Self-funded PhD Opportunities

Understanding The Psychobiological Mechanisms That Influence Binge Drinking Behaviour

  • Application end date: Applications accepted all year-round
  • Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
  • Department: Department of Psychology
  • PhD Supervisor: Dr Lorenzo Stafford, Dr Alistair Harvey, and Dr James Ost

Project code: PSYC3761018

Project in brief

The overall aims of this project are to examine the mechanisms that influence binge drinking and to explore effective methods to reduce this harmful behaviour.  To achieve these aims, the project has the following measurable objectives: 1) Complete experiments to isolate the internal mechanisms that influence binge drinking and its relation to alcohol sensitivity 2) Compare drinking behaviour between those low/high in alcohol sensitivity 3) Explore how novel alcohol warning labels influence binge drinking behaviour; 4) Using data from the previous experiments, develop and assess the accuracy of a screening tool to identify those at risk (i.e. less able to detect the effects of alcohol).

Project in detail

The European Union has the highest alcohol consumption of any region in the world, with average daily consumption double the global average (WHO, 2012) which brings a number of serious health risks including liver cirrhosis, cancers and cardiovascular disease.  In England alone, during 2013-4 there were over one million hospital admissions due to alcohol related problems; an amount that is rising steadily, in addition to the number of deaths associated to alcohol (HSCIC 2015).  One particularly hazardous aspect of alcohol consumption is binge drinking, where large volumes of alcohol[1] are consumed in a very short period of time, which increases the health and safety risks to the individual and costs to society.  Understanding more about the mechanisms influencing this behaviour and the effectiveness of strategies to reduce binge drinking are the focus of this PhD programme.  This project will use an experimental approach to examine the differences in individuals’ capacity to detect the sensory (including alcohol taste), behavioural (intoxicating) and cognitive (attention and memory) changes that occur during alcohol consumption.  It will further reveal whether the speed of alcohol consumption differs as a function of alcohol sensitivity, which is important since the same quantity of alcohol drunk in a short versus longer period of time will have dramatically different effects on behaviour and cognition.  The research will then test the effectiveness of using strong[2] health warning labels in reducing binge drinking in both an experimental and field study.  Finally, the data from these studies will help develop a screening test for individuals less sensitive to alcohol, thereby helping to identify those at an elevated risk.  The project will therefore have significant theoretical and practical benefits.  In terms of the latter, a central focus of the UK government’s alcohol strategy is to reduce binge drinking; this project will provide the science and the evidence to help achieve that aim. 

[1]Defined as consuming eight or more units in males/six or more units in females, on at least one day.

[2] Explicit text/graphical references to damage resulting from excess alcohol consumption, used in previous work [5]  

Supervisor profiles

Dr Lorenzo Stafford 

Dr Alistair Harvey 

Dr James Ost 

Entry requirements

Candidates must have a good honours degree or equivalent in a relevant subject or a master’s degree in an appropriate subject. Exceptionally, equivalent professional experience and/or qualifications will be considered. Please see the Key Facts section on your preferred research degree page for basic entry requirements.


Informal enquiries are welcome and can be made to Dr Lorenzo stafford on 02392 846322 ( or Dr Alistair Harvey on 02392 846351(

Formal enquiries can be made to the faculty via the enquiry form on the subject specific pages.

How to Apply

To apply, please submityour CV, a one-page letter of application, two references, copies of any relevant qualifications and evidence of IELTS if required.

All applications should use our standard online application form and follow the instructions given under the ‘Research Degrees’ heading on the following webpages:

When applying please note the project code – PSYC3761018

More information on research in the Department of Psychology can be found here: