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‘The Ostrich Problem’: Motivated Inattention to Information Pertaining to Goal Progress

  • Full or part time
  • Application Deadline
    Applications accepted all year round
  • Self-Funded PhD Students Only
    Self-Funded PhD Students Only

Project Description

One of the most significant challenges facing science and society is how to promote lasting changes in people’s behaviour. What kinds of interventions influence the behaviours that lead to obesity or persuade people to use less energy in their homes? The proposed project will work alongside a team funded by the European Research Council (ERC) to investigate the possibility that people struggle to change because they intentionally fail to monitor the relation between their current behaviour and their desired behaviour. For example, few people monitor their household energy consumption, check their bank balances, keep track of what they are eating and so on.

This active ignoring of information about one’s current standing relative to one’s goals – termed here ‘the ostrich problem’ – is part of popular culture, yet current scientific perspectives assume that people will actively monitor and seek information on their progress. As a consequence, theoretical frameworks fail to adequately describe and predict the outcomes of behaviour change efforts and current interventions fall short of promise. The proposed research will investigate the nature and implications of the ostrich problem, seeking to explain why the ostrich problem exists and testing avenues for intervention.

Further reading: You can find a description of the project here: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/psychology/research/groups/theostrichproblem

Funding Notes

Requirements: We ask for a good honours degree of 2:1 or above and generally a masters or pending masters (merit or distinction) in Psychology or a related discipline.


Webb, T. L., Chang, B. P. I., & Benn, Y. (2013). ‘The Ostrich Problem’: Motivated avoidance or rejection of information about goal progress. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7, 794-807.

Related Subjects

How good is research at University of Sheffield in Psychology, Psychiatry and Neuroscience?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 34.45

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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