Postgraduate Research Opportunity

On the purpose of cognitive reflection


Title: On the purpose of cognitive reflection

Funding: The studentship consists of an annual stipend of £16,062, plus £5,360 to cover home tuition fees, for 36 months.

Application deadline: 8th February 2023 (interviews to take place shortly after the deadline).

Start date: April 2023.

Duration: 3 years (full time)

Location: Colchester Campus

Based in: Department of Psychology


This funded PhD studentship aims to understand how people use reflection when solving word problems.

This PhD studentship is funded as a part of the Leverhulme Trust grant “On the purpose of cognitive reflection” awarded to the listed supervisors. The role of the PhD student will be to prepare, conduct and publish the proposed research. 

The student will join a vibrant department with an active cohort of doctoral students, and supportive team of academics, administrators, and technicians.

We welcome applications from candidates with a background in psychology or related disciplines.

The project

Many would agree that the ability of humans to engage in reflection is what distinguishes us from other animals. However, less agreement exists on why we acquired the ability to reflect and what its main purpose is.

Traditionally, we view the purpose of reflection as to secure better knowledge and increase accuracy to solve problems and make better decisions. But, some scientists have proposed recently that its main purpose is social—to create socially acceptable justifications of the desired, intuitively generated solutions and decisions to sway others efficiently towards your solutions and decisions.

While we can easily imagine, for instance, a business person thinking hard about the reasons that would persuade a potential customer to buy their product, it is harder to imagine a person thinking hard about a word problem only to come up with justifications for their intuitive solutions to the problem to sway others towards their solution. We will test this counter-intuitive suggestion in this proposal.

Specifically, we will investigate the purpose of reflection in solving verbal problems explicitly designed to measure cognitive reflection. These problems prompt appealing but incorrect responses; for example: “A bat and a ball cost £1.10 in total. The bat costs £1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

The appealing answer to this problem is that the ball costs 10 pence. However, this is wrong, and the correct answer is 5 pence.

We will study whether people come up with the correct solution intuitively or after deliberation, and if they justify their answers better after deliberation. Additionally, we will study if there is a correlation between people's ability to solve these problems and their decision-making and beliefs. This will help us understand the function of reflection in solving problems.


The studentship consists of an annual stipend of £16,062, plus £5,360 to cover home tuition fees, for a maximum of 36 months.

Home and international applicants are eligible to apply. International applicants will be liable for Overseas tuition fees, minus the value specified to cover home tuition fees.

PhD students also receive a £2,500 training bursary via Proficio funding, which may be used to cover the cost of advanced skills training including conference attendance and travel.

The successful applicant will enrol at the University of Essex.



  • BSc (2:1 or above) in Psychology or related disciplines
  • Knowledge and experience in experimental research and quantitative analysis in psychology or related discipline


  • MSc/MRes in Psychology or related disciplines
  • Research interest in areas of thinking, reasoning, judgment or decision-making
  • Ability to conduct statistical analysis with R statistical environment
  • Ability to prepare web-based research in Qualtrics

How to apply

You can apply for this postgraduate research opportunity by emailing your application to the lead supervisor, Dr Miroslav Sirota (

Applications MUST include the following documents to be uploaded:

  • Academic CV, including research experience, research skills, publications (if any) and contact details of two academic referees.
  • Covering Letter (maximum 500 words) in support of your application.
  • Transcripts of any undergraduate or master's programmes.

If you have any informal queries about this opportunity, please email the lead supervisor, Dr Miroslav Sirota (

The application deadline for this studentship is 8th February 2023. We anticipate that interviews will take place shortly after.