Olga Sutskova

PhD Student


I am interested in how interactive environments (both real-world and virtual), and our beliefs about them, affect our cognition and behaviour, and what underlying neural mechanisms are engaged in these effects. My undergraduate (BSc) research tested memory retention and retrieval in real-world versus immersive virtual reality, while my Masters (MSc) looked at immersive co-presence implementations in remote education, piloting an experiment on performance changes during immersive virtual co-presence.



PhD Student, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck (2018 –2022)

MSc Educational Neuroscience (Distinction), Birkbeck and UCL Institute of Education (2017-2018)

BSc Hons Psychology, Neuroscience Pathway (First Class), Birkbeck College, University of London (2013-2017)


PhD Research

The aim of my PhD is to investigate how subjective beliefs about virtual companion’s agency, such as whether the companion is a human or an AI, impacts behaviour and cognitive performance in remote online and immersive virtual environments. In order to establish a naturalistic social interaction and to quantify the virtual experiences, I am using methods such as online video interaction, interactive immersive virtual (VR) environments and scripted real-world scenarios. The research is currently conducted on a neurotypical adult population, with consideration of how individual differences, for example, social anxiety and autistic traits, mediate social effects in question.

Supervisors: Professor Tim J Smith, Professor Atsushi Senju

Funding body: 1+3 UBEL - DTP (ESRC Studentship)

Application: The COVID-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance of being able to socially interact with others. However, the shift to remote social interaction and the resulting inability to physically share experiences has caused people to feel less connected and more exhausted after the long virtual interactions (“Zoom Fatigue”). Additionally, the current social interactions are becoming more complex and augmented, considering the communication is no longer limited to other people and AI-assistants are becoming are daily virtual companions. This research aims to improve understanding of how our brain processes social information and how social technology impacts our cognition, hopefully paving the way to more wellbeing focused and inclusive social technology and interactive environments.



Sutskova, O., Senju, A., & Smith, T. J. (2022). Impact of Video-Mediated Online Social Presence and Observance on Cognitive Performance. Technology, Mind, and Behavior, 3(2), p 1- 15. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/tmb0000023


Conference Talks and Presentations

Sutskova, O. (2022, April 4-5). Cognitive Impact Differences during Videoconference-based Interaction: Contrasting the Presence of Real-Human, Avatar, and AI-Agent Companions. Face2Face: Advancing Science of Social Interaction, Science Meeting: The Royal Society. London: UK. DOI: https://royalsociety.org/science-events-and-lectures/2022/04/social-interaction/

Sutskova, O. (2021, June). Social VR and Second-Person Cognition: The Impact of Virtual Social Presence on Cognitive Performance. CBCD Seminar Series 2021, Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development: London, United Kingdom


Other Public Engagement

Science Week, Birkbeck University of London: Psychology Panel Discussion (March 29, 2022)

Co-Organising CBCD Seminar Series (October 2020 - October 2021): www.cbcd.bbk.ac.uk/events


Grants and Awards

2022- Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) 4 months, post-doctoral funding. International fellowships for research in Japan for the promotion of science



2021- Birkbeck’s Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund (ISSF) 6 months, post-doctoral funding. Institutional award for research dissemination activities for PhD graduates in biomedicine or medical humanities



2017- The UCL, Bloomsbury and East London Doctoral Training Partnership (UBEL-DTP) 1+ 3 years, MSc + PhD funding. Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded studentship for doctoral training in interdisciplinary research



2017 - Elaine Gladstone Prize – Departmental prize for superior academic achievement in the final year of Bachelor of Science (BSc) studies, issued by Birkbeck University of London


Online Contact:

Twitter: @OlgaSutskova

LinkedIn: Olga Sutskova