Psychology at Lancaster University

PhD & Postgraduate Research

We offer the opportunity to undertake a PhD in Psychology in our state-of-the-art facilities, helping our aim of carrying out advanced postgraduate research.

Studying for a research degree is a highly rewarding and challenging process. You'll work to become a leading expert in your area with regular contact and individual supervision with your supervisor.

All our academic staff are active researchers, who are at the leading edge of their research field. We have an outstanding reputation for ongoing research in our specialist areas:

  • cognitive psychology
  • developmental psychology
  • social psychology
  • neuroscience

This makes for a world-class research environment for you to pursue your studies. To further your interest in PhD Research, we recommend that you contact a relevant member of staff to discuss topic areas. Staff can also help you to develop and scope an appropriate proposal. We particularly support applications to work with early-career staff.

How to Apply

Funded PhD Studentships

Each year the Psychology Department offers several fully-funded PhD scholarships (commencing the following October), as well as opportunities to apply for other studentships vis the ESRC's North West Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NWSSDTP).

This year, there are three Faculty of Science & Technology Studentships and two studentships associated with the Leverhulme Trust Doctoral Scholarship Programme in Interdisciplinary Research on Infant Development. In all cases, we are looking for academically excellent students, who are passionate about doing research and have an exciting project they want to pursue.

Self-funded applications

To begin the process, you will need to find a PhD Supervisor whose research interests align with your own. You will need to contact them to discuss your application.

We will require a research proposal on the area/s you are interested in joining us to study. This proposal will be used to help us determine who will be the most suitable potential academic supervisor for your research. 

This step is the starting point to find a suitable supervisor who will then, if interested, contact you for a phone interview. In this interview, you will discuss the proposal and intended research, meaning your plan is not your permanent topic for your PhD studies and open to negotiation. Past guidelines have suggested the following:

  • a section that defines and characterises your selected research area
  • a section that briefly surveys and sums up state-of-the-art in this area
  • a section that identifies deficiencies in the state of the art which you would like to address in your PhD
  • a section that outlines some possible research directions that you might pursue
  • a list of references that you cite in the above sections

We recommend that you submit your research interests and the PhD Admissions Tutor can pass your application onto the most relevant and available supervisor.

To apply, create an account on the My Applications website and then select ‘Create a new application’ from your homepage once you are logged in.

Here you can submit applications for the programme(s) which you wish to study, upload supporting documentation and provide us with information about referees. You may apply for all our postgraduate programmes using this method.

Current Lancaster Students

If you are a current Lancaster student or have recently graduated from Lancaster, we can reduce the amount of information that you will need to provide. You will need to offer only one reference and will not need to supply your Lancaster degree transcript. We will also pre-fill your details, ready for you to check.

If you use the My Applications website, then you will be advised which documentation you need to upload or send to us. We can automatically contact your referees once you have submitted your application if you ask us to.

The supporting documentation screen will provide you with a list of required documents. These will usually include:

  • Degree certificates and transcripts of previous higher education (college/university) degrees or other courses that you have completed/for which you are currently studying. We will require a certified English translation for transcripts in languages other than English
  • A personal statement to help us understand why you wish to study your chosen degree
  • You also need to complete a research proposal which should include the following:
    • the research area you are interested in
    • the research question(s) you are specifically interested in
    • who within Psychology appears best qualified to supervise you
    • the methods you envisage using in your studies
    • plus any other information which may be relevant
  • Two references
  • If English is not your first language, we require copies of English language test results

You can apply at any time of the year for PhD study, but we encourage you to start at one of the predefined start dates of October, January or April. We will consider the July start date in some circumstances. An MSc by Research will usually start in October. If you would like us to recognise you for funding, are applying from overseas or require on-campus accommodation, we recommend you apply as early as possible.

Research Areas

Our research is divided into four themes. Each theme is led by a team of research-active staff, at the forefront of their fields.

PhD Supervisors

Loading People

Research Projects

We are keen to support PhD applications to work with early-career staff. Below are staff that are interested in hearing from students looking to work in the areas they have highlighted. If the area is of interest to you, please contact the relevant staff member before submitting a PhD application.


  • Social Psychology and Language - Dr Tamara Rakić

    In today’s world, with increased mobility and heterogeneous societies, understanding how we form impressions of individuals is crucial for preventing discrimination. My previous research has looked separately (or in a pair) at different aspects of person perception, such as labels, accents, appearance, or stereotypes. One possible PhD project aims at providing a comprehensive investigation of how we evaluate unknown individuals. We base this evaluation on complex combinations of categories, including gender, occupation, appearance, ethnicity, accent, and nationality. We can expand this assessment to different social contexts (multicultural or not) and different age groups (younger vs older adults). This evaluation would allow a better understanding of how impression formation develops over time, as well as how they might be influenced by a social context (multicultural or not).

    The effects of standard-accent bias have been demonstrated in a variety of context. This context includes whether we perceive standard accent speakers as more competent and hireable than nonstandard accent speakers. Some evidence suggests that there might be possible to suppress this negative bias, at least in the short term. The proposed project would aim to investigate different interventions and determine which are more practical and long-lasting. This study could also include other types of information (e.g., appearance, occupation, etc.).

    If you are interested in these topics or if you have other ideas that are related to these topics, please contact Dr Tamara Rakic.

    Key references for this work include:

    • Hansen, K., Rakić, T., & Steffens, M. C., (in press). Competent and warm? How mismatching appearance and accent influence first impressions. Experimental Psychology.
    • Hansen, K., Rakić, T., & Steffens, M. C. (2014). When actions speak louder than words: preventing discrimination of nonstandard speakers. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 33(1), 68-77.
    • Rakić, T., Steffens, M. C., & Mummendey, A. (2011). Blinded by the accent! The minor role of looks in ethnic categorisation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 100(1), 16-29.
    • Rakić, T., Steffens, M.C., & Mummendey, A. (2011). When it matters how you pronounce it: The influence of regional accents on job interview outcome. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 868-883.
  • Social Cognition and Cognitive Development - Dr Jess Wang

    I’m interested in how we understand other people’s minds, an ability which is often known as Theory of Mind. In the Cognition of Social Interaction (CoSI) lab, we employ a range of techniques to understand the cognitive basis for social interactions better. These techniques include tracking people’s eye movements during conversations, testing their memory for communicative content, and measuring their response times and response accuracy to social stimuli. I would be pleased to discuss ideas for PhD projects on social cognition across the lifespan. Please contact me to discuss your ideas for a PhD.

    Possible projects for 2019/20 entries include (but not limited to):

    1. The role of memory in communication
      We know that working memory supports referential communication (e.g., Wang, Ali, Frisson, Apperly, 2016; Zhao, Wang, Apperly, 2018). At present little is known about the types of memory representations interlocutors form, and whether the richness of the representation changes with age. This project will examine the episodic memory traces for social interactions (Burns, Russell, & Russell, 2015), combining measure from eye-tracking and EEG.
    2. Automatic mindreading: what, when, and how
      An increasing body of evidence suggests that complex mental states such as beliefs may be tracked automatically (e.g., Meert, Wang, & Samson, 2017). However, we do not fully understand the underlying cognitive mechanism. This project will examine whether we can flexibly control automatic mindreading by top-down mechanisms and be adaptive to different contexts (Furlanetto et al., 2016). There is scope to conduct this project as a developmental project or an ageing project.
  • Emotion, Language and the Brain - Dr Francesca Citron

    I am interested in how people process evolutionary or contextually salient stimuli. These stimuli include pictures of threatening or appetitive objects (bear, cake), emotional words (war, kiss), or idiomatic and metaphorical expressions (‘That was a kick in the teeth’, ‘I drank a heavenly coffee’). I am also interested in how these processes differ between second language and first language speakers, or between multilingual and monolinguals. Finally, I am developing a growing interest in beauty perception (aesthetics) in response to literary texts and poetry as well as to paintings, statues, and other artwork.

    I employ a range of methods, from self-reports (e.g., ratings) and reaction times, to electrical brain responses (EEG/ERPs) and neuroimaging (fMRI). I am also interested in using eye-tracking and physiological responses.

    I am interested in hearing from motivated and enthusiastic students on topics related the those above.

    You can find more information on what we do at the Emotion and Communication lab.

    If you are interested in discussing a project together, please contact Francesca.

  • Visual Perception - Dr Michelle To

    I am interested in how the sensory system processes complex natural stimuli, such as photographs, movies, music and language. More specifically, my research investigates how human observers perceive differences and how humans integrate different features from the sensory environment. I have also studied visual perception in the extreme peripheral field.

    The main topics I am interested in include:

    • Natural stimuli perception
    • Feature integration
    • Cross-modal integration
    • Visual perception in the far and extreme periphery

    If you are interested in doing a project in one of these, or a related one, please contact me.

  • Neuroplasticity in Health and Disease - Dr Helen Nuttall

    I am interested in the process of neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change throughout an individual’s life. These neuroplastic changes can result from brain damage, such as after a stroke when the brain recovers, or in healthy brains, such as after learning a new skill. I am looking for a motivated student with a background in psychology, neuroscience, or natural sciences (or a related discipline) to join the Neuroscience of Speech and Action lab and work on a collaborative project between the Psychology department and Lancaster Medical School. A variety of methods will be employed to study the process of neuroplasticity, including transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which is a form of non-invasive brain stimulation; electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle signals; physiological techniques to assess strength, arousal, and heart rate; as well as techniques used to measure human behaviours, such as reaction times and accuracy. We are interested in identifying the scientific basis of neuroplasticity to better inform potential therapies in the future.

    Indicative projects areas are:

    1. Motor cortex plasticity in response to a physiological challenge

    Bed rest, extreme environments, and limb immobilisation from arm slings or casts all change the use and function of the motor system. We are interested in exploring how physiological challenges like these affect signalling throughout the motor pathway, and if we can improve motor signalling through brain stimulation, for example

    2. Exercise, cognition, and neuroplasticity

    Recent evidence indicates that sport and exercise can influence cognition, both positively, through improving memory, for example, or negatively, in the case of contact sports and the effect of associated sub-concussions. We are interested in exploring the brain-basis of these neuroplastic changes that are linked to cognitive ability and sport.

    I am very happy to hear from any interested students with their own project ideas as well. Please get in touch via to discuss possible ideas or either of the projects listed above.

Funded PhD Scholarships


  • 1 x Faculty of Science & Technology Teaching Scholarships

    The award is for up to 3.5 years for UK/EU applicants and provides full tuition fees, a generous stipend of approximately £15,000 and access to a grant towards research training support.

    • We welcome applications from students in all areas of supervisory expertise. Before applying, you must contact individual staff members to discuss your specific interests and to develop a research proposal. Proposals that bring innovative ideas to match and complement the research agenda of the current staff are more likely to be successful.
    • As a department, we particularly encourage applications to work with early-career staff, who have not previously taken primary supervision of PhD students. Applications to work with early-career staff are weighted preferentially during the evaluation of applications
    • In all cases, informal enquiries should be directed to a PhD Supervisor before application.
    • Please state that you are applying for the Faculty of Science & Technology Scholarships, and the application should also identify an appropriate supervisor(s). We ask that you include a research proposal of up to 1,500 words.
    • Deadline - 3rd February 2020
    • Interview to be scheduled nearer the time.
  • 2 x Leverhulme Doctoral Scholarship Programme positions

    This Faculty-funded studentship provides funding for 3.5 years and will cover UK/EU fees, together with a living stipend (approximately £15,000 per year) and access to a grant for research training support. Applicants should have an excellent undergraduate and Masters degree in Psychology or a related discipline

  • Northwest Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnerships

    Lancaster is a member of the Northwest Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NWSSDTP), along with the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Keele. The NWSSDTP offers studentships as:

    • 1+3 - a one-year Masters and three years of PhD funding
    • +3 - three years of PhD funding
    • CASE awards - a 1+3, or +3, where a non-academic partner supports proposals
    • As this is partially funded by the University, a limited amount of teaching will be required as part of the studentship contract.
    • Deadline - 3rd February 2020
    • Interviews expected around mid-February with ranking across institutions by the end of the month. Successful, reserve and unsuccessful candidates will be informed by email (by NWSSDTP) by 20th March 2020.
  • 14 x PhD positions (ESRs) for Marie Skłodowska-Curie ITN on Early Language Development in the Digital Age (e-LADDA)

    Where to apply:

    Application deadline: 24.01.2020 23:00 CET/Brussels


    The central scientific goal of e-LADDA is to establish whether the new and quite intuitive interactions afforded by digital tools impact on young children’s language development and language outcomes positively or adversely. We further aim to identify what factors in both the technology itself and the communication channel advance language learning and growth or may impede it. E-LADDA’s main objectives are:

    1. to provide a platform for the training of the next generation of scientists drawing for the first time on interdisciplinary perspectives from basic, applied and translational research on language learning in the digital age
    2. to provide a unified research approach to the benefits and drawbacks of digital technologies for young children's language learning
    3. transform and develop new digital solutions that benefit learners
    4. to guide policymakers, educators, practitioners and families in how emerging digital environments should be navigated, regulated and transformed
  • 1 x EPSRC funded PhD scholarship

    The award is for up to 3.5 years for UK/EU/Overseas applicants and provides full tuition fees, a generous stipend of approximately £15,000 and access to a grant towards research training support.

    • Applicants should have (or will soon receive) a masters degree (or equivalent) in psychology or a cognate discipline relevant to their preferred project. In all cases, we are looking for academically excellent students, who are passionate about doing research and have an exciting project they want to pursue.
    • There are five projects available (see below), and students should select one project as part of their application. Applications do not need a full research proposal, but applicants should include a discussion of how their research interests, skills, experience and career plans are a good fit for the proposed project. Applicants will be assessed on the basis of their academic ability, skills and research experience.
    • In all cases, informal enquiries should be directed to the project’s primary Supervisor before application.
    • In your application, please state that you are applying for the EPSRC-funded PhD studentship in the Department of Psychology. The application should clearly identify which project you are applying for, and the associated supervisor(s). We ask that you include a personal statement of your suitability for the project and PhD research more generally (no more than 750 words).
    • Deadline – 16th June 2020
    • Interviews are planned for early July, but will be scheduled nearer the time. Interviews will take place online.
    • How to Apply 

    Possible Projects

    Project: A study into naturalistic gaze behaviour in Alzheimer’s Disease

    Supervisory Team: Dr Trevor Crawford, Prof. Sandra Sunram-Lea (Psychology, Department, Lancaster University), Dr Rebecca Killick (Statistics Department, Lancaster University)

    Project Summary:

    As people are living longer due to medical advancements, various forms of dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) are becoming more prevalent among the elderly [1]. Innovative and novel approaches are required to facilitate early diagnosis, improvequality of life, and reduce the debilitating effects of the disease. One promising approach is through the use of eye-tracking technology. In the recent MoDEM program (EPSRC funded), we have shown that this approach can distinguish reliably AD from other neurodegenerative diseases and from natural ageing [2]. Crucially, we have also demonstrated its sensitivity in differentiating between the two types of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): amnesiac MCI and non-amnesiac MCI [3]. As yet this research in AD hasnot addressed more ecologically valid and naturalistic gaze behaviour. This PhD project is designed to investigate natural gaze behaviour in the context of every-day activities such as watching TV, making a cup of tea, etc. This project will provide a unique insight into how naturalistic gaze behaviour changes in people with AD. The research questions that would be investigated in this PhD are:

    •Experiment 1: Is naturalistic gaze behaviour affected by Alzheimer's disease? And how does it compare to gaze behaviour of natural ageing and young participants.

    •Experiment 2: What are the effects of explicit inhibition (including the effects of top-down control vs bottom-up automatic gaze behaviour).

    •Experiment 3: Are patterns of gaze behaviour in individuals with amnesiac MCI significantly different to individuals with non-amnesiac MCI?

    •Experiment 4: Can performance on the inhibitory control tasks predict patterns of gaze behaviour in naturalistic tasks?

    •Experiment 5: How is progression of the disease influencing gaze behaviour when retested 1 year later.

    Project: Digital technologies and bystander behaviour

    Supervisory Team: Prof. Mark Levine, Dr Richard Philpot (Lancaster Psychology) Dr Maria Angela Ferrario (SCC Lancaster), Prof. Arosha Bandara (Computing/Comms-Open University)

    Project Summary:

    Digital technologies have begun to transform the ways in which citizens can contribute to safety and security in public spaces. For example, smartphones allow the capture and sharing of images of emergency events; allow us to report incidents and receive real-time alerts of emergency events; allow us to communicate and coordinate with others during the events themselves. This studentship will consider some of the psychological implications of technology availability during emergencies. More specifically, we will explore the concept of bystander behaviour in the digital age. The studentship will examine the impact that having a smartphone has on the way bystanders think and act in emergencies. For example, do they film rather than help? How prevalent is filming during emergency events and how do fellow bystanders respond to the filming? Under what conditions is filming a form of help? The studentship will consider the ways in which technologies can be designed to promote pro-social behaviour and mitigate the likelihood of anti-social behaviour on the part of bystanders. The studentship will explore bystander/technology interactions in different kinds of situations where citizens may be bystanders to emergency events (including medical emergencies, night-time economy violence; assaults on public service workers; demonstrations and protests; police-citizen arrests). The studentship will benefit from an interdisciplinary supervisory team with expertise in social psychology and software engineering for social good. The project will also benefit from links to the interdisciplinary EPSRC research project ‘Citizen Forensics’ (EP/R033862/1) which studies citizen/police relations in the digital age.

    Project: Computational Modelling of Implicit Attitudes

    Supervisory Team: Dr Dermot Lynott, Dr Ryan Boyd (Lancaster Psychology)

    Project Summary:

    Prejudicial attitudes exert a powerful influence on individuals and society more generally, and recent research suggests that the statistical patterns in how words are used in language

    may capture such biases. The goal of this project is to understand the links between the statistical patterns of words in language, their relationship to the formation of human biases and prejudicial attitudes, and how both language and biases are linked to people's behaviours.

    In this project, we will use a combination of statistical modelling and experimental methods to address these outstanding issues. First, the project will involve looking at language patterns in large corpora of text and assessing how they relate to implicit attitudes derived from human behavioural data. Second, we will systematically compare a range of candidate statistical models, and establish which models best capture data from people. Third, we will extend these models to determine the extent to which linguistic and non-linguistic information is predictive of attitudes and prejudicial behaviours. The outcomes of the project will shed new light on how the language we are exposed to affects our attitudes, biases and behaviour.

    Working on this project you will join a collegiate department, and a supportive research team with expertise in a range of relevant domains (language modelling, experimental psychology, cognitive science), who strongly encourage an open science approach to research.

    Project: Use of remote communication technologies by people with hearing loss and effect on feelings of social isolation

    Supervisory Team: Prof. Chris Plack, Dr Helen Nuttall, Dr Jenna Littlejohn (University of Manchester)

    Project Summary:

    In the UK, half of people over the age of 70 live alone. The use of remote communication technologies, such as telephone, social media, and video calls, are important to aid communication with social networks, and have become essential modes of communication during the period of enforced social distancing due to COVID-19. However, 70% of the UK population over the age of 70 (8.3m people) also have hearing loss, and often struggle to hold conversations over these platforms, especially when bandwidth is low and sound quality is poor. Hearing loss is associated with reduced quality of life, increased rates of depression, and cognitive decline, all of which may be mediated through social isolation. In this project, we will use an online survey to determine how hearing loss impacts on the use of remote communication. We will determine how hearing loss and the communication medium used affect emotional connection with the support group, and feelings of social isolation, loneliness, and depression. We will also conduct laboratory experiments to determine the most effective means of remote communication for people with hearing loss. We will measure the intelligibility of passages delivered via various communication media, the listening effort involved, and the emotional connection with the communicator. These data will be important in improving communication and mental health for older adults, particularly in a future in which close physical contact with friends and family may be substantially reduced.

    Project: The soft skills of software learning development: Psychological dimensions of computing and security behaviours

    Supervisory Team: Prof. John Towse, Prof. Mark Levine (Psychology), Dr Miriam Sturdee (SCC, Lancaster), Prof. Bashar Nuseibeh (OU / Limerick, Ireland)

    Project Summary:

    From the outside, software coding looks like an entirely technical endeavour. Lines of code determine instructions carried out by the computer producing the functionality of software. Proficient coders therefore need a high level of detailed technical knowledge about their programming language. However, there is increasing evidence for numerous and varied psychological contributions affecting how software is built, what functionality it eventually delivers, and what vulnerabilities it possesses (for example, see work from the supervision team below).

    This project will focus on how computer scientists learn about software, and will study the ways that both cognitive capacities (e.g. working memory, reflexivity, mental models) and social identities (e.g. group membership, cultural transmission of behaviours and priorities) shape and mould the programming choices that individuals make as they study and as they develop software. The project is expected to comprise a series of convergent, multi-method experiments with an emphasis on quantitative methodology.

    The studentship will focus on psychological theories of behaviour from cognitive and social perspectives and will offer opportunities to test these in a real-world, applied settings, through an interdisciplinary team of supervisors working across leading research institutions. The project is novel but the supervision team have strong, existing links that demonstrate effective ways of working- in particular through the current EPSRC funded project “Why Johnny doesn't write secure software?". The studentship will also have the potential to inform student learning in computing sciences and beyond.

Northwest Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnerships

Lancaster is a member of the Northwest Social Sciences Doctoral Training Partnership (NWSSDTP), along with the Universities of Manchester, Liverpool and Keele. The NWSSDTP offers studentships as 1+3 (Masters + 3 years PhD funding), +3 (3 years PhD funding) and as CASE awards (1+3, or +3, where proposals are supported by a non-academic partner).

A Psychology lecture at Lancaster University