Understanding the role of impulsivity in affecting Body Mass Index

   School of Social Sciences

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  Dr Benjamin Vincent, Dr Kimberly More  No more applications being accepted  Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

In order to address issues of under- and over-weight, there has been an active search for behavioural-economic factors related to Body Mass Index (BMI). One leading candidate is ‘delay discounting’ which describes the degree to which people prefer smaller-sooner over larger-later rewards. Multiple meta-analyses suggest a correlation between delay discounting and BMI, which suggests that targeting temporal preferences may be effective in treating weight problems (which the pandemic may exacerbate) as well as downstream diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

While there is a positive correlation on average, there is wide variation between studies suggesting that other factors (e.g. participant population or methodological issues) cloud our understanding. Greater clarity needs to be found if we are to identify, and potentially treat, key behavioural-economic and cognitive factors driving problematic BMI.

This project will have two main aims: 1) To understand the varied relationship between delay discounting and BMI in the literature, and 2) To understand how discounting influences BMI through calorie-in and calorie-out behaviours.

The first aim will be achieved by the use of a Bayesian meta-analysis of the literature. Particular emphases will be placed upon evaluating what factors (e.g. participant composition in terms of age and clinical symptomology, research methods, and study design) may contribute to varied findings in the literature. Additionally, we will evaluate evidence (and adjust) for any publication bias in the literature.

The second aim will be achieved by running a series of experiments to explore the behaviours which mediate the link between discounting and BMI. For example, by measuring discounting behaviour, eating behaviours (including any disordered eating), and exercise behaviours.

While there are clear goals of the PhD, students would have considerable autonomy in how to design experiments to achieve these research goals. You will work closely with the supervisory team who have extensive experience in delay discounting, health behaviours, and a variety of advanced quantitative methods. You will receive guidance on the health behaviour and quantitative aspects of the project, and we will monitor gaps in skills or knowledge through supervisory monitoring. There are opportunities to attend workshops on advanced statistical methods, and we will actively identify further online/in-person/workshop based training opportunities, including access as appropriate to our Masters' modules.

 Further details about the work of the supervisor team can be found on the HEALTH Lab and inferenceLab websites.

For informal enquiries about the project, contact Dr Benjamin Vincent ([Email Address Removed])

For general enquiries about the University of Dundee, contact [Email Address Removed]

Our research community thrives on the diversity of students and staff which helps to make the University of Dundee a UK university of choice for postgraduate research. We welcome applications from all talented individuals and are committed to widening access to those who have the ability and potential to benefit from higher education.


Applicants must have obtained, or expect to obtain, a UK honours degree at 2.1 or above (or equivalent for non-UK qualifications). For international qualifications, please see equivalent entry requirements here: www.dundee.ac.uk/study/international/country/.

In certain circumstances candidates may be asked to spend a year completing our Master's degree in Psychological Research Methods before commencing their doctoral research. The decision about the suitability of their qualifications is made by the supervisor and the School’s postgraduate advisor.

English language requirement: IELTS (Academic) overall score must be at least 6.5 (with not less than 6.0 in writing and not less than 5.5 in reading, listening and speaking). The University of Dundee accepts a variety of equivalent qualifications; please see full details of the University’s English language requirements here: www.dundee.ac.uk/guides/english-language-requirements.


Step 1: Email Dr Benjamin Vincent ([Email Address Removed]) to (1) send a copy of your CV and (2) discuss your potential application and any practicalities (e.g. suitable start date). This project may be suitable for the three-year route or the four-year route (with MSc in the first year) depending on the candidate’s funding and qualifications – please discuss this with the lead supervisor in advance of applying.

Step 2: After discussion with Dr Vincent, formal applications can be made via our direct application system. When applying, please follow the instructions below:

Candidates must apply for the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Psychology using our direct application system: Psychology.

Please select the degree length (three year or four year), study mode (full-time/part-time) and start date agreed with the lead supervisor.

In the Research Proposal section, please:

-       Enter the lead supervisor’s name in the ‘proposed supervisor’ box

-       Enter the project title listed at the top of this page in the ‘proposed project title’ box

In the ‘personal statement’ section, please outline your suitability for the project selected.

Funding Notes

There is no funding attached to this project. The supervisory team can advise and assist with queries about funding, but the successful applicant will need to cover tuition fees and living expenses via external sponsorship or self-funding.


Vincent, B. T. (2020, April 19). No simple link between temporal discounting and body composition. https://doi.org/10.31234/osf.io/xdg6y
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