Postgraduate Research Opportunities

The Department of Psychology, in the School of Social Sciences at Birmingham City University can offer self-funded PhD supervision in a broad range of areas (please see below). The proposed research is further supported by the strong collaborative links with external partners and colleagues from other Universities across the UK, Europe and beyond.

At present there is no availability of funded PhDs but this will be subject to review.

Cognitive and developmental area

In the Cognitive and Developmental research cluster we investigate normal and abnormal brain processes across the lifespan and inform evidence-based practice and policy. Specific PhD projects are outlined below.

Investigate spatial and temporal aspects of peripheral and non-peripheral vision for shapes and objects between signers and non-signers participants

Staff: Dr Eirini Mavritsaki and Prof. John Clibbens

Project Description

Sign language is a very important communication tool for deaf individuals. Nonetheless, it has been found that sign language has important influence in visual memory (Cattani, Clibbens, & Perfect, 2007) and enhances spatial attention (Bosworth & Dobkins, 2002). Hearing non-signers and deaf signers show different mechanisms in visual memory for peripherally presented objects. In fact, it has been shown that deaf signers show right hemisphere advantage for a shape memory task, whereas hearing non-signers show left memory advantage for a shape memory task, when shapes and objects are presented peripherally in the visual field. This study intends to investigate further the brain organisation between signers and non-signers using an innovative multi-disciplinary approach that combines novel behavioural experiments with computational modelling studies.

Culture and Cognition

Staff: Dr Panagiotis Rentzelas and Dr Eirini Mavritsaki

Project Description

Extensive cross-psychology research has investigated the cognitive, behavioural and motivational variances between members of different cultural backgrounds, namely between members individualist and collectivist cultural orientations. This research project aims to examine the socio-cognitive differences between group members of individualist and collectivist orientation groups by employing an innovative situational group norm manipulation methodology (Hagger, Rentzelas and Koch, 2014).

Cognitive heuristics and social norms: A multi-disciplinary investigation of health message processing

Staff: Dr Silvio Aldrovandi, Dr Kyle Brown, Prof. Fatemeh Rabiee-Khan

Project Description

This project will involve a systematic investigation into the cognitive factors that moderate the effectiveness of health related messages aimed to reduce unhealthy eating and/or alcohol consumption. It will specifically examine how cognitive biases and heuristics (such as anchoring and social norms) and models of decision making can interact with the effects of message framing (varying the emphasis on different components of a health message). The subsequent effects on health related outcomes including risk perception, intentions and subsequent behaviour will also be addressed.

Social and Health

The Social and Health research cluster’s mission is to promote excellence in applied psychology research on health and social aspects of individuals, groups, and organisations and to share our expertise by translating theory into practice. Specific PhD projects are outlined below.

The Social and cognitive barriers impeding information gain for Hepatitis C in Men who have Sex with Men

Staff: Dr Keeley Abbott and Dr Kyle Brown

Project Description

This project will examine the psychological factors that impede access to information about Hepatitis C in Men who have sex with men. It will utilise a mixed methods approach to determine the social (e.g. discursive, contextual) and cognitive (e.g. risk perceptions, heuristics) barriers that mitigate the effectiveness of public health messages and brief interventions in their influence on screening behaviour.

An investigation of environmental, psychological and social factors that impact on nutritional status in children and adolescents with Cystic Fibrosis

Staff: Dr Helen Egan and Dr Michael Mantzios

Project Description

Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is the United Kingdom’s most common life-limiting genetic disease. The burden of treatment for people with cystic fibrosis (PwCF) is high. Nutritional status is a key predictor of survival and outcomes, therefore maintaining adequate nutrition in this population is crucial. There are a number of physiological and psychosocial barriers to dietary adherence including lack of appetite, abdominal pain, altered bowel habits, social environment, perceived peer pressure, embarrassment and a desire to hide an illness identity. The problem of maintaining optimal nutritional requirements for CF patients has been flagged by clinical staff as one of their most pressing and unresolved issues. This PhD will involve working with children and adolescents with cystic fibrosis and their caregivers to investigate and develop interventions to improve quality of life, specifically around maintaining optimal nutrition.

Children’s decision making processes

Staff: Dr Olga Fotakopoulou and Dr Silvio Aldrovandi

Project Description

Despite their age, children are faced with (sometimes complex) decisions in their everyday life. The aim of this doctoral research project is to systematically investigate children’s decision-making processes and choice strategies in a variety of domains. The research will also examine the effectiveness of interventions and programmes that targeted children’s decision-making.

Exploring altruistic orientations and behaviours in children

Staff: Dr Olga Fotakopoulou and Dr Imran Mogra

Project Description

This doctoral research aims to explore the altruistic orientations and the roots of altruistic behaviour in different age, gender, ethnic and religious groups in children. Children’s altruism will be examined in relation to other pro-social and demographic variables. 

Mindfulness, obesity and eating behaviours: Advising current practices on reliability, acceptability, and feasibility of self-help methods

Staff: Dr Michael Mantzios and Dr Helen Egan

Project Description

People often eat automatically (i.e., inattentive of present behaviour) and emotionally (i.e., often eat to avoid or allay negative emotions), and thus, many times overeat. Such everyday behaviours have added to the problem of obesity and the related health complications (e.g., Diabetes, Coronary Heart Disease, etc.) To overcome this problem, recent research established that practicing mindfulness assists weight regulation and weight loss by increasing present moment awareness and emotional regulation. Mindfulness meditation (i.e., the way of increasing mindfulness levels) is paying attention in a particular way: “on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 1990, p. 4). Building on recent and current research, this PhD will (a) experimentally explore mindfulness practices to assist knowledge around the reliability of interventions, (b) longitudinally explore the acceptability of interventions, and (c) explore the feasibility of self-help methods that may ease the patient and the National Health Service. 

Culture and Motivation

Staff: Dr Panagiotis Rentzelas

Project Description

The nutriments for human healthy development and experience of intrinsically-motivated behaviours are the basic psychological needs for competence, relatedness, and autonomy (Deci and Ryan, 2000). These basic psychological needs are common to all people regardless of gender and cultural background and, similar to biological needs, they are considered innate. Recent research is trying to examine the role of individualism and collectivism as a cultural and group norm for the satisfaction of the basic psychological needs (Hagger, Rentzelas, Chatzisarantis, 2014).

Civil liberty restrictions and automatic responses to aggressive attitudes

Staff: Dr Panagiotis Rentzelas

Project Description

Literature highlights that one of the most basic human needs that individuals seek to satisfy is the need to be free. The need for freedom refers to the desire to self-organise experience and behaviour (deCharms, 1968; Deci, 1980; Sheldon and Elliot, 1999). However, relative little research has been done on the psychological effects of liberty restrictions in situational and group conditions. This research project seeks to experimentally examine participant’s automatic responses to aggressive attitudes in experimentally manipulated situations of restrictive autonomy.

Cross-cultural Validity of Psychological Interventions

Staff: Dr Panagiotis Rentzelas and Dr Athfah Akhtar

Project Description

Although mental health professionals (including psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists) are trained to take into consideration individual characteristics such as age, gender, education, personality and mental health symptoms. Research carried in the West suggests individuals from ethnic minority groups engage with treatment differently, mainly due to their religious beliefs, their culture and their beliefs about mental health (Bernal and Saez-Santiago, 2006; Kim, Zane and Blozis, 2012). Therefore it is important that mental health professionals consider the role of religion and cultural background when treating individuals from certain ethnic backgrounds (Chowdhary et al, 2014). The aim of this project is to look at the number of individuals from ethnic minority groups who access psychological services on a regular basis (i.e. weekly/fortnightly). These are ethnic minority individuals who suffer from a severe mental illness and are under the care of secondary mental health services.

Mindful Construal Diaries: Developing an intervention for mindful eating and weight regulation

Staff: Dr Michael Mantzios and Dr Helen Egan

Project Description

Recent research suggested that a mindful construal diary assists in developing mindfulness and aids weight loss (see Mantzios & Wilson, 2014). However, there are four main questions that need further explorations to improve the diaries. First, the development of mindfulness was explored through a scale, which investigated present moment attention and awareness, but ignored other components of mindfulness such as non-judgement and acceptance (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Second, food consumption was not explored in experimental settings, and failed to compare diary vs. non-diary participants. Third, whether this diary delays the next meal, and reduces the amount of calories consumed at a later occasion is unknown. Fourth, does filling in the diary or simply considering the questions make a difference. Other studies, which will be data driven upon initial findings, will all lead to an intervention that will aid future weight regulation treatments. The doctoral student will be testing theories and hypotheses experimentally in laboratory settings, and eventually progress to a longitudinal and Randomised Clinical Trial.

Forensic Psychology

False Memory

Staff: Helen Wyler

Project Description

It has consistently been found that people can be led to believe that they have experienced entire events that never actually occurred (e.g. lost-in-the-mall paradigm by Loftus). Whereas most studies have focused on implanting false memories on childhood events, a recent study by Shaw and Porter (2015) showed that it is even possible to implant false memories of an event that involved police contact between the ages of 11 and 14 in students. This finding is both highly interesting and worrying given its implications for false confessions. It is therefore crucial to conduct further studies in this area. Novel PhD research could focus on implanting rich false memories of events occurring in adulthood (over the age of 14), different sources of informants (e.g., the police, friends, social media), and factors that contribute to or prevent the generation of false memories (e.g., environment, personality, education).

Misinformation Effect

Staff: Helen Wyler

Project Description

If people are exposed to incorrect information about an event they had previously observed, they are likely to incorporate this false information into their subsequent memory report. This very robust finding is referred to as the misinformation effect, a phenomenon that is highly problematic from an applied perspective (e.g. eyewitness testimony). Various measures such as a warning or a source-monitoring test have been shown to help reduce the occurrence of these errors, and highlight at the same time reasons as to why people report misinformation (they genuinely misremember it, they report it because they think it is correct or it is what the researchers/the police want to hear etc.). Although the warning and the source-monitoring task were expected to have the same error-reducing effect, it has been found that they do not. The aim of this project is to test various explanations why a warning and a source-monitoring task have different effects, which will further our understanding of the underlying reasons of the misinformation effect and how the reporting of misinformation might be prevented.

Deception Detection

Staff: Helen Wyler

Project Description

Detecting deception is important in many different situations such as, for instance, police interrogations. However, both lay people and professionals often perform just above the level of chance when it comes to detect deception. Research has found that many nonverbal and verbal cues are only weakly related to the veracity of a statement, which might be an explanation for the poor performance. Thus, recent research has started to focus on specific interviewing strategies designed to increase differences between truth tellers and liars. However, having a large amount of valid cues available will not result in higher accuracy rates if people cannot make use of these cues. Indeed there is some evidence that people often perform below what would theoretically be possible based on the cues available. This PhD project will contribute to a better understanding of how people make veracity judgements and why they fail to exploit the available cues. Better understanding of these aspects is also expected to help uncover ways to improve people’s usually poor deception detection performance, e.g. by means of training.

Research in the Area of Investigative Psychology

Staff: Dr Matt Tonkin

Project Description: Dr. Tonkin has expertise in the area of investigative psychology (particularly behavioural crime linkage, offender profiling and geographical profiling). He would be happy to discuss potential PhD research projects in any of these areas.

Research into the Evaluation of Prison and Forensic Psychiatric Hospital Settings

Staff: Dr Matt Tonkin

Project Description: Dr Tonkin has expertise in the evaluation of prison and secure forensic psychiatric hospital settings, including the social climate of these settings. He would be happy to discuss potential PhD research projects in this area.