About me: I have a BA in Psychology (Degree-The American College of Greece/ Open University) and an MSc in Clinical Mental Health Sciences (UCL). Before finding my passion in mental health research, I initially studied Maritime Studies (University of Piraeus), where I studied economics, statistics and logistics. As a psychology undergraduate, I attended Stanford University for a summer term where I studied modules in Data and Affective Science.

I have direct experience of mental health research in clinical services. During my MSc, I worked as an assistant psychologist at Saint Ann’s Hospital for people with severe mental illness, and I have also worked as a research assistant in a psychiatric hospital in Athens doing research with women with postnatal depression. Finally, after finishing my MSc I worked as a research assistant in the Division of Psychiatry at UCL on Down Syndrome & Dementia and a study on Illusory Social Agents in Psychosis, the latter being directly related to my PhD.

My research: One of the core features of psychosis is that the experience is fundamentally social, in that people with psychosis most commonly report being bothered by hallucinated voices and delusional persecutors. But until recently, little attention has been paid to how these illusory social experiences arise and how they can be explained in terms of alterations to social cognition. My research focuses on the phenomenology, cognitive mechanisms and impact of these experiences aiming to advance our understanding of social cognitive science of psychosis.

My PhD project will take a data-driven and experimental approach to answer three important questions drawing from my background in mental health research and my extensive experience with computational methods:

What are the characteristics of illusory social agents in psychosis? Identification of presenting characteristics of illusory social agents experienced by patients with psychosis through recently developed methods for investigating the phenomenology of psychosis.

To what extent do psychotic symptoms predict over-detection of social agents? Use of interactive social cognition experiments to investigate the extent that patients with psychosis over-detect ‘human’ agency in interactions.

How does the presence of illusory social agents affect social functioning on the population level? Use of computational modelling methods to assess how the presence of characteristics of illusory social agents and the misperception bias for social agents in the social network of the minority of population members with psychosis affect their social success and the social dynamics of the entire group.

The difference my research makes: This research will help uncover mechanisms behind illusory social experiences in psychosis, which are known to be some of the most disabling and distressing experiences in severe mental illness. New generation therapies like AVATAR therapy and relating therapy have the illusory social agent representations as a therapeutic target but are currently not informed by social cognitive studies. Thus, my research will be of immediate benefit to psychological therapy researchers and potentially longer-term benefit to patients.

Most cognitive models of psychosis ignore the social experience of the symptoms of psychosis, despite them being common and core to the condition and this research will help move cognitive science towards an understanding of psychosis that more accurately reflects the lived experience and phenomenology of psychosis. This is of clear benefit to social cognition researchers for whom social agent representation dysfunction may provide convergent evidence for this model in normal cognition.

Finally, my PhD project aims to combine my background in working with people with psychosis and psychosis research, with my background in computational analysis, to demonstrate how well chosen computational methods (i.e. agent-based modelling) can contribute directly to clinically relevant research. I hope this methodological innovation will benefit psychopathology and health service researchers.

Supervisors: Dr Vaughan Bell &  Prof Nichola Raihani


Pathway: Mental Health and Mental Health Care

Location: UCL Psychiatry

Tel.: +44 (0)20 3108 4146


Twitter: @ElliPChrys

LinkedIn: Elisavet Pappa