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Engagement of executive functions and motivated behaviour

Department of Psychology

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About the Project

Disorders of motivated behaviour such as obesity and addiction are associated with deficits in executive functions such as inhibition, task-switching, and working memory. A number of recent studies have demonstrated that engagement of executive functions when in the presence of motivationally-relevant cues (such as pictures of food or alcoholic drinks), can mitigate the influence of those cues on subsequent motivated behaviours. However, the psychological mechanisms and boundary conditions for these effects are relatively unknown. In addition, this research suggests exciting possibilities for development of translational behaviour change interventions that might help people to exert control over their motivated behaviour, such as people who are attempting to change their diet or heavy drinkers who are attempting to ‘cut down’.

This project is primarily lab based and it would involve a series of experimental studies, perhaps involving EEG, TMS or tDCS, that would attempt to characterize the psychological and brain mechanisms that underlie the effects of engagement of executive functions on motivated behaviour in healthy adults. There may also be scope to develop and conduct a preliminary test of a behaviour change intervention that builds on this laboratory work.

Funding Notes

Self funded or sponsored students only

NB The University has some scholarships under competition - application deadline is 29 January 2020 at 5pm. More details can be found -

Start dates are October and March yearly


Freeman, S.M., Alvernaz, D., Tonnesen, A., Linderman, D., Aron, A.R. (2015).
Suppressing a motivationally-triggered action tendency engages a response
control mechanism that prevents future provocation. Neuropsychologia, 68, pp.
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