University of Portsmouth student playing around with thermal imaging on a computer

Current research projects

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.

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.

MRes Science - Psychology research projects

Do animals understand death? Do they grieve?

Supervisor: Dr Leanne Proops

The extent to which animals possess an awareness of death has deep philosophical relevance and clear implications for the study of animal cognition and the ethical treatment of animals. Termed “comparative thanatology”, this growing field of animal cognition research is important but the topic remains difficult to study scientifically and ethically. This project provides the opportunity to study the behaviours of domestic species following the loss of a social partner using novel and ethical methods.

Multimodal communication in Equids

Supervisor: Dr Leanne Proops

One of the defining features of the human species is our complex language, and researchers have proposed several hypotheses as to how this unique feature could have evolved. One of the leading theories is that the evolution of complex and tolerant societies created an evolutionary driver for more complex communication. This hypothesis has been robustly tested, and broadly supported, by comparisons of primate species. This project explores the link between social organisation and communication in Equidae (horses and donkeys) – a closed related family of species that vary systematically in their degree of sociality and social tolerance.

Effects of plastic pollution on livestock

Supervisor: Dr Leanne Proops and Dr Teresa Romero

The effects of plastic pollution on marine environments and wildlife are widely acknowledged. Yet the effects on terrestrial ecosystems and livestock are understudied and equally concerning. In many countries, livestock graze open waste sites, consuming macroplastics that affect health and can result in death – in turn affecting owner prosperity. Even if livestock appear unharmed, meat and milk often contain microplastics that may affect human health. Similarly, terrestrial wildlife are exposed to increasing amount of plastic pollution that affects health and behaviour. This is a multidisciplinary project, where students can contribute in a multiple ways, from exploring and educating public knowledge on the effects of plastic pollution and observing animal behaviour to analysing microplastic content.

Pain and Delay Discounting

Supervisor: Dr Nils Niederstrasser

This project will examine whether acute pain causes changes in delay discounting behaviour. Delay discounting is when a reward declines in value the longer it takes to get to its receipt. Across a variety of species, populations, and reward types, such as money and pain, value declines hyperbolically with delay. So, people are more likely to want to receive £200 now than £350 later.

Pain appears to be associated with a greater extent of delay discounting. However, previous studies have examined the relationship using only correlational methodology. The exact sequence of events has therefore not been determined. Pain may cause individuals to care less about future pain or monetary rewards more readily, or those who tend to care less about waiting might be more prone to chronic pain. This could happen through mechanisms such as poor diet, little exercise, or increased drug use, which are all linked to both greater impatience and a higher risk of chronic pain.

This study will investigate this causal link. Participants will be invited to two testing sessions, during which they will place their hands in cold and warm water, while concurrently completing computer-based delay discounting tasks pertaining to money and pain.

How was your visit to the museum? The effects of subsequent caregiver-child interactions on long- term learning from museum visits

Supervisor: Dr Eszter Somogyi

Understanding the impact of families have on children's learning experiences in museums is an important focus for developmental science research. Few studies to date have looked at how conversations at home, following a visit, impact children’s learning and long-term memory of the event.

This project will experimentally investigate how parental conversation strategies, particularly the depth of parent-child memory discussions after the visit, can shape children’s developing skills for learning academic content. The findings will contribute to efforts to design practical conversational guides for caregivers that consolidate children's memory and learning following informal educational situations and sessions at the museum.                                                                                         

Do children understand the language of social touch?

Supervisor: Dr Eszter Somogyi

Is there a standardised, intuitively understood language of social touch? Touch is a powerful communication tool, but we have a limited understanding of children's ability to interpret social touch.

In this study, we'll explore how children interpret nonverbal social messages such as love, attention, happiness, sadness, gratitude, and calming conveyed by a sender touching the child's forearm. Adults seem to intuitively understand such messages even when they are conveyed by strangers, similar to the way that emojis rely on a common understanding of facial expressions.                                                                                                                                                                                     

Validation of communicative signals as indicators of affective valence in primates (or animals)

Supervisor: Dr Teresa Romero and Dr Jerome Micheletta

Currently, animal welfare frameworks conceptualise emotions based on their affective valence (positive vs negative emotions) and arousal level (high vs low emotions). There has been significant research into emotional arousal indicators in animals, especially regarding stress and fear. However, studies on indicators of valence are comparatively limited, and assessing the valence of affective states has proven to be challenging, especially in wild animals.

Communicative signals, including facial movements, vocalisations, and body postures, are promising candidates for markers of affective valence, but existing attempts to use them as indicators of affective valence are often descriptive and rely on untested assumptions. In this project we will use a novel multimodal approach to assess emotional valence, which involves examining properties of communicative signals that are universal to all social species. The validation of such approach will have important implications for the field of animal affective science and animal welfare.

Acceptability of Digital Health Technology in people with Chronic Kidney Disease

Supervisor: Dr Daphne Kaklamanou and Dr Miznah Al-Abbadey

Digital technology has been widely used in clinical settings because it has shown to be efficient, effective and cost saving (Butcher and Hussain, 2022). For digital health technology to be effectively adopted in CKD care, it is important to understand patients’ and healthcare professionals’ attitude towards digital healthcare. Reluctance towards technology use in CKD care can negatively affect the main objectives of technology in healthcare and even put patients at risk (Alqudah et al., 2021). There has also been little research focusing on the attitudes towards using digital health technology in CKD care. Hence, this systematic review aims to explore what patients and healthcare professionals think about using digital technology to care for CKD.

Understanding public perceptions of innovative energy technologies

Supervisor: Dr Chris Jones

The Department of Psychology is currently linked to several projects looking into the development of energy technologies that will assist in decarbonising society. These include innovations in EV charging, residential heating, geological nuclear waste disposal, and the use of hydrogen to power our economy. A core part of these projects is understanding societal perspectives and attitudes towards these technologies. This recognises that the social acceptance of technologies can have significant implications for their 'real world' deployment and success. There are many interesting questions relating to the nature and antecedents of societal acceptance of different technologies, in different contexts, and among different social actors (publics, business/industry, policy-makers). I am seeking to supervise projects that will have a focus on exploring these questions. 

The influence of acute alcohol intoxication on face recognition: the distracting effects of external facial features

Supervisor: Dr Alistair Harvey

A growing body of work suggests that consuming alcohol both reduces cognitive capacity and narrows the scope of attention. The aim of this project is to explore the implications of that deficit in the context of face learning.

When we view a new face, its external features, such as the hairstyle, capture our attention because they serve as important cues for recognising that person later. But recent evidence suggests that intoxicated viewers may focus so narrowly on peripheral face features that they are less able than sober counterparts to accurately encode the centre of the new face (i.e., eyes, nose, mouth, etc.), leading to an increase in false identifications (e.g., Harvey and Tomlinson, 2021).

We will develop this work by tracking the eye movements of alcohol intoxicated and sober participants as they study sequences of new faces (with manipulated external features) in the context of a face recognition task. Findings from this work will have important implications for evaluating the accuracy of drunken eyewitness testimony.

Variation in individual prosocial and inequity aversion tendencies in macaques

Supervisor: Dr Teresa Romero

Examining prosocial tendencies and reactions to unfair situations in animals is crucial not only to understand the evolutionary origins of human behaviour, but also to shed light on the complexity of cooperation and fairness in humans. This also explores the factors driving diverse perspectives on what is considered to be fair and how language and culture play roles shaping these notions.

Previous studies have shown that animals can behave prosocially and react to unequal outcomes. However, when animals are tested, not all individuals show prosocial preferences or react to inequity, or if they do, they do not do it in all contexts (e.g. with an audience present). Although this is a consistent pattern across studies, the variation in individual prosocial and inequity aversion tendencies are poorly understood. This project will analyse these individual variations using existing data from controlled field-studies in wild Japanese macaques.

Spider cognition

Supervisor: Dr Teresa Romero and Dr Lena Grinsted

The main hypotheses explaining the evolution of cognition tend to argue that selective pressures from an individual's social and ecological environment are responsible for complex cognitive abilities. These hypotheses have been tested mainly using evidence from a limited number of vertebrate species.

This project will focus on the cognitive abilities of a non-vertebrate model with a miniature brain: Spiders. Despite their lower neural capacity, spiders can have complex, flexible behaviours and can even have the ability to process information before it reaches their central nervous system. Furthermore, their diverse lifestyles and ecology make them an ideal system for comparative research.

This project will focus on web building spiders’ learning abilities, but specific aims could be tailored to suit interests.

Using eye tracking to learn more about eyewitness (mis)identifications

Supervisor: Dr Stefana Juncu

Police investigators worldwide use line-ups to test whether a suspect is guilty or not, by relying on the eyewitnesses’ memory of the culprit. Misidentifications of innocent suspects from police line-ups are a consequential and dangerous issue in our justice system.

A key objective of the proposed research is to extend the existing literature on identification procedures by examining the effects of different line-up procedures on eyewitness accuracy. Using an experimental approach, we will test how including different members to a line-up decreases the risk of innocent suspect identifications. Sometimes looking at identification decisions alone does not tell the complete story. Using eye tracking technology, we will also look at participants’ gaze behaviour to further our understanding of how eyewitnesses make these decisions.

Improving missing persons appeals

Supervisor: Dr Stefana Juncu

In the UK alone 325,171 missing people incidents were reported in 2019/2020, meaning that a person was recorded missing every two minutes (National Crime Agency, 2021). When a person goes missing, the police or other non-governmental organisations usually distribute appeals asking the public to be on the lookout for that individual and to report any sighting to the authorities. Social scientists have conceptualised this process as a prospective person memory task, and used experimental designs to highlight some of its difficulties (Lampinen et al., 2009).

The overarching aim of this project will be to find ways of improving performance on this task, particularly focusing on manipulating the information provided in the appeals.

Exploring the impact of gender stereotypical activities on skill development in nursery children

Supervisor: Dr Kagari Shibazaki

The activities that very young children engage in has been shown to have a major impact on the development of particular skills, and whilst young boys and girls may be provided with equal opportunities and encouragement to play with identical resources, how they play, and the skills they develop through that play are in fact very different (Dinella and Weisgram, 2018; Shibazaki and Marshall, forthcoming). Hence, access to the same toys can also mean the development of different skills, values and attitudes, a factor that can subsequently impact on the decisions children make and limit the opportunities they feel able to take advantage of in later life (Blakemore and Centers, 2005; Marshall and Shibazaki, 2012, 2020).

Therefore, a better understanding of the development of potentially limiting gender stereotypes, and more specifically, how they may affect children and how they play in the early years, is a crucial element to address given the inequalities that can result from inappropriate stereotypical attitudes.

Is seeing really believing?: Preferential looking as an indicator of stereotypical attitude

Supervisor: Dr Kagari Shibazaki

Gender stereotypes can be seen as generalisations of what men and women are like (Hentschel et al., 2019) and previous research suggests that by the age of three, children have already developed a range of well-established gender stereotypical beliefs (Marshall and Shibazaki, 2020).

Although current research has demonstrated some awareness of the stereotypical attitudes which very young children have towards a number of cultural artefacts such as toys and colours, there is a significant gap in our knowledge of how stereotypical thinking develops during the early years, what experiences impact on their development and how to effectively challenge those 'inappropriate' attitudes that may impact development and ultimately, the life choices available to them.

Through the use of preferential looking, this proposed pilot study will further explore the presence of gender stereotypes in very young children from different social and cultural backgrounds. 

The use of human-technology interaction in conservation education

Supervisor: Dr Marine Joly, Dr Teresa Romero and Dr Jerome Micheletta

New immersive interfaces, such as virtual reality or interactive holograms, have unique attributes that can enhance episodic memory (i.e. memory of everyday events) and associated emotions, and therefore can facilitate learning.

This project will evaluate the use of such interactive experiences when applied to conservation education, examining audience engagement at zoos/museums, knowledge acquisition and attitude changes toward critically endangered species and conservation programmes. This research would help to support future conservation-led public engagement projects, as a resource for others across the UK but also around the world. This project is a collaboration with Argenis Ramirez Gomez, Centre for Creative and Immersive eXtended Reality (CCIXR).

The development of thinking skills in undergraduates

Supervisor: Dr Nina Attridge

University study is thought to develop transferrable skills in addition to subject-specific skills, but there is little empirical evidence for this. In this project we would compare thinking skills (e.g. reasoning and critical thinking) in undergraduates from different degree programmes (e.g. psychology, mathematics, computer science, English) in their first and final year of study. This would allow us to see whether undergraduates do develop transferrable skills, and whether this happens more in some subjects than in others.

Odour Cognition in domestic dogs: “See what smells”

Supervisor: Dr Juliane Kaminski (University of Portsmouth), Professor Anna Wikinson (University of Lincoln) and Dr Helen Zulch (University of Lincoln)

Domestic dogs have extremely well developed olfactory capabilities. They can learn to distinguish and detect a wide variety of odours, which is why dogs are used for scent detection in a range of contexts. One exciting area of research to explore is whether dogs’ olfactory processing and their visual cognition are in any way linked. Recent research suggests that dogs might hold a visual representation of the odour they pick up (e.g., Braeuer and Blasi, 2021).

In the current project, you'll explore whether dogs benefit from receiving visual information about an odour, while learning to differentiate odours. In most training scenarios, dogs learn to distinguish odours from objects without getting visual information about the objects. This project will investigate whether additional visual information might help dogs learn particularly low volatility odours (a) more rapidly, more accurately and with better memory for the odour and (b) does pairing odour with visual information allow dogs to more accurately identify a target odour against a background of other mixtures.

You'll conduct your work at the Dog Cognition Centre Portsmouth.

Experience in handling dogs and an understanding of applied learning theory would be beneficial.

Please contact for further information.

How do children and adults experience the stress of others? A behavioural and physiological exploration of stress transmission

Supervisor: Dr Sophie Milward

Children of stressed parents exhibit higher responses to stress themselves, and have a higher risk of developing mental health disorders. However, the underlying behavioural and cognitive mechanisms of such second-hand stress transmission is unknown.

Here, we will test whether children and adults are sensitive to the nonverbal behaviours associated with stress in adults. Using an experimental paradigm, we will measure children’s (aged 4-8 years) and adults’ perception and cognitive understanding of mild stress behaviours (e.g. scratching, face touching), as well as their physiological and emotional stress during exposure to these behaviours.

The findings will have important implications for the role of adult behaviour in the development of children’s health and wellbeing, and contribute to our understanding of the fundamental role of nonverbal behaviour in human social interaction. These preliminary data will be used to build a broader theoretical framework about the social transmission of stress.

Beyond the dyad: Task co-representation of multiple co-actors

Supervisor: Dr Sophie Milward

Cooperation is so deeply embedded in human psychology that we spontaneously track a partner’s task as well as our own when acting in a pair. This automatic ‘co-representation’ of a partner’s mental representation of their task has been argued to be key to the sophisticated social coordination we see in human adults. However, our day-to-day encounters are not limited to one-to-one interactions.

This will be the first study to investigate co-representation in groups, and whether there are limits on the number of people we can track at once. Further, we will test two competing theoretical accounts – the Co-representation Account and the Referential Coding Account – which make different predictions regarding tracking of group members who are physically closer or more distant from us.

This will provide key information about the limits of our capacity to keep others in mind, and the psychological underpinnings of how we do so.

Using network science to study facial expressions in macaques

Supervisor: Dr Jérôme Micheletta

In this project, we will combine the Facial Action Coding System (an anatomically based system designed to break-down facial expressions into their most basic observable units, the contraction of individual facial muscles) with Social Network Analysis (a method to measure relationships between units in a system) to study facial expressions in macaques.

Using NetFACS, facial expressions will be conceptualised as a network of facial muscles, interacting to produce communication, and compared across species and/or context to better understand the complexity of communication via the face.

Conservation education in Tangkoko Nature Reserve, Indonesia

Supervisor: Dr Jérôme Micheletta

Sulawesi is one of the biodiversity hotspots due to its location within the Wallacea region. The 7 endemic macaque species are of extraordinary importance for the understanding of primate evolution, but little is known about them from the wild. Due to habitat destruction and poaching, all are threatened by extinction with crested macaques being critically endangered.

The Macaca Nigra Project and its conservation education branch, Tangkoko Conservation Education are running interventions in schools around the Tangkoko Nature Reserve. This project would use long-term data to evaluate the efficacy of the project and provide recommendations for future activities.

The importance of contextual information on the perception of facial expressions

Supervisor: Dr Jérôme Micheletta

Facial expressions are crucial to navigate our social world. However, very often they are studied in isolation from other sources of information such as body postures, gestures, or vocalisations, despite clear evidence that these can dramatically change how we perceive facial expressions and what information we gain from them.

This project will use experiments in which different facial expressions are paired with different body postures and/or different vocalisations to examine the importance of contextual information on the perception of facial expressions.

Alcohol and 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 the use of these positive expressions during great ape social play.

How to reduce the impact of misinformation on memory and beliefs

Supervisor: Dr Hartmut Blank

Misinformation is abundant these days, and has been shown to have negative effects on (eyewitness) memory, as well as on people's beliefs more broadly. This project explores ways to limit these negative effects.

That's offensive!

Supervisor: Dr Ed Morrison

Offence is one reason for curbs to free speech, and for self-censorship. However, there are grey areas as to what constitutes "offensive". This project would empirically explore what people find offensive with examples ranging from jokes to theories to artworks. People's own judgements will be compared against what they think others' judgements will be to see if they are accurate, or if they over or underestimate offence. A further idea is to experimentally test how adding humour changes people's perceptions of offensive statements.

Priorities and prejudice

Supervisor: Dr Ed Morrison

Implicit association tests (IATs) have long been used in psychology to measure people's unconscious biases and associations, including biases against age, sex, race and so on, albeit controversially. But which of these biases is stronger than the other? This project will create modified IATs to quantitatively answer this question by pitting stimuli against each other that belong to multiple categories simultaneously.

Which students choose to take work placements?

Supervisors: Dr Julie Udell

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 and 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.

Other Research Projects

Find out more about current research projects in science and health:

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.