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PhD Fellowship in Behavioural Science -Dr Sam Johnson

PhD Fellowship in Behavioural Science in the Department of Psychology at the University of Warwick

Supervisor: Dr Sam Johnson (Behavioural Science Group)

Project: Folk-Economic Theories, Moral Psychology, and the Cognitive Science of Society

This PhD project is in the broad field of high-level cognition and behavioural science. Potential topics include (but are not limited to) moral psychology, decision-making, causal reasoning, intuitive theories, social cognition, and behavioural economics.

A particular area of interest is in how people make sense of the economy and social institutions. First, what mental models or folk theories do people apply to the economy? (Possible research questions include: When do people think that economic transactions are positive-sum versus zero-sum? What impacts do people believe that immigration and trade have on labour markets?) Second, what moral values guide our views toward appropriate economic policies? (Possible research questions include: How do policy preferences trade-off different ends that can conflict, such as economic growth, inequality, and environmental considerations? Do people believe that others are morally obligated to vote, even if they have very different policy preferences? How do people think about “noxious” markets, such as markets for transplant kidneys?) The work will draw on cognitive and social psychology theory, as well as insights from anthropology, economics, and history. Although the primary methodology will be experimental, there is scope to also explore other methods such as computational modeling or secondary data analysis. This area of research is not only intellectually exciting but may have potential for tangible policy impacts.

Although folk-economics is currently a major focus of Dr. Johnson’s research, other topics within his general areas of expertise could be suitable for a PhD project, particularly moral judgment and behavioural decision-making. See the publication list below for a sense of the range of possible topics.

The University of Warwick is internationally recognized as an intellectual hub for research in behavioural science and cognitive psychology, with extensive collaboration and research events across Psychology, Economics, and Warwick Business School. PhD students are fully integrated into the intellectual life of the department, and the post-holder would be encouraged to collaborate with other faculty in areas of mutual interest.

Requirements: We seek a highly motivated student with interest in interdisciplinary work and experimental methods. Experience with statistics and experiments are assets. For applicants interested in research in folk-economics, background in economic theory is desirable. Applicants should, as a minimum, have an Upper Second Class undergraduate degree, but preferably a First Class undergraduate degree or a Master’s distinction in Psychology, Economics, or a related field. To apply, include your CV and a short document (2 pages maximum) detailing why you are a suitable candidate, any relevant background or research experience, and a description of your research interests.

Applicants without an existing PhD application with us should apply online through the Graduate School online form:

Applicants who already have an existing PhD application with us should instead complete the online form:

If you have any questions related to this PhD project or would like more details, please contact Dr Samuel Johnson at sam dot g dot b dot johnson at warwick dot ac dot uk. For more information on research and publications, visit:

Related Publications:

  • Johnson, S.G.B., Zhang, J., & Keil, F.C. (preprint). Win–win denial: The psychological underpinnings of zero-sum thinking. [Preprint]
  • Johnson, S.G.B. (preprint). Dimensions of altruism: Do evaluations of charitable behavior track prosocial benefit or personal sacrifice? [Preprint]
  • Johnson, S.G.B., Bilovich, A., & Tuckett, D. (preprint). Conviction narrative theory: A theory of choice under radical uncertainty. [Preprint]
  • Khon, Z., Johnson, S.G.B., & Hang, H. (preprint). Lay theories of manipulation: Do consumers believe they are susceptible to marketers’ trickery? [Preprint]
  • Johnson, S.G.B., & Ahn, J. (2021). Principles of moral accounting: How our intuitive moral sense balances rights and wrongs. Cognition, 206, 104467. [Article]
  • Johnson, S.G.B., Merchant, T., & Keil, F.C. (2020). Belief digitization: Do we treat uncertainty as probabilities or as bits? Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 149, 1417–1434. [Article]
  • Johnson, S.G.B., & Steinerberger, S. (2019). Intuitions about mathematical beauty: A case study in the aesthetic experience of ideas. Cognition, 189, 242–259. [Article] [Coverage in Scientific American] [TEDx talk]
  • De Freitas, J., & Johnson, S.G.B. (2018). Optimality bias in moral judgment. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 79, 149–163. [Article]