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Emerging adulthood and the development of pro-environmental identity and habits

Project Description

Responding to climate change requires profound changes to individual behaviour. However, much of our behaviour is habitual, which is resistant to change. Understanding how these habits develop and when to intervene to foster pro-environmental habits is critical for addressing climate change. ‘Moments of change’ are when individual life circumstances shift within a short time frame, and include biographical changes (e.g., becoming an adult, starting a family). There may be particular developmental stages when moments of change coincide with changes in identity that have important implications for pro-environmental behaviours. One of these developmental stages is emerging adulthood. The transition from adolescence to adulthood (around 15 to 25) is a key period of change in which adult identities and lifetime habits are formed, autonomy increases, and ideologies are explored (e.g., Solhaug & Kristensen, 2013). This period often sees radical shifts in health and social behaviours (e.g., Frech, 2012), but the development of pro-environmental lifestyles has hardly been explored. This PhD project will focus on emerging adulthood as a unique developmental stage – and perhaps the most important for pro-environmental identity and habit development.

The PhD project will use mixed (qualitative and quantitative) methods in a cross-cultural, longitudinal design. Adolescents and young adults aged 15-25 will be recruited from four countries and tracked over 18 months using interviews and questionnaires to explore their emerging pro-environmental identity and habits (including pre-post leaving home) and how family, peer and educational/ workplace relationships, as well as other contextual (environmental, technical, cultural, spatial) factors, shape this development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).

Ideally, candidates will have some experience of and an interest in conducting mixed methods research in psychology or a related field of the social sciences. In addition, research experience and interest in pro-environmental behaviour change and/or life-course transitions, particularly early adulthood, would be an advantage. The studentship offers an exciting and challenging opportunity for those who are interested in further developing their skills and experience in designing and conducting cross-cultural research within a vibrant and interdisciplinary academic community at one of the UK’s top five universities ranked by research.

The project integrates insights from several fields (developmental and environmental psychology, sociology, science & technology studies) to bring a much-needed focus on the temporal and socio-technical dimensions of pro-environmental behaviour (change). There are two objectives for the research: (a) To explore and track moments of pro-environmental behaviour change across cultures and life- courses; and (b) To examine the efficacy of behavioural interventions targeted to moments of change. Three work packages address these objectives through an ambitious programme of cross-cultural research using secondary and big data analyses, longitudinal qualitative interviews and panel surveys to explore moments of change, and experimental studies to test behaviour change interventions targeted at moments of change (e.g., starting university, retiring, relocating). This project promises a step-change in understanding the dynamics of pro-environmental change across the life course and cultures, and the development of robust habit- disrupting interventions to foster lifestyle change.

Funding Notes

This PhD studentship is funded as part of a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant, MOCHA (Understanding and leveraging ‘moments of change’ for pro-environmental behaviour shifts). MOCHA runs for five years from 2019 to 2024, and this studentship will run during the first three years of funding. The aim of MOCHA is to examine how ambitious lifestyle change might be achieved through understanding and harnessing ‘moments of change’ in life circumstances.


The studentship will commence in October 2019 and will cover your tuition fees (at UK/EU level) as well as a maintenance grant. In 2018-19the maintenance grant for full-time students was £14,777 per annum. As well as tuition fees and a maintenance grant, all School of Psychology students receive conference and participant money (approx. £2250 for the duration of the studentship). School of Psychology students also receive a computer and office space, additional funding for their research, and access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.

Full awards (fees plus maintenance stipend) are open to UK Nationals, and EU students who can satisfy UK residency requirements. To be eligible for the full award, EU Nationals must have been in the UK for at least 3 years prior to the start of the course for which they are seeking funding, including for the purposes of full-time education.

As only one studentship is available and a very high standard of applications is typically received, the successful applicant is likely to have a very good first degree (a First or Upper Second class BSc Honours or equivalent) and/or be distinguished by having relevant research experience.

You can apply online - consideration is automatic on applying for a PhD in Psychology, with an October 2019 start date (programme code RFPDPSYA).

Deadline 17th March 2019 with interviews (either in person or by Skype) being held late March and decisions being made by end of March

How good is research at Cardiff University in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 69.33

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

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