Building healthy habits through goal priming

Supervisors: Dr Esther K. Papies (; Prof Stacy Marsella (; Prof Lawrence Barsalou (

Description: This studentship is in the School of Psychology at the University of Glasgow, a world-leading, vibrant and collaborative research environment. The successful candidate will join the Healthy Cognition Laboratory run by Dr Esther K. Papies,, and will be supervised by Dr Esther K. Papies, Prof Stacy Marsella, and Prof Lawrence Barsalou.

The consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages has been shown to play an important role in the current obesity epidemic. Most consumers, however, struggle to reduce their intake, because consuming sugary drinks is a habit that is triggered automatically by familiar situations, despite one’s intentions to change. Although habit change is essential to achieve and maintain good health, very few tools exist to help consumers develop healthy habits in their daily lives. In this project, we will develop a novel method to build habits to consume water instead of sugary drinks, in close collaboration with Danone Waters, one of the world’s leading bottled water companies. We propose to build healthy water habits through highly personalised, situated health goal priming. Specifically, we will test whether repeatedly cueing individuals with personally relevant motives to drink water in the same situation can lead to building water drinking habits.

We will first establish the motives for consuming water in a large-scale scoping study. Then, we will use these motives in a laboratory experiment to test whether priming with personally relevant motives effectively triggers water choices. Finally, we will conduct a 75-day field experiment to build healthy water habits, in which a highly tailored smartphone app will remind participants of their personally relevant motives for drinking water in critical situations. We will log participants’ water consumption to assess whether it increases during and after the intervention, testing whether true habits have formed. Although much previous work has shown the potential of health goal priming to promote health behaviour, the current project is unique in extending this to habits. Building healthy habits is a key target for interventions and for the food and drink industry. Our findings will support these efforts by providing critical insights into how goal priming can be used to build healthy consumer habits.

Funding notes: The scholarship is available as a +3 (PhD only) or a 1+3 (MSc + PhD) programme depending on prior research training. This will be assessed as part of the recruitment process. The programme will commence in October 2019. It includes:

• an annual maintenance grant at the RCUK rate (2018/19 rate £14,777 full-time)

• fees at the standard Home rate

• students can also draw on a pooled Research Training Support Grant, usually up to a maximum of £750 per year

Eligibility: Applicants must meet the following criteria:

• Meet the ESRC eligibility requirements (see

• A good first degree (at least 2:1), preferably with a social science component.

• Demonstrate an interest in, and knowledge of social, consumer and/or health psychology, as well as health behaviour change.

• Have a good grounding in experimental research methods in Psychology, excellent statistical and writing skills, good team and communication skills, and familiarity and affinity with open science practices.

How to Apply: Please apply through the SGSSS:

The successful candidate will then be invited to apply for the relevant PhD program in Psychology at the University of Glasgow

Deadline: 15 March 2019

Start Date: 1 October 2019