PhD Studentship - How do novel incentives, threats, rewards, and punishments influence motivation and behaviour?

University of Sussex - School of Psychology

PhD studentship available for September 2017

Project title: How do novel incentives, threats, rewards, and punishments influence motivation and behaviour? An appraisal of ‘the overjustification effect’ among adults and children.

Supervisors: Dr Tom Farsides and Dr Bonamy Oliver (School of Psychology, University of Sussex)

People are often motivated to pursue anticipated rewards and avoid anticipated punishments. Expectations of rewards or punishments can be established in various ways including via experience (“Things usually turn out well/badly for me when I do this”), social learning (“Good/bad things seem to happen to anyone who tries that”) , and explicit contracts (“They insist that they will promote/dismiss me if I do this”). 

An ‘overjustification effect’ may occur when people are promised new rewards for behaviours that they are already motivated to perform. Obtaining the new rewards may become focal and undermine people’s existing motivation, the quality of their performance, and the likelihood of them repeating the behaviours if the novel rewards are subsequently removed. Thus, for people already motivated to help, learn, play, or work, for example, introducing new incentives can have counterproductive effects, especially if those new incentives are subsequently removed. Introducing and removing threats may work similarly.

The successful candidate will interrogate the theoretical and empirical foundations of the overjustification effect, predominantly using meta-analyses and experiments. The goal will be to considerably improve specification of when, how, and why the overjustification effect occurs.

Applications should be made by Tuesday 10th January 2017. The award of the studentship will be based on a competitive process. If awarded, it would be a full-time studentship (funded for a duration of three years) covering tuition fee, and a maintenance allowance. The maintenance allowance is currently £14,296 per annum.

Eligibility requirements for potential candidates:

  • This award will only pay fees at the Home/EU rate ( Candidates may not be eligible for the full award if they do not meet UK residency requirements. For full details of eligibility, please check the ESRC guidelines.
  • Candidates must have, or expect to obtain, a First or a high Upper Second Class Honours undergraduate degree, or equivalent qualification, and/or a Master's degree in Psychology or a related discipline.

Guidance for applicants:

  • Application procedures can be found here.
  • Please submit an online application for the ‘PhD in Psychology’ programme, for September 2017 entry through this link.
  • State in the ‘Funding information’ section of your online application that you are applying for this studentship, giving the title of the project as above and mention Dr Tom Farsides and Dr Bonamy Oliver in the ‘Supervisor suggested by applicant’ section.
  • The proposed source of funding should be specified as 'ESRC or School of Psychology’.

Candidates should provide:

  • A research statement that briefly outlines your current state of knowledge, hypotheses that could be addressed, and an outline of potential methods. Your answer should not exceed 2 pages including references, be set at minimum 10 font type with margins a minimum of 1cm.
  • An up-to-date CV.
  • A current degree transcript(s) with full details of performance on all completed courses.
  • Two academic references.

For queries with respect to the application process please send an email for the attention of 'Postgraduate Coordinator' to:  To discuss the details of this PhD project further, please contact Dr Tom Farsides:

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