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Implicit self-regulatory mechanisms – The skulking culprit of physical activity behaviour (ref: RDF20/SER/LING)

Project Description

Childhood obesity is a global epidemic and poses serious health and economic consequences. Attempts to increase children’s physical activity show limited (long-term) effectiveness. Interventions largely target factors that do not directly influence behaviour, such as explicit processes that assume conscious awareness (e.g. intention, self-efficacy), rather than implicit processes that directly drive behaviour (e.g., impulsivity and attention bias). Implicit processes trigger basic affective and cognitive motivational states which influence self-regulatory behaviours at the neural level. Therefore, the overarching goal of this PhD project is to examine the underpinning mechanisms of implicit self-regulatory processes, and the extent to which they influence physical activity behaviour in children. Using a multi-disciplinary mixed-method approach, this project will generate evidence from an expert consensus exercise and experimental studies using state-of-the-art technologies, such as eye-tracking and brain imaging. It is expected that the project will contribute to a paradigm shift of how we think about and tackle children’s health behaviour change to inform research and practice.

The successful applicant will be supervised by Dr Fiona Ling, Dr Gavin Tempest and Professor Florentina Hettinga, who each have an extensive international collaborative network in complementary fields of research. Interested applicants would ideally have a background in psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, and/or any other related subject and an interest in physical activity behaviour research. Experience in psychological or physiological testing, running statistical analyses and scientific writing is preferred. Experience working with children would be an advantage.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:

• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: Friday 24 January 2020
Start Date: 1 October 2020

Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home/EU students with a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2019/20, this is £15,009 pa) and full fees.


1. Cortis, C., Puggina, A., Ling, F.C.M., et al. (2017). Psychological determinants of physical activity across the life course: a "DEterminants of DIet and Physical ACtivity" (DEDIPAC) umbrella systematic literature review. PLoS One, 12(8): e0182709. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5560721/pdf/pone.0182709.pdf

2. Condello, G., Ling, F.C.M., et al. (2016). Using concept mapping in the development of the EU-PAD framework (EUropean-Physical Activity Determinants across the life course): a DEDIPAC-study. BMC Public Health, 16:1145. https://bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com/track/pdf/10.1186/s12889-016-3800-8

3. Tempest, G.D., & Parfitt, G. (2017). Prefrontal oxygenation and the acoustic startle eyeblink response during exercise: A test of the dual-mode model. Psychophysiology, 54, 1070-1080. https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.12858

4. Tempest, G.D., Parfitt, G. (2015). Self-reported tolerance influences prefrontal cortex hemodynamics and affective responses. Cognitive Affective Behavioral Neuroscience, 16, 63-71.

5. Elferink-Gemser, M., & Hettinga, F.J. (2017). Invited Commentary: Pacing and self-regulation: Important for talent development in endurance sport. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 12(6) 831-835.

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