PhD Program in Neural and Cognitive Sciences | NCS

XXXV Cycle






Diana Carbone
Supervisor: Donatella Ferrante (DSV)
Co-supervisor: Fabio Del Missier (DSV)
Rosandra Coladonato
Supervisor: Andrea Carnaghi (DSV)
Co-supervisor: Carlo Fantoni (DSV)
Co-supervisor: Mauro Bianchi (Università Lusofona, Lisbona, Portogallo)
Manuela Deodato
Supervisor: Paolo Manganotti (DSV)
Co-supervisor: Alessandra Galmonte (DSM)
Co-supervisor: Luigi Murena
Angela Faiella
Supervisor: Donatella Ferrante (DSV)
Co-supervisor: Sandra Pellizzoni (DSV)
Gabriele Massaria
Supervisor: Paola Lorenzon (DSV)
Co-supervisor: Marina Sciancalepore (DSV) 
Serena Mingolo
Supervisor: Eleonora Bilotta (UniCAL)
Co-supervisor: Mauro Murgia (DSV)
Oriana Moro
Supervisor: Lisa Di Blas (DSV)
Co-supervisor: Silvia Palmisano (DSM)
Co-supervisor: Igor Marchetti (DSV)
Marco Rocco Pastore
Supervisor: Daniela Tognetto (DSM)
Co-supervisor: Tiziano Agostini (DSV)

Are groups better than individuals in judgments and decisions? Many studies and decades of research have tried to answer this question; the results are ambiguous: for example, it has been demonstrated that groups are less affected by some bias such as the hindsight bias (Stahlberg, 1995) or the overconfidence effect (Camerer, 1999); moreover, groups take decisions more efficiently and quickly in situations of uncertainty (Blinder, 2005), are less averse to losses (Sutter, 2007) and are less likely to fall into the “information cascade” effect (Fahr, 2011). Nevertheless, group decision-making may be undermined by bias in some circumstances, as for example when seeking information (Schulz-Hardt, 2000), sharing or evaluating information (e.g., Brodbeck, 2002; Schultze, 2011) with potentially negative or non- optimal consequences on the final outcome . It is therefore important to understand what makes the group cognitively stronger or weaker. Starting from the assumption that reasoning is a key point for judgements and decisions, we follow Mercier's argumentative theory (Mercier, 2016) to better understand group’s strengths. According to Mercier, argumentation, which is the foundation of reasoning, is stronger and more effective if the reasoner is stimulated by divergent opinions and thoughts coming from others. A more effective argument, in turn , leads to better decisions, so much so that sometimes the quality of the group’s decision proves widely superior to the one coming from even its best individual. The first part of the project will test Mercier's argumentative theory and the cognitive strength of the group in one of the most important contexts of the last decade, namely the disinformation. Through the first studies , we will explore in an ever more in-depth way the mechanisms of argumentation and the characteristics that make group cognitively stronger than the individual by using and taking into account the currently most relevant contexts.

Candidate: Diana Carbone



In the physiopathology of migraine two opposing processes, depression (habituation) and facilitation (sensitization), determine the final behavioral outcome after a sequence of repetitive stimuli. Sensitization is a behavioral increase response to repeated stimulation. It has been associated with a dysfunction in descending pain inhibition. Habituation is a behavioral decreased response to repeated stimulation. It has been associated with a dysfunction in information processing. The purpose of this study is first to compare a non-pharmacological treatment such as physical therapy, with a specific dual task protocol of active exercise with concomitant cognitive tasks, with the pharmacological prophylactic Topiramate treatment, in relation to the modification of P300 wave. The second aim is to correlate the improve in headache parameters (such as intensity of pain, duration of attacks and frequency of pain registered with ad hoc diary) and in the headache-related disability (using Migraine disability assessment scale-MIDAS) with the recording of Event-related potentials. A Randomized Controlled Trial will be conducted on three groups of patients with chronic migraine. Patients will be recruited and randomized by the Headache Centre (University of Trieste in the Department of Medical, Surgical, and Health Sciences), diagnosing migraine after a neurologic visit (diagnostic criteria of ICDH3-beta). Two types of oddball paradigms will be presented (T1), auditory and visual oddball. Electroencephalogram will be recorded and Evoked responses will be analyzed. The Migraine disability assessment scale (MIDAS) will be performed. Finally, after three months of each treatment, the final visit will be performed (T2) with clinical re-evaluation of the patients and analysis of the cephalic parameters reported in the diary, the amplitude of P300 with EEG and the headache-related disability with MIDAS. All patients will be reexamined at 6 months follow up (T3) with the diary, EEG and MIDAS.

Candidate: Manuela Deodato




Counterfactual reasoning (CFR) involves mentally representing what the world would be like now if things had been different in the past (Rafetseder, & Perner, 2014). Counterfactual reasoning has an important role in evaluation, planning, and emotion management. This Ph.D. project aims to investigate counterfactual thinking as an autonomous form of thinking and as a way to improve flexible thinking and minimize cognitive biases in evaluation and decision-making.

First, it will be analyzed the underlying cognitive mechanisms of counterfactuals by identifying characteristics in contrast with other mental simulations. Secondly, two fields of application will be examined: educational-healthcare and organizational-work. People with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) have counterfactual processing abilities (Ferguson et al. 2020). The aim is to promote ASD flexible thinking. It will be verified whether training counterfactual abilities, people with ASD will improve their general abilities of thinking and decrease their rigid thinking. The second area of application concerns the prevention of accidents in the workplace. Counterfactual thinking is important because it facilitates people to move from active to latent failures in assessing the case of an accident (Rizzo et al 1992). The aim will be to use methods and tools to integrate causal analysis with counterfactual evaluation.

Candidate: Angela Faiella




The project aims at investigating psychological vulnerabilities and protectives factors involved in weight gain after bariatric surgery in obese and severely obese. My Ph.D. project is focused on BMI changes and the role of psychological variables in poor weight loss up to two years after the surgery and how these variables influence each other. In addition to BMI, after controlling gender and type of intervention, for predicting BMI and % EBMI values, attention is to be given on the main unclear psychological variables implied on weight gain. Although body image disturbance and dissatisfaction and dysfunctional eating behaviour and attitude are prevalent in bariatric surgery candidates, their impact on weight loss vs regain is undelighted after surgery. In detail, aims are as follows: 

1. to describe BMI, %EBMI (after surgery) and weight regain-related psychological variables trajectories and covariations in obese e severe obese patients on a time spam from before surgery to 2 years later
2. defining psychological antecedents on weight regain after surgery in the short and long time, in accordance with the vulnerability model

3. to investigate stabilities and exacerbations of pre-operative dysfunctional characteristics after surgery still involved in weight regain, in accordance with the so-called scar effect model
4. exploring the moderating role of gender and bariatric interventions (i.e., sleeve gastrectomy, gastric bypass) on post-operative course as well as on associations between psychological variables and weight regain 

Operatively, I’m working on an available longitudinal dataset with BMI-related only, collected at different times of follow-up. For this purpose, several self-report questionnaires on psychological variables will be administrated before the intervention every six months apart, per year, thus recalling patients after surgery. Multi-regression and path analyses for longitudinal data as well as multilevel modeling are to be performed to investigate psychological vulnerabilities factors and scar effects on weight loss vs regain and their trajectories.

Candidate: Oriana Moro



The relationship between anatomical structure and output function is a crucial topic in neuroscience. With the new imaging techniques introduced in Ophthalmology, this relationship can be easily analyzed in retinal and macular diseases. The Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) is a non-invasive diagnostic technique based on interferometry that renders an in vivo cross-sectional view of the retina with 5-7 microns resolution with approximately 20.000-40.000 scans per second. The increased scans rate allows a 3D reconstruction of all retinal layers, from the Internal Limiting Membrane to the Retinal Pigment Epithelium.

The research project aims to enroll patients with a monocular or binocular macular disease who present metamorphopsia as the main symptom.  Patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic macular edema (DME), or pathologies of the retinal interface, such as epiretinal membrane (ERM) or vitreomacular traction (VMT), will be included in the study. These macular diseases are characterized by the involvement of different structural loci in the retina. In particular, in AMD an early involvement of the outer retinal layers from the RPE to the outer plexiform layer (OPL) is reported. The DME develops first in the intermediate layers, from the internal plexiform layer (IPL) to the external limiting membrane (ELM), and ERM and VMT promote an early distortion of the inner retinal layers, from the internal limiting membrane to the internal nuclear layer (INL).

At baseline and during the follow-up, all patients included in the research will undergo evaluation and quantification of the degree of metamorphopsia. Horizontal and vertical metamorphopsia scores will be tested using M-charts, a diagnostic tool to objectively quantify the degree of metamorphopsia. These results will be correlated to the in vivo analysis of the different retinal layers' involvement using the OCT cross-sectional analysis.

Candidate: Marco Rocco Pastore




Pastore MR, De Giacinto C, Cirigliano G, DʼAloisio R, Addobbati R, Agostinis C, Radillo O, Di Martino G, Di Nicola M, Cecchini P, Tognetto D. Vitreous prostaglandin E2 changes after topical administration of diclofenac 0.1%, indomethacin 0.5%, nepafenac 0.3%, and bromfenac 0.09%. Retina. 2020 Sep;40(9):1838-1845. doi: 10.1097/IAE.0000000000002674.PMID: 31800462

Pastore MR, De Giacinto C, Cirigliano G, Turco G, Borelli M, Tognetto D. Comparative analysis of 23-, 25-, and 27-gauge forceps stiffness and related displacement. Eur J Ophthalmol. 2020 May 27:1120672120926861. doi: 10.1177/1120672120926861. PMID: 32460546

Tognetto D, Pastore MR, De Giacinto C, Cecchini P, Agolini R, Giglio R, Vinciguerra AL. Managing ophthalmic practices in a referral emergency COVID-19 hospital in north-east Italy. Acta Ophthalmol. 2020 Jun 1:10.1111/aos.14488. doi: 10.1111/aos.14488. PMID: 3248392




De Giacinto C, Porrelli D, Turco G, Pastore MR, D'Aloisio R, Tognetto D. Surface properties of commercially available hydrophobic acrylic intraocular lenses: Comparative study. J Cataract Refract Surg. 2019 Sep;45(9):1330-1334. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrs.2019.04.011. PMID: 31371148