The Faculty of Sport Sciences of University of Nantes (France) is seeking applications for a a PhD position, starting Sept 2012.

The thesis is funded by the region “Pays de la Loire” (France)
Duration of grants: 36 months (about 1374 Euros a month – tax free – 1740 US$)
Other possible grants devoted to congress participation, computers purchase… up to 6000 Euros

Cognition and capacities of action: towards an integrated vision of affordances

Place : Faculty of Sport Sciences – University of Nantes
Laboratory : « Motricité, Interactions, Performance » (EA 4334)
Supervisors : Christophe CORNU, Professor - Thibault DESCHAMPS, Associate Professor

Application Process:
We are looking for good candidates for this position with a Master degree or equivalent (Engineer). Students finishing their Master degree before July 2012 can apply. Applicants must hold a Master’s degree preferentially in human movement science, neurosciences, biomechanics or a related discipline.

Applications should consist of:
- a cover letter outlining the motivation for applying for this PhD position
- a detailed CV
- a summary of previous research works (1 page max.)
- copies of degree certificates and / or diplomas, including marks
- letters of recommendation would be appreciated.

Please send your entire dossier as a single pdf attachment to your email to Christophe Cornu and Thibault Deschamps.

Deadline for application: July 6th 2012

Research project
Consistent with the ecological approach to perception and action (Gibson, 1979), the perceiver‐actor perceives affordances (i.e. opportunities of action) through multiple interactions with the environment. This perception is direct and consists in picking up information that specifies the relationship between the environment's characteristics and the perceiver‐actor's properties. Therefore, if intended behaviors are to be successful, perception of affordances ought to reflect the task-specific fit between a perceiver-actor’s action capabilities and environmental properties.

According to environment's characteristics (e.g., haptic / vision condition) or/and the perceiver‐actor's properties (stressful situation, state of physical fatigue, etc.), the changes in perception of affordances can be associated with poorer motor performance (e.g., Luyat et al., 2008; Pepping & Li, 2000 ; Pijpers et al., 2006; Stoffregen et al., 1999, 2005). Of interest is then to identify the relevant variables favorable to detect the suitable affordance, which once updated, is useful for an efficient motor regulation. Put differently, this thesis raises the assumption of “cognitive permeability” of mechanisms necessary for the perceiver-actor to reach his indented behaviors. Thus this project postulates the efficiency of specific recommendations and/or multidimensional interventions (perceptive and/or motor processes) on the detection and the updating of affordances.

Few studies have simultaneously tested the effects of different environmental properties and the perceiver‐actor's properties on (1) the accuracy of affordances’ perception and (2) the cognitive gap between the actual motor performance and the perceptual estimates of the dimension “achievable or not” (Ramenzoni et al., 2010). For instance, when subjects must evaluate (without action) the maximum height of an obstacle that they can stride over, the elderly subjects (contrary to young subjects) overestimated their maximum height of crossing over (with an estimated performance higher than the effective performance). As an evidence of lack of cognitive updating between perceptive and motor parameters, this overestimation of performance is associated with poor postural stability (Noël et al., 2011). Thus the first goals of this project are to assess the crossed effects of environmental variables (height, orientation, depth of obstacle…) and organismic constraints (aging, emotional states, functional status…) and then to identify the conditions associated with a significant cognitive lag between perception and execution, responsible for (at least for a part) a altered motor performance. Then it’s a matter of characterizing precisely the mainly altered (perceptive or/and motor) mechanisms that can take an account for resulting motor adaptations. For instance, according the tested experimental conditions (e.g. task of crossing an obstacle in a stressful condition) and the population (elderly, sedentary subjects…), the participants should be able (or not) to reorganize their motor responses to stride over the obstacle. Then, the characterisation of both 1/ the neuromuscular system and muscle-tendon unit properties, that can provide information about functional and structural adaptations to be the cause of changes in force production and transmission (Baudry et al., 2012), and 2/ the detection process of affordance and its necessary cognitive updating should allow a better knowledge of the affordance and their potential updating process.

On the basis of these findings, the last objective of this project will be to suggest specific intervention protocols which can stopgap the lack of cognitive updating of affordances. We assume that simultaneous sensory stimulations are favorable to larger available information necessary to an efficient motor regulation. For instance, a specific or whole body vibration (known for their positive effects on motor performance – Schlee et al., 2012), coupled with experimental conditions changing the internal representation of perceiver‐actor's verticality (Whright, 2011), can be an integrated preventive protocol of neuromuscular and cognitive features (Noël et al., 2011).

Contacts for applicants and/or further information:
Christophe CORNU –
Thibault DESCHAMPS –

UFR STAPS, Université de Nantes
Faculty of Sport Sciences, University of Nantes
Laboratoire "Motricité, Interactions, Performance" EA 4334
25 bis Boulevard Guy Mollet - BP 72206
44 322 Nantes cedex 3