Dr Suzanne Higgs, pictured with PhD students Iraida Neira and Jason Thomas, is a research psychologist interested in the study of motivated behaviours including eating and drug taking.
‘Our group is interested, broadly speaking, in factors that affect what people eat and how much they eat, and we come at it from two different perspectives: the psychology of eating behaviour, in other words, psychological processes involved in appetite, and that might be learning, memory or attention; and we’re also interested in the kinds of biological processes that underpin these psychological mechanisms – the specific brain areas and neurochemicals that influence our appetite.’
‘This research area in general is obviously very important since, as Iraida and Jason have found in their research, diet has such an impact on health. We are very passionate about trying to understand more about the dietary choices that people make, hopefully with the ultimate aim of trying to be able to help people live healthier lives.'
Iraida’s Masters in Clinical and Health Psychology and interest in heath interventions initially brought her into contact with Suzanne.
‘Suzanne was advertising a really interesting project on obesity and cognition, and from that we’ve been able to explore other areas. In one project I looked at obesity and how that impacts individuals’ quality of life – so things like how depression and anxiety might be impacted more when you enter areas of extreme obesity.’
‘What attracted me to Birmingham is that they have a really strong research background in Psychology, it’s very highly rated. I think if you’re going to pursue postgraduate study, you’ll want to do it at a really high-quality institution.’
Jason’s research is on the psychopharmacology of appetite.
'For me, the fact that there are over half a billion individuals in the world who are obese sparked my interest in this particular area of eating behaviour. I had the option of either providing treatment in clinical settings or researching new interventions, and the latter appealed to me greatly. After searching for opportunities to do a PhD I quickly found Suzanne, who is a world leading expert in eating behaviour, and I discovered that the University had so many facilities to allow me to do a wide variety of research.’
‘The University has great links with the hospital where we can do studies with patients, and run drug studies. We also have our own fMRI scanner allowing us to do a range of neuroimaging studies, which obviously isn’t the case at all UK universities. Overall, the University provides an excellent package of facilities and options for research, and that’s really what’s driven me to do my research here because there are so many possibilities for what I can do during my PhD.’