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BSMS > About BSMS > Contact us > Staff > Dr Cassandra Gould van Praag

Dr Cassandra Gould van Praag

Cassandra Gould van Praag

Dr Cassandra Gould van Praag (BSc, MSc, PhD)

Research Fellow
T: +44 (0)1273 878164
Location: Clinical Imaging Sciences Centre (CISC), University of Sussex, Brighton, BN1 9RR

DA: Christina Lee
T: +44 (0)1273 873833

Research area(s): emotional and cognitive processing



Cassandra’s background is in basic biological sciences, particularly human biochemistry, genetics, and immunology. She received a First Class honours from the University of Brighton in 2005. During her undergraduate training, Cassandra conducted a one year Industrial Placement with a pre-clinical Magnetic Resonance Imaging group at GlaxoSmithKline, where she was given the opportunity to explore the physics of Magnetic Resonance Imaging. From Biology, Cassandra transitioned to studies of the mind, as she began to learn about the placebo effect, where a basic biological action could be brought about by the simple belief that it would be so. She undertook an Open University Diploma in Health Psychology in 2007, followed by a Masters in Cognitive Neuropsychology at Birkbeck College in 2008. In 2014, Cassandra completed her PhD in Informatics at the University of Sussex. Here she explored the trait of synaesthesia, where sensory experiences in one modality trigger a concurrent experience of another form, using extensive exploration of the first person experience and Magnetic Resonance Imaging.



As part of the ERC Grant awarded to investigate Cardiac Control of Fear in the Brain (CCFIB), we have been researching how cardiac activity affects conscious content, and how this is changed with pharmacological interventions.

We have recently demonstrated that memory for words presented when the heart contracts (systole) is decreased relative to memory for words presented when the heart is between contractions (diastole).  Interestingly, people who are good at detecting their own heartbeat (people with good ‘interoceptive accuracy’) are protected from this ‘forgetting at systole’ effect. This work clearly demonstrates that our conscious content is influenced by what is happening in our bodies, on a moment-to-moment basis, and that our awareness of our bodies can modulate these effects.

We have extended this investigation of conscious content into a binocular rivalry paradigm, where two images are shown simultaneously to a participant (one to each eye) but the participant is only consciously aware of one pictures. Here we have shown that people with good interoceptive accuracy are more sensitive to fear faces at systole relative to individuals with low interoceptive accuracy (in preparation). This investigation again demonstrates that our conscious content is modulated by the activity of our heart, however contrary to much of the existing literature where systole is determined to be relatively inhibitory to brain processing, these data suggest that cardiac systole enhances processing in the fear domain. This ‘sensitivity to fear’ effect is again modulated by interoceptive accuracy, supporting our earlier demonstration that it is not only our physiology, but our awareness of your physiology which impacts our conscious content.

We are currently in the final stages of an extension to this binocular rivalry paradigm, using sophisticated brain imaging techniques to identify subtle variations which may be responsible for the heart-sensitising effect. At the same time, we are also investigating the effect of pharmaceuticals on conscious content, and assessing the effects of drugs used for the treatment of anxiety and high blood pressure. This complex study will also enables us to assess the effects of these drugs on interoception and memory, tying together the separate strands of research into a single design. The outcome of this study will be an integrated assessment of cardiac control of fear in the brain, providing routes for furthering our understanding of how the heart modulates our conscious experience and its involvement in disorders of mental health such as anxiety. 

Cassandra Gould van Praag research

Figure: Determining sensitivity to fear at different stages of the cardiac cycle, through a binocular rivalry paradigm.

Selected publications

Gould van Praag, C. D., Garfinkel, S., Ward, J., Bor, D., & Seth, A. K. (2016). Automaticity and localisation of concurrents predicts colour area activity in grapheme-colour synaesthesia. Neuropsychologia, 88, 5–14.

Gould van Praag C, Froese T, Barrett A, Ward J, Seth A. An extended case study on the phenomenology of sequence-space synesthesia. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. 2014;8. 

Froese T, Gould van Praag C, Seth A. Validating and calibrating first- and second-person methods in the science of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies. 2011;18(2):38-64. 

Froese T, Gould van Praag C, Barrett A. Re-Viewing from Within: A commentary on the use of first- and second-person methods in the science of consciousness. Constructivist Foundations. 2010;.