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AISB opportunities Bulletin Item

3-year funded PhD studentship, Northumbria University,UK

-Dept / School / Faculty: School of Computing, Engineering & Information Sciences | Northumbria University -Project Title: An eFriend to Promote Social Norms and Healthy Lifestyle for Young People -Project Supervisor(s): Dr L Zhang (li.zhang@northumbria

Project description:

Peoples behaviours and attitude are strongly influenced by their perceptions of social norms. 
Misperceptions of social norms exist and may contribute to risky behaviours. These have been 
documented in relation to young peoples behaviours including alcohol and drug use, smoking, 
sexual activities, and bullying in UK schools (APHO, 2008; AYPH, 2009; Cairns, 2010; Office of 
National Statistics and DfE 2011). Consequently reduction in risky behaviour in young people 
remains a priority public health indicator (Great Britain, Department for Education, 2010) in 
the UK and is also of international significance.

There is increasing recognition that traditional health promotion approaches are not effective 
in sustained positive changes in perception that lead to reduction in risky behaviour. In this 
context novel social norm interventions are developing. However, none of the messaging dimension 
of these interventions is able to provide real-time personalised immersive interactive social 
engagement and training experience for young people.

This studentship aims to address risk behaviour in young people via the provision of an 
intelligent agent with social and emotion intelligence either embedded in virtual worlds or 
embodied in a humanoid robot. The intelligent agent will be developed to employ human-like 
natural speech to interact with students as their peer. It will encourage users to talk about 
their problems and emotional difficulties by evoking sensitive topics relating to their social 
life. It will also be capable of detecting emotion embedded in users speech, facial expression 
and body language to enhance personalised interaction.

The project brings synergy between AI research in computer science and social norm research in 
public health. It is supported by a strong partnership between Northumbria University, NHS South 
of Tyne and Wear Community Health Services, South Tyneside NHS Foundation Trust (Kevin Stoodley 
[Health Development Worker] and Pam Douglas [Young Persons Service
Coordinator]) and Gateshead Primary Care Trust (Lisa Dodd (Childrens Lead for Commissioning)).

Enquiries regarding this studentship should be made to Dr Li Zhang: Tel:
+44 191 240 7089; Email:

Applicants should hold a first or upper second class honours degree (in a relevant subject) from a 
British higher education institution, or equivalent. Students who are not UK/EU residents are 
eligible to apply, provided they hold the relevant academic qualifications, together with an IELTS 
score of at least 6.5.

For application and further details, please go to:

You should apply using the Universitys Research Application Form, available via the link on this 
page. Applications should be submitted to:

Karen Vacher
Senior Administrator, Research,
School of Computing, Engineering and Information Sciences Northumbria University
Tel: 0191 227 3244

Funding Notes:
The studentship includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (figure for 2012/13 is 
13,590 pa) and home fees.