Bournemouth University Fully-Funded PhD Studentship - Development of a Smartphone App to Investigate Stress and Eating Behaviours 2017, UK

Publish Date: Aug 25, 2017

Deadline: Oct 18, 2017

PhD Studentship - Development of a smartphone app to investigate stress and eating behaviours

Aims: This project aims firstly to develop and validate a novel smartphone application for the assessment of both acute and chronic stress during everyday life. Secondly, the project will utilise this application to investigate associations between stress and eating behaviour.

Rationale: Chronic stress, often as a result of long-lasting and sustained acute stress, is currently estimated to affect 20-40% of European populations with impacts on health, society and the economy (1). Both acute and chronic stress during everyday life are typically currently assessed using mood diaries and questionnaires (1). These measures, however, due to their explicit nature, can suffer from numerous issues, particularly those associated with impression management. More objective assessments of stress include biological measures such as heart rate response and cortisol levels, but these assessments can be intrusive and expensive (1). Recent work also demonstrates the objective assessment of stress using implicit measures such as reaction time, attention orientation and distraction, but these measures are often constrained by the need for computers (2,3). This project seeks firstly to develop an innovative smartphone application to combine these implicit measures of stress with the mood diaries and questionnaires typically used. Secondly, this project will utilise this application to investigate the association between stress and eating behaviour in everyday life. This investigation will allow further validation of the novel application, and extend current understanding of the impacts of stress on eating. Stress is currently known to impact on eating behaviours and diet, resulting in increased snacking behaviour and increases in sugar and fat consumption (4,5), but these findings are heavily confounded by the use of limited methodology as above. Further explanations for these associations are also required. Recent findings, for example, demonstrate impacts of stress on sweet taste perception and various cognitive functions such as attention towards food stimuli and food categorization (discriminability and inductive reasoning about food) (e.g.6-8).

Methods: The work will be undertaken in a series of studies: Study 1 – review of current methods for the assessment of both acute and chronic stress; Study 2 – development of a novel smartphone application and validation against biological measures (redevelopment of the app may also be required); Study 3 / Study 4 – investigation of eating behaviour in everyday life in association with both acute stress (Study 3) and chronic stress (Study 4). Further studies will then investigate the effects found in Studies 3 and 4, in depth, to investigate mechanisms/explanations, and/or effects in specific populations.

The PhD studentship is funded by Bournemouth University, UK, and the Institut Paul Bocuse, France. The PhD is based in Bournemouth, UK, but travel to and work in France will be possible.

The Candidate: The project would be suitable for individuals with interests in stress, eating and health. Prior knowledge of smartphone application development is not required, but some computing or programming skills and experience would be desirable. All candidates must satisfy the University’s minimum doctoral entry criteria for studentships.

Academic Impact

The proposed work will result firstly in a novel and validated smartphone application for the measurement of stress during everyday life. This will be of potential use and benefit for a range of academic researchers working in the field of stress. The validation study (Study 2) will also result in increased understanding of the relationships between subjective, implicit and objective measures and of the value of subjective and implicit measures in place of objective measures. The work is based on recent developments on implicit measures of stress, and seeks to extend these of benefit to the entire field. Secondly, all later studies will extend current understanding of the links between stress and eating behaviour, with the aim of increasing understanding, developing future interventions, and improving population health. Limited work is currently available in this field, predominantly due to the difficulties involved in the use of traditional measures. We anticipate at least three peer-reviewed academic papers in addition to the mobile phone application, as outcomes of the project. Publications will be targeted to Psychology and Health journals. Presentations will also be given at Psychology or Health conferences depending on suitability and timing.

Societal Impact

The work will be of interest to all those with an interest in improved health, both from a stress perspective and from a healthy eating perspective. The project has clear potential to improve the health and quality of life of entire populations, with potential impacts also on the social environment and economy. Poor nutrition and poor health are known to impact not just on the individual suffering, and not just on their health care requirements, but also on their family and immediate society, and also on wellbeing, abilities to contribute to society and abilities to contribute to the economy. To improve the societal impact of the project, the work will be undertaken following recruitment of individuals from workplace settings, and may be extended to include individuals with diagnosed stress-related and anxiety disorders (dependent on contacts). The Government, a wide variety of health and human resource professionals and professional bodies, and the population as a whole will benefit from increased understanding of stress, the relations between stress and eating behaviour and diet, and the evidence for possible future interventions. The findings of the project could result in an extension of the application for personal use, and for the development of interventions.

Training Opportunities

Standard training, as provided by Bournemouth University Doctoral College will be provided for the student. Additional training opportunities will also be available via the work to be completed and environment in which the work will be undertaken. The work will be undertaken under the supervision of individuals with expertise in application development, stress, stress disorders and eating behaviour from Bournemouth University and from the Institut Paul Bocuse, Lyon, France. The 3-year programme of work has been specifically designed to include a range of methodologies (questionnaire, biological, computer, diary) and appropriate analyses, where possible. The student will benefit from direct experience and guidance in all these methodologies. The student will also be encouraged to attend group meetings of the Research Centre for Behaviour Change, and present their work at conferences, e.g. the Annual Meeting of the British Feeding and Drinking Group, and at public engagement events. Each of the studies will be undertaken as separate stand-alone studies, to be disseminated at conferences and published throughout the project, as possible. Training in Research Methods and Advanced Research Methods will be undertaken in Year 1. Training in research discussion and dissemination will be undertaken throughout the entire project.


Candidates for a PhD Studentship should demonstrate outstanding qualities and be motivated to complete a PhD in 3 years. For fully funded studentship candidates must demonstrate outstanding academic potential with preferably a 1st class honours degree and/or a Master’s degree with distinction or equivalent Grade Point Average. An IELTS (Academic) score of 6.5 minimum (with a minimum 5.5 in each component) is essential for candidates for whom English is not their first language. In addition to satisfying basic entry criteria, BU will look closely at the qualities, skills and background of each candidate and what they can bring to their chosen research project in order to ensure successful completion.

Additional Eligibility

Honours and/or Masters Degrees must be in an appropriate discipline: Psychology, Nutrition, Public Health, Cognitive Science, Human Computer Interaction or Computing. Prior knowledge of smartphone application development is not required, but some computing experience would be desirable.

The successful candidate must be able to take up the post in Bournemouth on Monday 22nd January, 2018.

For more information please click "Further Official Information" below.


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