The NPSA is co-funding – for the first time – a PhD studentship in collaboration with prestigious University College London (UCL) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
PhD title: Reclaiming Body Image from Within: A scientific study on how interoception and mentalisation influence our bodily self
PhD abstract: This PhD focuses on how tactile ‘interpersonal’ pleasure on the body’s surface (affective touch) is integrated with other sensory and interpersonal signals (e.g. vision, hunger, synchronous social stimulation) to form mental representations of one’s own body and of others’ intentions. Previous studies have shown that slow-paced, gentle stroking, usually found in maternal caresses in early life and adult romantic relationships, is processed by specialised pathways starting from the skin and ending in particular parts of the brain, leading to positive inner feelings. However, no studies have yet been conducted in relation to mentalisation and the bodily self.
The PhD will integrate insights from neuroscience and psychoanalysis to examine three parallel aims: 1) Bodily Pleasure and the Self: will examine how affective touch and other, related interoceptive feelings of the body may influence how we perceive our body from the outside, e.g. how our body image is formed. 2) Bodily Pleasure and Others: will examine how affective touch and other interpersonal behaviours on the body are perceived and interpreted in relationship to the self, as well as other’s intentions 3) Bodily Pleasure, Functional and Eating Disorders: will examine how the determining factors of bodily awareness studies in (1) and (2) may be crucial for psychopathologies of embodiment, such as functional and eating disorders, as well as for their subclinical manifestations in the general population, e.g. high scores in self-objectification (people who are more likely to view their bodies as ‘objects’ and are highly susceptible to external images of the ‘perfect body’).
Student Biography: Elena Panagiotopoulou completed a BSc (Hons) in Psychology at UCL and an MSc (Distinction) in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology at UCL and the Anna Freud Centre. During and after her MSc, she gained research and clinical work experience at UCL, Imperial College London, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and the Anna Freud Centre. She then completed an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL as part of a 1+3 PhD studentship co-funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Neuro-psychoanalysis Fund (NPSA). She is currently in the second year of her PhD, which is supervised by Dr Aikaterini Fotopoulou and Prof Alessandra Lemma.