Economic and Social Research Council, The Royal Society, The Strategic Promotion of Ageing Research Capacity network, Research into Ageing, Stroke Association, International Progressive MS Alliance and Nike Inc.
You'll find our research staff profiles below.
Our postgraduate students are Lénaic Borot, Daniel Clowes, Gemma-Dudley Jones, Tom Page, Atle Rosseland and Pravin Ramachandran