KU Leuven

Perception and neural processing of breathlessness

2024-07-12 (Europe/Brussels)
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KU Leuven is an autonomous university. It was founded in 1425. It was born of and has grown within the Catholic tradition.

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The Research Group Health Psychology at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, KU Leuven aims at unravelling how psychological and somatic variables interact in health and disease from a biopsychosocial perspective. Both fundamental and applied research is being conducted to understand how interoceptive sensations are modulated by cognitive, emotional, social and learning processes, thereby contributing to the initiation and maintenance of chronic somatic symptoms, illness and disability. Key words in our group are “dyspnea (breathlessness)”, “pain”, “psychophysiology”, “associative learning”, “interoception” and “symptom perception”. The prevailing research paradigm is the controlled experiment. Measurements typically include a combination of self-reports, psychophysiological/neural responses, clinical outcome measures and/or behavioural data.
The ultimate goal is to apply the gathered knowledge in the assessment and early identification of those people at risk, and in the development of customized cognitive-behavioural interventions in the pursuit of prevention and treatment of chronic somatic complaints. Much of the research is conducted in a collaborative, interdisciplinary context. The group has strong connections with other (inter)national research groups and with clinical partners such as the University Hospital Leuven.

The present project is a close collaboration with the Research Group for Rehabilitation in Internal Disorders (https://gbiomed.kuleuven.be/english/research/50000743/research/research-units/grid/) and the Laboratory of Respiratory Diseases and Thoracic Surgery (BREATHE) (https://research.kuleuven.be/portal/en/unit/50000633) at KU Leuven. Both groups have longstanding expertise in the clinical characterization, treatment and medical follow-up of patients with respiratory disease. In multidisciplinary collaborations these groups are focusing on the effects of pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions to alter the course of lung disease. Their interest in the consequences of physical inactivity and setting up interventions to successfully enhance physical activity as well as their interest to understand breathlessness from a physiological angle are of particular relevance to the present project.
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Breathlessness (dyspnea) is the threatening cardinal symptom in many prevalent respiratory diseases such as COPD and asthma, but also in other diseases including cancer, cardiac, neuromuscular, psychiatric and psychosomatic illnesses. Breathlessness often leads to avoidance of physical activity and is associated with severe disability as well as significant reductions in quality of life in millions of patients worldwide. In addition, the accurate perception of breathlessness by the patient is very important for successful (self-)management because it motivates patients to initiate appropriate health behaviour such as seeking medical (self-)treatment timely and in adequate doses. Both, under-perception and over-perception of breathlessness were shown to be related to increased morbidity. The origins of breathlessness in patients with COPD and asthma are in the physiology underlying the disease process, but its perception and induced activity limitation are strongly influenced by psychological, neural and other processes integrating the physiology into patients’ subjective perception. Unfortunately, little is known on the interrelationships between these different processes.


This multidisciplinary research project will examine the impact of neural and psychological mechanisms on the perception of breathlessness in healthy individuals and in patients with respiratory disease (e.g., COPD, asthma). Moreover, respective interrelations of these mechanisms with physical activity and other patient characteristics will be studied. The PhD student will carry out several studies that aim to assess these aspects in a rehabilitation context as well as in laboratory settings. A major focus is the assessment of neural activation patterns related to breathing as measured by evoked potentials in the EEG (128-channel EEG system and/or mobile 32-channel system). Other outcome measures will include exercise tests, physical activity measures, self-reports, questionnaires and peripheral psychophysiological responses (e.g., breathing patterns). Apart from the acquisition and statistical analysis of the data, the PhD student will also be responsible for the scientific reporting of the results in international peer-reviewed journals and at scientific conferences. The conducted line of experimental studies will result in a PhD thesis that will be defended by the end of the research project. The candidate will work closely with other members of the research groups who are working on related research questions.


  • You obtained a Master Degree in Psychology (or will obtain such degree no later than 20/08/2024).
  • You have a strong affinity for research on the (neuro)psychology of respiratory disorders/symptoms.
  • You have a strong interest and/or background in EEG measures, in experimental studies and in psychophysiological measures.
  • You possess excellent data analytic skills.
  • You have excellent communicative skills in English and Dutch (both verbally and academic writing).
  • You are a team player who can also work independently.
  • You have strong organizational skills, are flexible and proactive.
  • You are not afraid of challenges.
  • You think critically and have a curious mind.
  • You are not afraid of being in contact with patients and possess the skills necessary for an empathic and professional interaction with patients.


  • Full-time employment as an assistant (member of the 'Assisterend Academisch Personeel') for 6 years. Remuneration in salary scale 43
  • A varied set of tasks, consisting of scientific research (2/3 of the time) and assistance in teaching (1/3 of the time)
  • Excellent working conditions: https://www.kuleuven.be/personeel/jobsite/en/phd/phd-information#working-conditions
  • Professional development via the KU Leuven doctoral school program and YouReCa (https://research.kuleuven.be/en/career/youreca), participation in (inter)national conferences, workshops, teaching, and working in a creative, interdisciplinary environment where cross-fertilization between clinical practice and science is highly valued.


For more information please contact Prof. dr. Andreas von Leupoldt, tel.: +32 16 32 60 06, mail: andreas.vonleupoldt@kuleuven.be.

KU Leuven strives for an inclusive, respectful and socially safe environment. We embrace diversity among individuals and groups as an asset. Open dialogue and differences in perspective are essential for an ambitious research and educational environment. In our commitment to equal opportunity, we recognize the consequences of historical inequalities. We do not accept any form of discrimination based on, but not limited to, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, age, ethnic or national background, skin colour, religious and philosophical diversity, neurodivergence, employment disability, health, or socioeconomic status. For questions about accessibility or support offered, we are happy to assist you at this email address.

Job details

Perception and neural processing of breathlessness
Oude Markt 13 Leuven, Belgium
Application deadline
2024-07-12 23:59 (Europe/Brussels)
2024-07-12 23:59 (CET)
Job type
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About the employer

KU Leuven is an autonomous university. It was founded in 1425. It was born of and has grown within the Catholic tradition.

Visit the employer page