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Markers of Expertise in Sport and Physical Activity: Triangulated Approaches

The aim of this project is to adopt a mixed methods approach to determine the various factors – innate, learnt, and environmental – that ultimately contribute to skill acquisition and/or expertise within a specified domain.

As part of the LEAP Lab research group at Brunel University London (, the aim of the successful candidate will be to understand and improve the performance and learning of complex, dynamic skills across a domain of their choice, ranging from elite sport performance to everyday activities such as driving, cycling and navigating one’s environment safely. 

The project will have one or more of the three following objectives:

  1. To examine the factors (e.g., perceptual decision making and psychomotor abilities) that underpin skilled performance of an identified motor skill;
  2. To explore the mediating effects of factors such as anxiety, attention, pressure, physiological load and personality traits, on execution of the skill; and
  3. To determine how we may accelerate and/or enhance learning of the skills.


The successful candidate will have the opportunity to use a variety of techniques including gaze tracking, performance analysis, psychometric testing, and motion capture; other techniques (e.g., TMS) may be available to candidates who can demonstrate suitable experience. This aside, the successful candidate will receive training as required. The target population(s) and specific measures will be determined jointly by the candidate and the supervisory team.

The supervisory team is made up of Dr David Broadbent whose research focuses on perceptual-cognitive skills in sport, the impact of anxiety on performance, and the use of performance analysis in sport; Dr Dan Bishop, an HCPC-registered Practitioner Psychologist whose research profile includes work on neural and psychological markers of expert perception and decision-making, optimisation of attention, and observational learning; Dr Adam Cocks, whose research interests are centred on the control of attention, vision, and movement specifically in older adults/clinical populations; and Dr Alexander Nowicky, whose expertise lies in the use of non-invasive brain stimulation techniques to study human voluntary control of movement and neuroplasticity.


Bishop, D., Moore, S., Horne, S. and Teszka, R. (2014) 'Attentional capture by spoken language: Effects on netballers’ visual task performance'. Journal of Sport Sciences, 32 (17). pp. 1611 - 1620. ISSN: 0264-0414

Broadbent, D., Gredin, NV., Rye, JL., Williams, AM. and Bishop, DT. (2018) 'The Impact of Contextual Priors and Anxiety on Performance Effectiveness and Processing Efficiency in Anticipation'. Cognition and Emotion, 40. pp. S79 - S79. ISSN: 1464-0600

Broadbent, D., Causer, J., Williams, AM. and Ford, PR. (2017) 'The role of error processing in the contextual interference effect during the training of perceptual-cognitive skills'. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 43 (7). pp. 1329 - 1342. ISSN: 0096-1523

Cocks, A. J., Jackson, R. C., Bishop, D. T., & Williams, A. M. (2016). Anxiety, anticipation and contextual information: A test of attentional control theory. Cognition and Emotion30(6), 1037-1048.

D'Innocenzo, G., Gonzalez, C., Nowicky, A., Williams, A. and Bishop, D. (2017) 'Motor resonance during action observation is gaze-contingent: A TMS study'. Neuropsychologia, 103 (July). pp. 77 - 86. ISSN: 0028-3932

Ellmers, TJ., Cocks, AJ., Doumas, M., Williams, AM. and Young, W. (2016) 'Gazing into Thin Air: The Dual-Task Costs of Movement Planning and Execution during Adaptive Gait'. PloS ONE, 11 (11). pp. e0166063 - e0166063. ISSN: 1932-6203

Gredin, V., Bishop, D., Broadbent, D., Tucker, A. and Williams, A. (2018) 'Experts Integrate Explicit Contextual Priors and Environmental Information to Improve Anticipation Efficiency'. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 24 (4). pp. 1 - 8. ISSN: 1939-2192


How to apply

If you are interested in applying for the above PhD topic please follow the steps below:

  1. Contact the supervisor by email or phone to discuss your interest and find out if you woold be suitable. Supervisor details can be found on this topic page. The supervisor will guide you in developing the topic-specific research proposal, which will form part of your application.
  2. Click on the 'Apply here' button on this page and you will be taken to the relevant PhD course page, where you can apply using an online application.
  3. Complete the online application indicating your selected supervisor and include the research proposal for the topic you have selected.

Good luck!

This is a self funded topic

Brunel offers a number of funding options to research students that help cover the cost of their tuition fees, contribute to living expenses or both. See more information here: The UK Government is also offering Doctoral Student Loans for eligible students, and there is some funding available through the Research Councils. Many of our international students benefit from funding provided by their governments or employers. Brunel alumni enjoy tuition fee discounts of 15%.