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Can understanding people’s mental models of cybersecurity improve security behaviour?

Project Description

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project based in the School of Management under the supervision of Professor Adam Joinson (https://researchportal.bath.ac.uk/en/persons/adam-joinson) and Dr Joanne Hinds (https://researchportal.bath.ac.uk/en/persons/joanne-hinds).


Our use of computers and digital devices are increasing rapidly, with 22 billion devices expected to be connected to each other by 2025. Such new developments pose complex cybersecurity challenges for how information is communicated, stored, and protected. This is particularly important for humans who manage and interact with computer systems. An important aspect of addressing such challenges therefore requires knowledge of how humans make cybersecurity decisions and why they behave in certain ways. However, little is currently known about how people think about and conceptualise cybersecurity when making decisions and taking subsequent action. One way to address this gap is to explore how people understand cybersecurity via their mental models (i.e. expressions of how they comprehend an event, process, or system). Gaining insights into these representations will therefore help to improve the security behaviour of individuals, organisations, and society.

This project will include:
a) Literature review - a review of existing mental models research, exploring the elicitation and impact on behaviour in response to both security prompts and threats.
b) Data collection – conducting studies to explore the mental models of end-users and experts.
c) Testing – testing the ways in which mental models can be more closely aligned with those of experts, and analysing the subsequent impact on security behaviour.


Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a numerate cognate discipline (e.g. Management Science, Psychology, Cognitive Science, Computer Science, Information Systems).

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form: https://samis.bath.ac.uk/urd/sits.urd/run/siw_ipp_lgn.login?process=siw_ipp_app&code1=RDUMN-FP01&code2=0014

Please ensure that you quote the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project will be considered for a University studentship, which will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a training support grant of £1,000 per annum and a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 in 2019-20) for a period of up to 4 years. Limited funding opportunities for outstanding Overseas candidates may be available. Some School of Management studentships require recipients to contribute annually up to a maximum of 133 hours of seminar-based teaching and assessment in years 2, 3 and 4 of study (students will not be expected to give lectures).

How good is research at University of Bath in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 64.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

Click here to see the results for all UK universities

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