Research Questions

How does motivation interface with cognition and behaviour
The main research questions of my lab concern the interface of motivation with cognition and behaviour. For example, when motivational state changes, say from hunger to satiety, what effect does this have on attention and memory, and on goal-directed behaviour? More fundamentally, what psychological processes determine our behaviour? Are we consciously aware of the motives underlying our choices? In what way do motives make incentives salient? I use cognitive behavioural paradigms to address these questions and incorporate autonomic measures of arousal where appropriate. In the past I have also used fMRI to explore the neural systems and processes underlying motivation-cognition interactions.


  1. Food motivation and cognition – in what ways do hunger and desire influence inhibitory control and goal selection? [Projects funded by Wales Institute for Cognitive Neuroscience.]
  2. Hierarchical motivational control through cortico-striatal circuits – There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that distinct neural circuits passing through the basal ganglia process motivational, cognitive and motor-control aspects of goal-directed behaviour. The exact nature of these circuits and how they communicate is not precisely known.
  3. Motivation-cognition conflict: will power and decision-making – when motivational signals conflict with cognitive goals how is behaviour resolved? [Projects funded by the ESRC.]
  4. Dual-process theories of motivational control – It has been argued that parallel implicit and explicit systems compete for behavioural control. Certainly, in the motive literature, it has been argued that implicit motive strength accounts for our everyday spontaneous behaviour. As such, is much of our daily routine behaviour stimulus-bound – do we underestimate the power of environmental triggers in controlling our behaviour? Dual-process theories of motivational control attempt to provide theoretical accounts for will power, addictions and the inner motives behind our goal direction. [Projects funded by WICN.]
  5. Equivalence of motives – When we are hungry food becomes more salient and we are more likely to adopt food-related goals. Once sated, our goals are re-prioritized accordingly. Is this also true for ‘higher order’ motives systems such as Power, Affiliation and Achievement?


Positive Motivation

  1. Flow, fluency and optimal performance – Flow is an intriguing concept. It is much discussed but difficult to study empirically. Some would argue that it does not exist as a qualitatively distinct state of consciousness. Is it possible to define through empirical quantitative study? Does it truly optimize performance? And if so, can it be promoted in athletic, educational and workplace domains? [Projects funded by KESS.]
  2. Attribution and confidence – What is confidence? Can it be studied empirically? What is the relationship between attributional style, self-efficacy and confidence? Can confidence be trained? [Projects funded by KESS.]
  3. Resilience (optimism, attribution and mood) – Some individuals seem to thrive on challenge, others show growth following trauma. Resilience is a complex psychological concept that deserves greater study. What are the critical components of resilience? Can they be taught?


Applied Positive Psychology
The above research is applied, where possible, to real-world situations. John is an enthusiastic supporter of ‘third mission’ work, bringing psychological research and findings to a wider public audience. He is also keen to collaborate with organizations and industry to realize the potential of findings in motivational research. Such projects include:
Happiness in primary schools – an intervention project to help primary school children make the most out of school – promote well-being and happiness in kids. [Part of the Resilience project.]
Flow in the workplace – studying the nature of flow experiences in workplace settings. Is it good, does it optimize performance? [Part of the flow project.]


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