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EASTBIO: The effect of perceptual cues on behavioural responses to food stimuli: How much realism is needed?

   School of Psychology

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  Dr C Hesse, Prof P Bach  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the BBSRC EASTBIO Doctoral Training Partnership.

Laboratory studies investigating emotional and behavioural responses to food stimuli and food decision making in consumer studies are commonly criticised for a lack of ecological validity and realism. In recent years, virtual or augmented reality (VR/AR) has become an attractive possibility to investigate human behaviour in more complex and natural settings whilst maintaining a high degree of experimental control. This is particularly relevant for food research and consumer behaviour since both are influenced by numerous factors such as perceptual (e.g., colour), environmental (e.g., time of day), emotional (e.g., feeling happy or sad), and social (e.g., eating alone or in company) factors which can be more easily manipulated in virtual than real settings.

While recent studies suggest that VR/AR environments may be a valid tool to investigate complex consumer behaviour such as food shopping, their use for investigating more basic food-related behavioural and cognitive responses has never been investigated systematically. In this project, we will use well-established experimental paradigms to investigate the behavioural responses and cognitive biases triggered by appetizing food stimuli to evaluate the validity and advantage of VR/AR as a research tool. For example, it is currently unclear whether 2D-images of food, used in prior research, may be sufficiently effective to elicit natural behavioural and cognitive responses. Therefore, it is necessary to explore if and to what extent, complex VR/AR systems provide an advantage over traditional methods in this context. 

In this project, we aim to investigate if and how attentional and approach biases change depending on the complexity and quality of perceptual information of food stimuli. Specifically, we will systematically manipulate the availability (graspable vs. non-graspable), 3D-shape (real vs. 3D-image vs. 2D-image), colour (saturation and hue), scale (real vs. enlarged/diminished), texture (textured vs. homogenous) and the visual quality (blur) of real and virtual food stimuli and test how these features modulate attention and actions towards those stimuli.

This project will: (i) advance our understanding of how perceptual information affects food-related behavioural responses; (ii) inform the use and design of VR/AR-technology for the investigation of human responses towards food and behavioural research more generally.  

The project would be suitable for PhD candidates in psychology and/or health sciences and will combine advanced psychophysical methods with 3D-motion data analysis providing skills highly useful in industry and academia, including expertise in experimental design, programming (Matlab, R), image acquisition, manipulation, and rendering, use of state-of-the-art equipment (motion-tracker), and advanced data analysis.



  • Applicants should hold a minimum of a 2:1 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) in a relevant subject. Those with a 2:2 UK Honours degree (or international equivalent) may be considered, provided they have (or are expected to achieve) a Distinction or Commendation at master’s level.
  • All students must meet the eligibility criteria as outlined in the UKRI guidance on UK, EU and international candidates. This guidance should be read in conjunction with the UKRI Training Grant Terms and Conditions, esp. TGC 5.2 & Annex B.
  • It may be possible to undertake this project part-time, in discussion with the lead supervisor, however, please note that part-time study is unavailable to students who require a Student Visa to study within the UK.



  • Please visit this page for full application information: How to apply | eastbio (eastscotbiodtp.ac.uk)
  • Please send your completed EASTBIO application form, along with academic transcripts to Alison Innes at: [Email Address Removed]
  • Two references should be provided by the deadline using the EASTBIO reference form. References should be sent to [Email Address Removed]
  • Unfortunately, due to workload constraints, we cannot consider incomplete applications.
  • CV's submitted directly through a FindAPhD enquiry WILL NOT be considered.

Funding Notes

This fully funded, 4-year PhD project is part of a competition funded by the EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership.
This opportunity is open to UK and International students (The proportion of international students appointed through the EASTBIO DTP is capped at 30% by UKRI BBSRC).
EASTBIO studentships includes a UKRI doctoral stipend (estimated at £17,668 for the 2023/2024 academic year), plus a training grant of £5,000 per annum (year 1-3; £1,500 year 4) and a travel/conference grant of £230 per annum.
EASTBIO does not provide funding to cover visa and associated healthcare surcharges for international students.
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