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PhD in Psychology: Using language to promote sustainable food choices

Project Description

This studentship is in the School of Psychology at the University of Glasgow, a world-leading, vibrant and collaborative research environment. The successful candidate will join the Healthy Cognition Laboratory run by Dr Esther K. Papies,, and will be supervised by Dr Esther K. Papies and Prof Lawrence Barsalou.

Project summary: The production of animal-based foods has a significant, negative impact on the environment, and shifting diets toward more plant-based foods is crucial to reduce the environmental impact of food production. How can mainstream consumers be encouraged to consume more plant-based foods? More specifically, how can language be used to shift consumption toward more sustainable diets? That is the central question of this collaborative project with the World Resources Institute (WRI), an international not-for-profit think-tank that uses research to influence government policy and industry strategy to sustain the world’s natural resources.

To answer this question, we propose to first identify the principles through which existing language increases desire for plant-based dishes, and then test and apply these principles in a series of experiments. Based on the grounded cognition theory of desire (Papies & Barsalou, 2015; Papies et al., 2017), we suggest that food language increases desire if it triggers rewarding simulations of eating the food (i.e., spontaneous re-experiences of eating and enjoying a food through taste, texture, etc.). In other words, food labels that trigger consumption and reward simulations will increase desire over labels simply listing ingredients or labels emphasising health. We will examine existing labels for plant-based foods and assess whether the number of consumption and reward simulation words is associated with participants’ buying intentions. Then, we will conduct experiments to test whether simulation-inducing labels for plant-based foods increase desire compared to control labels and health labels.

Our research will provide clear, actionable insights into how language can be used to create desire for plant-based foods. Our collaboration with the WRI will ensure that these insights reach key stakeholders to create change at the industry level.

Please apply through the SGSSS:

The successful candidate will then be invited to apply for the relevant PhD program in Psychology at the University of Glasgow

Applicants must meet the following criteria

• A good first degree (at least 2:1), preferably with a social science component.
• Demonstrate an interest in, and knowledge of social, consumer and/or health psychology, as well as sustainable behaviour.
• Have a good grounding in experimental research methods in Psychology, excellent statistical and writing skills, good team and communication skills, and familiarity and affinity with open science practices.

Funding Notes

The scholarship is available as a +3 (PhD only) or a 1+3 (MSc + PhD) programme depending on prior research training. This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process. The programme will commence in October 2019. It includes:
• an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2018/19 rate £14,777 full-time)
• fees at the standard Home rate
• students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

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