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University of Bristol’s Transformative Social Science scheme

2 July 2014

Professor Colin Davis and Professor Marcus Munafo have both been awarded funding from the University of Bristol’s Transformative Social Science scheme

Professor Marcus Munafò has been awarded funding for his proposal entitled ‘Deep Data’.

With the money awarded, Marcus will work with Andy Skinner, also from the School of Experimental Psychology, and Andy Woods from, to develop a user-friendly platform that allows researchers to develop websites and smartphone apps, in order to deliver questionnaire and behavioural task assessments, as well as make use of the sensor technology integrated within modern smartphones (GPS, accelerometer, etc.) and add-on sensor technology.

Marcus said “we are entering an era of Big Data, but initiatives announced to date have principally focussed on the breadth of data available, rather than depth. With this award we will establish an open source, cloud-based, free-to-use platform to take advantage of the increasing ubiquity of the Internet, in order to capture rich behavioural data on very large numbers of individuals as they go about their daily lives. We call this initiative Deep Data.”

The funding is intended to support preliminary proof-of-concept work which can contribute to a future application to the Economic and Social Research Council.

Professor Colin Davis (University of Bristol) and Dr James Adelman (University of Warwick) have been awarded funding from a project entitled “Transforming the theoretical basis of cognitive/educational interventions”.

In order to more effectively treat cognitive disorders such as developmental dyslexia and specific language impairment it is necessary to develop a better understanding, at a mechanistic level, of the nature of the impairments in these disorders. A key means to developing such an understanding is to build computational models that simulate normal behaviour and developmental processes, and that can be experimentally “lesioned”. However, the technical skills required to build computational models are a considerable obstacle for most researchers.

Colin's project is about developing a software application that will make computational modelling accessible to researchers in developmental psychology who are not currently computational modellers. This will enable researchers to explore the performance of existing models, test the consequences of damage to these models, and build on existing models to develop new models that better describe developmental data. This in turn will directly influence the design of intervention studies aimed at remediation.  

The project builds on the easyNet project that is funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust. Developing a version of easyNet that addresses issues in developmental psychology will require the implementation of learning mechanisms, the ability to capture a much broader range of experimental paradigms, and a considerable extension to the software to facilitate modelling of individual differences.

The funding from the University of Bristol’s Transformative Social Science scheme will be used to a) identify the specific aspects of cognitive development that are most opportune for our project to focus on, and b) elicit feedback from potential users as to what features they would require in such software, i.e., which existing models need to be implemented, which behavioural tasks the software should aim to simulate, and what functionality would be necessary to encourage widespread adoption. These findings will shape a future application to the ESRC.

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