New PhD: Affective forecasts and biodiversity renewal

A new fully-funded four year PhD studentiship is availible to work with Lewis, Becca and Professor Kevin Gaston. It will focus on understanding how people respond to changes in biodiversity and will be one of at least nine other PhDs associated with the NERC funded Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach (RENEW) project.

The studentship

Biodiversity is in crisis, and often needs not simply to be protected but to be renewed. Important in addressing this situation is understanding how people respond to such changes. Previous research has demonstrated that hypothetical increases in biodiversity elicit stronger human emotional reactions than do equivalent decreases. However, the findings were limited in several ways: scenarios were realistic but hypothetical, were restricted to environmental framing of these issues (as opposed to e.g. health or economic framing), and ignored the ‘appropriateness’ of the biodiversity changes (e.g. whether the species were invasive). In addition, variations in geographic and cultural context could not be explored.

Importantly, this previous research looked at people’s expectations of how biodiversity gains and losses might make them feel. However, humans find it difficult to predict how future changes will impact their emotions and, therefore, their behavioural responses. This latter point refers to ‘affective forecasting’, the difficulty of predicting how situations will affect you emotionally. It has been shown, for example, that we underestimate the positive effects of nature experience on our emotions. Furthermore, making positive emotional judgements about increases in biodiversity may not compel conservation behaviours – conversely this may lead to inaction due to the perception that solutions have already been initiated.

This interdisciplinary studentship will tackle these important issues in understanding how people respond to changes in biodiversity, using several potential approaches:

  • Experimentally testing communications which vary the framing of biodiversity renewal efforts to test the extent to which this impacts affective judgements and support for renewal efforts.
  • With real-life biodiversity renewal scenarios, testing whether affective judgements about renewal are associated with proximity to the site, recreational behaviours, or cultural acceptability of the renewal project.
  • Using longitudinal data collection efforts (in collaboration with Natural England) relating to the human ‘beneficiaries’ of biodiversity renewal projects. This could test the extent to which people’s ex ante affective expectations regarding the impact of biodiversity renewal are matched ex post by the reality of those changes, and how such (mis)predictions impact future support for renewal projects.

Understanding how humans perceive renewal scenarios, and the parameters which most strongly affect their emotional responses to realistic changes in biodiversity will help partners’ and agencies’ engagement efforts by allowing them to target messaging to groups of individuals differently. It will also help partners’ and agencies’ adopt delivery strategies which respond to the realisation, or not, of expectations during the project lifecycle.

Lead Supervisor:

Dr Lewis Elliott – University of Exeter Medical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Health.


Dr Rebecca Lovell – University of Exeter Medical School, European Centre for Environment and Human Health.

Professor Kevin Gaston – College of Life and Environmental SciencesBiosciences, University of Exeter.

The RENEW project and studentships

The ‘Renewing biodiversity through a people-in-nature approach’ (RENEW) project will work with landowners, businesses, and communities to restore woodlands, wetlands and farmland across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. The project will put people at the centre of action on biodiversity renewal and build expertise across different sectors and communities to address the environment and climate crises.

The RENEW project is inherently interdisciplinary and encompasses biosciences, social sciences, politics, humanities, environmental intelligence, biodiversity economics, and conservation and is being managed in collaboration with the National Trust. In addition the project is working alongside 33 project partners to deliver its aims.

A principal goal of the RENEW Studentships programme is to create a new generation of interdisciplinary, solutions-focussed researchers who have experienced a rich culture including fundamental research and engagement with key partners.

The RENEW programme has nine fully funded studentships available for January 2023 entry.

A fully funded RENEW studentship will cover:

  • A stipend for 4 years (currently £16,062 for 2022-23 entry) in line with the UK Research and Innovation rates
  • Payment of the university tuition fees
  • Research and Training costs

Eligibility for funding

RENEW studentships are open to UK and Irish nationals who, if successful in their applications, will receive a full studentship including payment of university tuition fees at the home fees rate.

A limited number of full studentships are also available to international students, which are defined as EU (excluding Irish nationals), EEA, Swiss, and all other non-UK nationals.

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD.  The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Entry requirements

Applicants should have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in an appropriate discipline to the project.  Applicants with a Lower Second Class degree will be considered if they also have Master’s degree or have significant relevant non-academic experience.

If English is not your first language, you would need to meet our English language requirements by the start of the project

How to apply

To apply for the project please visit the Studentship page

The closing date for applications is Wednesday 18th May 2022 2359 GMT.  Interviews will be held week commencing 20th June 2022.

In the application process, you will be asked to upload several documents.  Please note our preferred format is PDF, each file named with your surname and the name of the document, eg. “Smith – CV.pdf”, “Smith – Cover Letter.pdf”, “Smith – Transcript.pdf”.

  • CV
  • Letter of application outlining your academic interests, prior research experience, and reasons for wishing to undertake the project.
  • Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained.  This should be an interim transcript if you are still studying.
  • If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country, you will need to submit evidence of your current proficiency in English.

Reference Information

You will be asked to name two referees as part of the application process, please ensure that you include this information, and where possible upload the reference documents.  Your referees should not be from the prospective supervisory team.

  • Please note that we will not be contacting referees to request references, if you do not upload them at the time of submitting your application you must arrange for them to be submitted to us by the application deadline.
  • If your named referee would prefer to send us their document directly please ask them to forward the documents to
  • References should be submitted by your referees to us directly in the form of a letter.  Referees must email their references to us from their institutional email accounts.  We cannot accept references from personal/private email accounts, unless it is a scanned document on institutional headed paper and signed by the referee.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email
Project-specific queries should be directed to Dr Lewis Elliott

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