The deadline for applying for PhD funding from the ESRC is rapidly approaching. The link to apply to do it is here. For those wishing to apply to work with us in Stirling please see details of our current projects, publications and staff. Illustrative ongoing projects are below (with associated centre faculty in parentheses) but we welcome proposals from across our areas of expertise. We welcome applications from Economics, Advanced Quantitative Methods and Business/Management. We offer a PhD in Economics and a PhD in Behavioural Science both based in the Stirling School of Management. Those intending applying should get in touch with me as soon as possible. You should also check the residency requirements and other criteria to ensure you are eligible.
Self-Control and Health (Michael Daly and Liam Delaney)
Self-control enables people to delay gratification and control impulses. A strong capacity for self-control has been linked with nearly all aspects of healthy living: avoiding high fat and sugar foods, engaging in exercise, and staying clear of addictive substances. The proposed programme of research will provide scientific evidence detailing whether and how individual differences in childhood self-control contribute to the emergence of patterns of health behaviour and health problems over the lifespan. This project will capitalize on the existence of several large population-representative samples which track over 10,000 individuals for between 15 and 50 years with data recorded on multiple occasions from early life into adulthood. These incredible data resources include detailed measures of child temperament that will be used to gauge how childhood self-control shapes the uptake, maintenance and decline of smoking, drinking, physical activity, and substance use from adolescence through to middle age. Furthermore, this project will track how early life self-control links to later health outcomes (e.g. body mass index, biomarkers of inflammation and cardiovascular risk) and will begin to unpick the complex interrelationships between self-control, socioeconomic status, and the development of health.
The Rank Principle in Social and Cognitive Comparison (Alex Wood)
In everyday life, attitudes are formed and decisions are made on the basis of judgements. Am I satisfied with my wage? Does the UK accept too many asylum seekers? What length of prison sentence is appropriate for a given crime? What is the appropriate and fair level of taxation? It has long been known that such judgements are, typically, highly relative. The judgement that is reached or the decision that is made may be strongly determined by the context of options that is presented. For example, individuals' opinions about their wages are determined by comparing their own wage with that of others around them - a reference group effect. People's opinions about levels of immigration or the "fair" level of taxation can be strongly influenced by the information they are given about immigration or taxation levels in other European countries. The proposed research will develop and test a new rank-based approach to everyday judgement and decision-making. According to this approach, decisions are influenced by the rank-ordered position of an option in a distribution. For example, most people think that there are more very wealthy people in the UK (e.g. earning more than 100K) than there really are. We have found that individuals' satisfaction with their income is determined by where they perceive themselves to be in this assumed wage distribution, rather than by their position in the true UK wage distribution. In this interdisciplinary project, we will extend existing rank-based models to judgements about a variety of socially and politically important quantities.
Well-Being, Decision-Making and Unemployment in Europe (Liam Delaney and Michael Daly)
The aim of this three year project is to develop and test a model of unemployment, taking into account interactions between unemployment, well-being and inter-temporal decision making. The project will focus in particular on youth unemployment. Youth unemployment rates across Europe are currently at alarmingly high rates and traditional employment activation models are having very little success in a context of sluggish labour demand. Understanding, how the current rates of unemployment will lead to long-term unemployment and scarring among young people in Europe and potential responses is a key task for research and policy. The project utilises existing secondary datasets, such as the European Social Survey (ESS) to examine the linkages between well-being, unemployment and decision-making from the disciplinary perspectives of economics, epidemiology and psychology.
Individual Differences in the Impact of Socio-Economic Events on Health and Well-Being (Alex Wood and Christopher Boyce)
People's well-being, consisting of, for example, their health, happiness and overall satisfaction with life, is influenced by a wide variety of life events (e.g., income increases, marriage, and unemployment) as well as changes in the society in which they live (e.g., changes in national income and how equally that income is distributed). Our programme of research will show (a) the type of person who loses or gains the most well-being when these events take place, and (b) the psychological reasons as to why people's well-being changes after such events. Showing why, and for whom, socioeconomic events can have a large impact on well-being is important for understanding basic questions such as why some people are happier or more depressed than others. Such research can also help in understanding the impact of policy (for example, who will suffer the most if society becomes more unequal). We use already collected datasets which provide tens of thousands of people's responses, over several years, to questionnaires about themselves and their levels of well-being.
These well-being responses, as well as detailed medical information about their biological functioning, can be linked to specific events that people have encountered in their lives. We use these datasets to ask five key research questions, each with both theoretical and policy implications;
1. Do well-being reactions to socio-economic events (such as marriage or unemployment) depend on a person's personality prior to the event occurring? If so, this would suggest that certain people have predictably stronger or weaker reactions depending on their existing psychological characteristics, indicating who may need the most support following life events.
2. Whilst personality by definition represents quite stable psychological characteristics, here we ask whether personality changes in predictable and meaningful ways following life events. If personality is something that changes, then this suggests some potential for policy discussions and applied research to focus on how to create the conditions that allow for positive personality development.
3. Is a person's health and well-being influenced by their level of income, or rather by how their income ranks amongst other people (e.g., those in the same community)? If the latter is the case, then this has implications for understanding why the relationship between income and well-being exists, and may offer specific solutions as to how to reduce the negative effects of having a low income.
4. Does losing one pound of income have a proportionally greater impact on well-being than gaining one pound of income? Although intuitively "yes", calculations of the impact of income on well-being currently assume that income gains and losses impact equally on a person or a nation's well-being. This question has relevance to policies that prioritise the avoidance of income losses over stimulating income gains.
5. Do people have lower levels of well-being in less equal societies? Here, we explore whether the influence of positive and negative life events on well-being are different depending upon the level of inequality in a society, and whether this occurs due to low feelings of basic fairness and trust. This would contribute to debates as to the relative costs of allowing income to become more unequally distributed. The integration within our programme is the focus on showing how psychological characteristics are important for understanding how socio-economic circumstances influence well-being across these five broad areas. Our aim in answering these questions is to:
(a) contribute new answers to old theoretical questions in several fields
(b) encourage interdisciplinary collaboration in understanding the impact on well-being of socio-economic events
(c) feed into important policy debates
(d) suggest an increased role for psychologists to work alongside other social scientists in informing policy in this area.