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Research in the School of Psychology

Economic Psychology Research Group

Introduction | Membership of the group | Links with other universities and research organisations | Research projects

The Economic Psychology research group forms part of the Social, Economic and Organizational Psychology research grouping in the School of Psychology. Although its personnel overlaps strongly with other parts of the group, it has an independent history, and still has its own convenor, its own report series, and its own network of international links. It is in fact one of the longest established research groupings in the School, and was recognized by the university's 1995 review of the department as a model of this kind of formation. As well as teaching and research, members of the group carry out consultancy work, usually through the university's company, Exeter Enterprises, in areas related to our research interests.

Economic Psychology is a relatively rare specialism, and the Exeter Economic Psychology Research Group is the largest group working in this area in the United Kingdom, and one of the largest in the world. Members of the group are active in the International Association for Research in Economic Psychology (IAREP) and in other relevant learned bodies. IAREP's annual conference was held in Exeter in 1990, and its research workshops were held here in 1994 and 1998. The convenor of the group, Stephen Lea, was Editor of the Journal of Economic Psychology, the primary outlet for academic research in the field, from 1991-95. One member of the group, Paul Webley, is currently President of IAREP (1999-2001), and both he and Stephen Lea are past Treasurers of the Association. Another member of the group, Carole Burgoyne, is currently the UK representative on the IAREP Management Board.

If you are interested in training as a researcher in Economic Psychology, the department offers MPhil and PhD degrees, and members of the group are active as supervisors of research students. We also offer an MSc in Economic Psychology, the only such degree  in the UK.

Members of the group also run epTEN, the Economic Psychology Training & Education Network.  This was originally sponsored by the UK Department for Education and Employment and is now being sponsored by IAREP. One of the outcomes of epTEN is a handbook on the teaching of economic psychology, which was published in 1999 and is available from the Washington Singer Press c/o the School of Psychology.

Back to top | Introduction | Membership of the group | Links with other universities and research organisations | Research projects

Membership of the Group

Academic staff

Carole B. Burgoyne, BSc PhD; Stephen E. G. Lea, MA PhD FBPsS CPsychol; Simon R. James (School of Business and Economics); Paul Webley, BSc PhD CPsychol (convenor); Brian Young BSc PhD AFBPsS CPsychol.

Honorary staff

Roberto Burlando, MSc (University of Turin); David A. Routh, BSc (University of Bristol, Department of Experimental Psychology); Annette Otto

Research staff


Research students

Caroline Adams, BSc MSc; Conrad Oberg, LlM; Roberto Burlando

Back to top | Introduction | Membership of the group | Links with other universities and research organisations | Research projects

Links with other universities and research organizations

Back to top | Introduction | Membership of the group | Links with other universities and research organisations | Research projects

Research projects

The psychology of debt. Focusing on (a) consumer debt among customers of public utilities (b) student debt (c) longitudinal studies, especially in the Dutch population. Financial and practical support has come from Dwr Cymru Welsh Water, the Economic and Social Research Council, the National Westminster Bank, and the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO).
Illustrative paper available on line: Paul Webley & Ellen Katrine Nyhus (1998), A dynamic approach to consumer debt  [Download in PDF format]

The psychology of saving and investment . Focusing on the motivations for saving and investment, especially the development of saving in childhood, questions of ethical investment, the interaction of saving, investment and pensions planning, and individual differences in saving behaviour. Financial support has come from the Halifax Building Society and the Economic and Social Research Council.
Illustrative paper available on line: Paul Webley, Saving.

The psychology of money. We have carried out research on many aspects of the psychology of money, including :

Personal financial information management A literature review and series of empirical studies using diary, interview and survey techniques to explore the ways in which people manage their finances and financial information. Supported by grants from NCR.

Tax behaviour. A range of projects using survey methods, interviews and simulation experiments to explore the relationships between people's attitudes to tax, their declared behaviour, and their actual behaviour in avoiding, evading and paying tax. Financial support has come from the Nuffield Foundation, the British Council and HM Customs and Excise.

Advertising and children's consumption. Analysis of the content and messages of advertisements, particularly television advertisements, and their role in children's understanding of commodities and the economy. Children’s categorisation of foods. Financial support has come from the Health Education Council, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Deutsches Jugendinstitut (Munich), the Independent Television Commission, and the Advertising Association.

The economics of the family. Analysis of economic relationships within households, particularly in relation to gender issues, poverty and issues of perceived justice. Children's pocket money and how they spend it. Financial support has come from the Economic and Social Research Council, the Nuffield Foundation, and the University of Bath.

Social justice and meritocracy (in collaboration with Adam Swift and Gordon Marshall at Oxford). Studying the structure of people's distributive justice beliefs cross-culturally, and the extent to which meritocracy underpins social mobility. Funding has come from a variety of sources including the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Council, and the British Academy.

The psychology of tourism. This project focuses on the host community in tourist areas, considering how people's attitudes, understanding and behaviour are affected by the transition to a tourist economy. Financial support has come from a major tourist attraction in Devon, Exeter City Council, and the Erskine fund of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand.

Empirical measurement of utility.(in collaboration with Dr Simon Kemp of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand). This project used psychological methods to grapple with one of the oldest problems in economic theory, the measurement of how much goods and services are really worth to the individual. Results were surprisingly consistent with classic economic theory. Financial support came from the University of Canterbury.

The psychology of European Monetary Union. A questionnaire study of attitudes and beliefs about the EU, EMU and the euro carried out in collaboration with researchers in each of the 15 member states. Financial support from EC and NCR.

Economic socialisation. How children come to understand the economic world of adults. This project overlaps with several others, including work on saving, money, advertising and the family. An important current project involves devising new ways of exploring children's and young people's ways saving experimentally

Children’s use and understanding of the World Wide Web. This project is funded by NCR under their University Grants and Award Programme (UGAP) and consists of a series of extensive interviews with children designed to assess their use and understanding of the Web and whether usage enhances children’s understanding of their economic and commercial world.

Giving (in collaboration with Adrian Sargeant, Henley Management College). Personal gift-giving as a social and as an economic transaction. Social rules determining what may or must be given to whom, when. Giving to charity, and the ways in which charities market themselves.

The psychology of poverty. This project is examining whether poverty is only an economic phenomenon, or whether it also has distinct psychological components. On the basis of previous work, we argue that people respond in different ways to the same economic challenges, and that poverty cannot be understood without taking these into account; our research aim is to fill out this currently bare claim, using detailed qualitative analysis of interviews with various groups of poor people. Financial support has come from the University of Exeter.
Illustrative paper available on-line:  Stephen Lea & Adam Bulewski (2000), Secondary gains from homelessness: The view from on and off the streets [download in Word format].

Attitudes toward advertising to children in Sweden and Britain. This project will investigate, using questionnaire and focus group methodology, different attitudes toward advertising to children in the two cultures. Funding has been obtained from the Advertising Association.

Uses and gratifications in shopping. Research on the different needs and satisfactions obtained from the experience called ‘shopping’ is the focus of this research programme.

Markets for natural commodities. (in collaboration with Dr Geoff Syme and Mike Young of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Australia). This project looks at the psychological impacts and implications of the developing markets for natural commodities such as the right to extract water from rivers. Supported by the Land and Water Resources Research and Development Corporation, Australia.

Back to top | Introduction | Membership of the group | Links with other universities and research organisations | Research projects

Stephen Lea
University of Exeter
School of Psychology
Washington Singer Laboratories
Exeter EX4 4QG
United Kingdom
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Document revised (partially only) 12th July 2001