New European Award on Self Control and the Brain

CUBRIC is pleased to announce that Chris Chambers has been successful in his application for a Consolidator grant funded by the European Research Council. The project, to commence in late 2015, provides €2M over five years to study the psychology and neurobiology of self-control training in eating behaviour. The studies will focus particularly on weight loss in individuals with a body mass index in the overweight or obese range, which now make up more than 50% of the European population.

“Overweight and obesity are a global health crisis that is worsening every year. This calls for a deeper understanding of the psychology and neuroscience of self control – knowledge which may allow us to combat the problem at source.”

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The first part of the project includes a mass online study, undertaken in collaboration with the Guardian. Together, CUBRIC and the Guardian will be establishing the Guardian Experiments platform, a section of the news website where members of the public will be able to participate in research studies.

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Chambers, who also co-hosts the Guardian psychology blog Headquarters, explains, “The first use of the Guardian Experiments platform will be to compare seven different forms of self-control training on eating behaviour and cognition. This will be the largest study of its kind, calling for more than 35,000 participants worldwide to take part in a 90-day trial and recording changes in body weight, eating choices, cognition and attitudes toward food. We want to know what works in self-control training, who it works best for, and how we can adapt training to individual needs.”

The second part of the project will seek to understand how self-control training changes brain structure and function. Participants from around the UK who completed the online training study will be brought to CUBRIC to undertake a range of structural and functional brain scans, measuring changes in neurochemistry, metabolism, and connections between brain regions. The project will also investigate the potential of electrical brain stimulation methods to enhance self-control and the benefits of training.

“Overweight and obesity are a global health crisis that is worsening every year.
This calls for a deeper understanding of the psychology and neuroscience of self control – knowledge which may allow us to combat the problem at source.”

Chambers said, “I’m excited about this project for a number of different reasons. First, self-control training is an important but immature area of research – to date the literature is dominated by small, low-powered laboratory studies, when what we need are large-scale randomised trials to compare different approaches in the real world. Second, our study will represent one of the first formal research links between a major UK university and a major media outlet in the advancement of empirical science, paving the way for this ‘citizen science’ model in the future. Third, we will be taking full advantage of the very latest brain imaging technology at CUBRIC to explore how training changes the brain – including 7T MRI and specialised microstructural scanning. And finally, the entire project will be undertaken according to the principles of Open Science, including public pre-registration of all research protocols and free sharing of anonymised data with the public.”

The project brings together an expert collaborative team from across the UK covering specialists from physics to social psychology. Collaborators include Frederick Verbruggen and Natalia Lawrence (University of Exeter), Petroc Sumner, John Evans, Derek Jones, and Tony Manstead (Cardiff University), Pete Etchells (Bath Spa University and the Guardian) and James Randerson (Assistant National News Editor at the Guardian).

From 2016 the team will also be recruiting for two post-doctoral positions (3-4 years each) and a PhD studentship, so stay tuned for updates!