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Game (not) Over! Associative Learning Experiments in Video Games

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

Project Description

Video games are an ever-increasing part of daily life predominantly because playing them is fun, intrinsically enjoyable. As such assessing in-game behaviour is becoming more relevant to psychology because an increasing proportion of human behaviour is happening in virtual environments, particularly games. This is informative to psychology both because behaviours in such environments are many times similar to normal behaviours and also sometimes different in important ways, in no small part because the environments themselves are so new. However, in contrast to the intrinsic enjoyment of video games, most psychology experiments are not intrinsically enjoyable. As a result, most psychology experiments involve some kind of payment (money, vouchers, course credit, etc.) in exchange for participant behaviour/data. For games, in contrast, the dominant mode of social exchange is reversed: People are willing to pay for the privilege of behaving in various ways in games; pay in terms of money, watching advertisements, or relinquishing their personal data, browsing history, contacts, etc. Quite paradoxically, games have, at least in some respects, more ecological validity than most experiments in term of the amount of engagement they engender because of the motivations they interact with. The purpose of this project is twofold: The more constrained goal is embedding experiments in video games to be able to assess behaviour in virtual contexts in ways that are novel or difficult with standard experiments. For example, Kozlov & Johansen (2010) used a game to established the presence of a social by-stander effect based on virtual, computer controlled characters; and Hay, Johansen, Daly, Hashmi, Robinson, Collishaw & van Goozen, 2017 used a game to assess aggression in children in a virtual and engaging environment in ways that wouldn’t be possible in a conventional experiment. In the present context, this is particularly about associative learning tasks that are too long and complex to be practically engaging via standard experiments. I am especially interested in the initial detection of possible cause and effect relationships as co-incidences and the subsequent learning of such relationships in terms of goal directed behaviour in complex environments. Basically what cues trigger causal suspicion and subsequent learning? The second, much more ambitious goal is to make a game that is good enough that gamers on Android, iOS and Windows app stores will be willing to play the game in exchange literally for (anonymised) data of their in-game behaviour. And this has the potential to generate far richer data sets than psychology research can normally afford, allowing more detailed and reliable assessments of how people learn in complex environments.

The studentship will commence in October 2020 and will cover your tuition fees (at UK/EU level) as well as a maintenance grant. In 2019-2020 the maintenance grant for full-time students was £15,009 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).They also receive a computer, office space and access to courses offered by the University’s Doctoral Academy and become members of the University Doctoral Academy.

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.

Funding Notes

This studentship is open to Home, EU or international students.

The award offered will cover Home/EU fees and maintenance stipend.

International candidates are welcomed but must be able to self-fund the difference between Home/EU and International fees.


How to Apply

Applicants should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology with a start date of October 2020.

In the research proposal section of your application, please specify the project title and supervisors of this project and copy the project description in the text box provided. In the funding section, please select ’I will be applying for a scholarship/grant’ and specify that you are applying for advertised funding from Game (not) Over! Associative Learning Experiments in Video Games.

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