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Embodied Perception, Obesity and Public Health Psychology: investigating the effects of physiological resources on perception relevant to walking for transport

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  • Full or part time
    Dr Frank Eves
  • Application Deadline
    No more applications being accepted
  • Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)
    Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

Project Description

The field of ‘embodied’ perception reflects the fact that our perception of the world is malleable. Perception is scaled by our available resources. Major demographic factors of health, sex, age and weight all influence our resources. This project will investigate the effects of physiological resources on perception relevant to walking for transport, a current public health approach to increase physical activity at the population level. Walking is one of the most energetically costly human behaviours. Survival requires that energy expenditure should not commonly exceed energy consumption. As a result, we naturally minimize the cost of walking, using information from the visual world that informs us about the energetic cost of potential actions. For example, women avoid stairs more than men because they require a greater proportion of a woman’s available resources relative to man of the same weight. This avoidance is unlikely to be driven by conscious processes but rather by implicit biases resulting from our evolutionary past. This project will investigate signals relevant to walking for transport, concentrating on perception of hills and stairs in the field and in the laboratory.
Individuals who avoid stairs perceive them as steeper than those who choose to climb them (Eves et al., 2014). Further, this perception scales by physiological resources for climbing. Women, older pedestrians and the overweight are more likely to avoid climbing stairs and report them as steeper than their comparison groups (Eves, 2014: Eves et al., 2014). Paradoxically, the individuals who would benefit more from increased lifestyle physical activity are deterred from this behavioural choice by their perception. This project directly addresses signals relevant to the public health aim of increased physical activity as part of daily life. Its origins are in evolutionary biology.

For information about my broader approach to the question and previous research, check out the following links

If you are interested in this position, in the first instance send me a CV and explain why you think you would be suitable for the project. I am happy to answer further questions only if you have satisfied this condition.

To find out more about studying for a PhD at the University of Birmingham, including full details of the research undertaken in each school, the funding opportunities for each subject, and guidance on making your application, you can now order your copy of the new Doctoral Research Prospectus, at:

Funding Notes

This is a fully-funded studentship with a generous annual stipend of £17,923 and annual bench fees of £3,000 to cover conference attendance as well as research costs. If you have previously applied, please do not apply again.

Familiarity with laboratory research, perceptual psychology, the physiology of physical activity would all be advantageous but are not essential. Familiarity with psychology would be the most advantageous. It is likely that only individuals with a 1st Class degree, or those expected to achieve this level, would be considered. A relevant MSc might be advantageous but is not essential.


The open access publications below provide more information about the embodied approach to active transport.

Eves F.F. (2014) Is there any Proffitt in stair climbing? A headcount of studies testing for demographic differences in choice of stairs. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review. 21, 71-79.
Eves, F.F., Thorpe, S.K.S., Lewis, A., & Taylor-Covill, G.A.H. (2014). Does perceived steepness deter stair climbing when an alternative is available? Psychonomic Bulletin and Review 21 (3), 637-644.

How good is research at University of Birmingham in Sport and Exercise Sciences, Leisure and Tourism?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.40

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

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