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Risk, human choice, and climate change. Psychology PhD studentship (NERC GW4+ DTP funded)

College of Life and Environmental Sciences

Dr N Faber , Prof L Whitmarsh Friday, January 08, 2021 Competition Funded PhD Project (Students Worldwide)

About the Project

Project Background:

Climate change, a major threat to our natural environment, is largely human-made. Why do so many people act in a way that increases climate change, e.g. by buying climate-unfriendly products or not supporting policy changes? How can we improve that? Climate change is characterised by two aspects that might make behaviour change challenging. Firstly, the people who suffer most from climate change are distant to those who need to change their behaviour (for example, people in the Global South are more strongly affected than Europeans). Secondly, public communication about climate change impacts talks about risk – and the uncertainty associated with that gives people an excuse not to change their behaviour.

Project Aims and Methods:

The goals of this project are to investigate I) how distance and risk affect human choices relating to climate change and, based on that, II) how modelling and other outputs that estimate risks of climate change impacts can be communicated more effectively to the public. Methodologically, we will combine climate science with psychology by using the latest UK climate change risk modelling provided by our collaborative partner, the Met Office, and feed this into psychological testing of interventions to promote behaviour change. We are particularly interested in students who want to play an active role in designing the research. It is possible to collect data online, so the project can proceed in the case of pandemic lockdowns.

Candidate requirements:

We will mainly use experimental psychological methodology (surveys, behavioural experiments). Applicants should have a degree in psychology or a closely related empirical discipline and ideally have some experience of data collection and analysis. Please contact the lead supervisor for more information.
Collaborative partner
Met Office (Prof Peter Stott)


The Student will receive training in behavioural data collection and analysis, as well as in the basics of risk modelling. They will be part of the vibrant research environments of Exeter Psychology and the Centre for Climate Change & Social Transformations in Bath, and have the opportunity to collaborate closely with the Met Office. They can participate in regular seminars and workshops. We will offer mentoring and help with presentations at conferences and public outreach activities like blog writing.

Useful links:

For information relating to the research project please contact the lead Supervisor via and

Prospective applicants:
For information about the application process please contact the Admissions team via

Funding Notes

NERC GW4+ funded studentship available for September 2021 entry. For eligible students, the studentship will provide funding of fees and a stipend which is currently £15,285 per annum for 2020-21.


Background reading and references:

• Kappes, A., Nussberger, A.-M., Faber, N. S., Kahane, G., Savulescu, J., & Crockett, M. J. (2018). Uncertainty about the impact of social decisions increases prosocial behavior. Nature Human Behaviour, 2, 573-580.
• New, R., Savulescu, J., & Faber, N. S. (2018). Cooperation in social dilemmas: How can psychology help to meet climate change goals? In-Mind Magazine, 35.
• Nielsen, K. S., Clayton, S., Stern, P. C., Dietz, T., Capstick, S., & Whitmarsh, L. (2020). How psychology can help limit climate change. American Psychologist.
• Stott, P.A., Stone D. A., Allen, M. R. (2004). Human contribution to the European heat wave of 2003. Nature, 432, 610-614.

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