Studying our Master of Research (MRes) Science allows you to focus your research interests on one or two areas of science and work towards translating your learning into research related outputs – such as a submission for a peer-reviewed publication; a peer reviewed research/knowledge transfer grant application, or a presentation.

MRes Science can be studied either full time (1-year) or part time (2-years). You will develop a wide variety of skills, experience and competence on this course, and the MRes will provide a thorough grounding for students moving towards Doctoral (PhD) studies, or pursuing research related activities as a career.

These psychology projects are available for September 2019 or January 2020 start. Please note this list of projects is not exhaustive and you'll need to meet and discuss the project you're interested in with a member of research staff before you apply.

Alcohol & taste

Supervisor: Dr Lorenzo Stafford

The same amount of alcohol will have different effects depending on the speed at which it is consumed. Faster alcohol consumption leads to greater intoxication and therefore increases the risk of alcohol related accidents. With a notable increase in the alcohol content of many beverages, understanding the factors that influence this behaviour are more urgent now than ever. Determinants of consumption speed that have been proposed in the past include the detection of the bitter constituents of alcohol as a cue to alcohol strength and how accurately an individual perceives the behavioural effects of alcohol (such as drowsiness and sedation). There has been no systematic work examining these issues to date; this project will establish to what extent taste sensitivity controls speed of consumption, and how this interacts with the behavioural effects of alcohol.

Olfactory disorders

Supervisor: Dr Lorenzo Stafford

Research has shown that around 5 percent of individuals have lost their sense of smell (Anosmia). Although the associated consequences of this are less severe than those for loss of sight/hearing, they can have a significant impact on wellbeing. Effects can include impairments in appetite, personal hygiene, safety and sexual activity. This project will explore how the emotion of disgust (which relies heavily on the chemosensory system) changes in anosmic populations, among other things. 

Chimpanzee communication compared across three semi-wild communities 

Supervisor: Dr Marina Davila-Ross

This project will examine a central topic in language evolution research. It will assess to what extent the social communication of chimpanzees, humans’ closest extant relatives, is influenced by their social surrounding. The focus here will be on vocal communication as it represents the main modality in which humans communicate. Vocalizations across three semi-wild chimpanzee colonies living in Zambia will be compared. Because the colonies live in the same environment (in the same miombo forest) and are genetically comparable, the research setting is ideal for studying rudimentary forms of culture. While the recordings necessary for this study have already been obtained throughout a series field studies over the past seven years at the Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage, which has the world's largest outdoor enclosure for chimpanzees, it is possible to add a field study to this research project. 

Laughter in Great Apes

Supervisor: Dr Marina Davila-Ross

Humans are thought to notably differ from nonhuman primates through the way we positively interact and communicate with each other. Laughter and smiles are the strongest nonverbal communicative indicators of positive emotional states, but these expressions also represent pervasive tools of social communication in humans. This project aims to help reconstruct the evolution of laughter in great apes and humans by assessing the form and the use of these positive expressions during great ape social play.

Collaborative inhibition - a new method to investigate it and a new way to overcome it

Supervisor: Dr Hartmut Blank

Collaborative inhibition is a form of social influence on memory – specifically, when people who jointly remember  information perform worse than the same number of individually remembering people put together. Traditionally, it is investigated using word lists, but this study aims like to test a new, more parsimonious method that relies on people’s already acquired general knowledge (e.g. recalling all the US states). Moreover, this project aims to test a division-of-memory-labour intervention to overcome collaborative inhibition. A pilot study including both innovations was very promising but this needs to be explored more systematically, involving two or three experiments.

Political beliefs and reality

Supervisor: Dr Ed Morrison

Evidence from the USA suggests that people of all political persuasions underestimate the actual inequality in society, and would even prefer a much more equitable distribution. Another source of disagreement between people of different political beliefs is about how public money should be spent. But do the general public actually know the relative expenditure of money, and if not, do they systematically overestimate or underestimate expenditure in particular categories? This project will explore how accurate people’s estimates of government expenditure are, and whether the errors are biased in a particular direction. These biases can also then be compared against individual measures of political belief.

Movement and social perception

Supervisor: Dr Ed Morrison

The kinds of automatic judgements we make about others on simply seeing them can be reduced to a few basic dimensions. However most previous research on this topic relies on static stimuli such as photographs or computer-generated faces. Real people move - and movement itself may be an important source of information about physical condition, quality, or intentions and disposition. Dynamic cues like these can be isolated using methods such as motion-capture and motion-tracking. This project will try to quantify the importance of movement and static cues in social perceptions such as attractiveness, dominance, and valence.

Which students choose to take work placements?

Supervisors: Dr Julie Udell, Dr Mark Turner

Psychology is one of the most popular degree choices with over 100,000 applications made annually to study the subject at UK universities (UCAS, 2015). However, psychology graduates take longer to develop professional careers following university (Van Laar & Udell, 2008; Coulthard, 2013) and less than 20% are thought to progress to become professional psychologists (Trapp et al, 2011). Surveys of employers suggest a belief that graduates often do not possess key employability skills required in the workplace (e.g. Docherty & Fernandez, 2014), with students who have some form of work experience being more likely to find employment (High Flyers Research, 2013). It is therefore a growing concern within higher education to encourage students to gain work-related skills and experience during their degree (QAA, 2014), and to include professional development as a core standard within undergraduate psychology curricula (BPS, 2014). However not all psychology students choose to take up opportunities to undertake work-based or placement learning when these are offered as part of their course, whilst other students seek out multiple opportunities both inside and outside their studies to gain experience.

The aim of this project will be explore individual differences in student motivation to gain work experience whilst studying. For example what situational factors or personality characteristics contribute to students decision-making and success at finding placements? Why do some students persist in seeking placements or undertake multiple placements when others do not? These and similar questions have important consequences for the advice and guidance provided to students and will form a solid basis for an MRes project.

How environmental factors affect physical and social exploration in infants

Supervisor: Dr Erik Gustafsson

Exploration is a crucial driver in learning about our physical and social environment. It is a part of a repeating process where attention influences exploration, and the resulting learning guides subsequent attention. However, the literature investigating attention in infancy is tainted by contradictory observations. Although we know how important novelty/familiarity is to drive infants’ exploration, a comprehensive multi-faceted model explaining and predicting novelty/familiarity preferences still needs to be developed. In particular the determinants of such preferences have often been overlooked, as scientists have general ignore the interaction between stimulus and context characteristics as well as infants' cognitive resources. This project uses an original experimental approach by controlling the contextual novelty and priming effects (i.e. promoting "sensation" or "safety" seeking), as well as using an infants' cognitive resources. This project will also have a broader relevance for developmental conditions such as social, eating or attention deficit disorders.

Whom are these toys for? Investigating the influence of gender-neutral toys advertisement on child attitudes and play behaviours

Supervisor: Dr Erik Gustafsson

The toy industry is one of the main influence in shaping children’s understanding of different spheres of reality, and in conveying what will be appropriate for them. Toys catalogues are separated in accordance to gender, with toys marketed for boys presented as useful for developing spatial and technical skills, and those marketed for girls focusing on fashion, housework and communication skills. In 2012 the Swedish Retailer Top Toy and the French company Système U started to produce gender neutral toy catalogues. These have triggered huge controversial debates. These retailers have continued this strategy and even broadcast a TV advert promoting their gender-neutral catalogues. This makes focusing on such toy catalogues timely and relevant.

This study aims to:

  • test the effect of stereotypical, neutral and counter-stereotypical toys catalogues on children’s choices in an experimental setting
  • explore parent-child and peer conversations around the gendered and neutral toy descriptions in a free catalogue-reading setting

How context may affect engagement or boredom when exposed to visual and auditory stimuli? 

Supervisor: Dr Erik Gustafsson

We know how important complexity is to drive our attention. Despite this, the determinants of our preferences have been overlooked in the past when scientists have (generally) ignored the interaction between the stimulus and the context in which it is encountered. This project uses an original experimental approach by controlling for the contextual priming effects (i.e. promoting "complexity" or "simplicity" seeking). In addition to rating diverse stimuli, an eye-tracking tool will be used to measure looking time and pupil dilation as a proxy for cognitive processing and emotional arousal.

Do dogs know what others know?

Supervisor: Dr Juliane Kaminski

This project will question whether dogs understand anything about another individual’s perspective. We will ask to what extend domestic dogs understand what others have (or have not) seen. Dogs will compete with another individual over food and will have an advantage if they understand what their competitor can/cannot see or has/has not seen. This will help us understand if domestic dogs understand others as having certain psychological states. The participating dogs will be normal family dogs with a background typical for a family dog. They will be recruited through the University of Portsmouth dog study register and the work will be conducted at the Dog Cognition Centre Portsmouth.

Other Research Projects

Discover the current research projects available in each of our schools and departments: 

Please note, this list is not exhaustive and you'll need to meet and discuss the project you're interested in with a member of research staff before you apply.

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