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Economic decision-making in anxiety and depression

Context effects in decision-making in anxiety and depression

An exciting opportunity to commence a PhD in Economics and join an interdisciplinary team to conduct research to improve psychosocial and economic outcomes in depression and anxiety

Every year, one in five Australians aged 16-85 experience mental illness, with depressive and anxiety disorders being most common. Moreover, depression has the third highest burden of all diseases in Australia and globally. The prevalence and costs of depression and anxiety have been magnified by COVID19.

While it is well known that depression manifests itself in abnormal perception of positive reinforcers, known as anhedonia, a thorough understanding of how mental health disorders impact information processing and decision-making is still lacking. This research project will use neuroeconomic theory and methodology from experimental economics and psychology to understand the differences in subjective valuation of risky rewards in mental disorders. The PhD student involved in this project will design, conduct, and analyse decision-making data in healthy, sub-clinical, and clinically depressed and anxious individuals.

The PhD student will join an active group of researchers and will be supported by the resources of the School of Economics and ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families over the Life Course. The student will be directly supervised by:

  • Professor Agnieszka Tymula, School of Economics, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS), University of Sydney
  • Professor Nicholas Glozier, Brain and Mind Centre, Faculty of Medicine and Health (FMNH), University of Sydney

To be successful in PhD application, an ideal candidate will have masters or first-class honours in Economics and masters or first-class honours in Psychology or at least a demonstrated (for example through coursework) interest in Psychology. The PhD should have excellent data analysis and social skills. Programming experience, for example in Python, although not necessary is an asset. The PhD student will be based in Sydney.

To establish a link between decision-making context and disadvantageous psychosocial outcomes in clinical depression and anxiety. Founded on experimental data and drawing on interdisciplinary literature spanning economics, psychology, and neuroscience, the study will develop a novel reference-dependent model of how depressed and anxious individuals make decisions under risk and ambiguity.

Supervised by the leading academics in the fields of Economics and Psychology, the student will develop a research agenda with an impact on contemporary understanding of mental health. The PhD student will be encouraged to take advantage of the resources available in FASS, Brain and Mind Institute, and the ARC Centre of Excellence for Children and Families across the Life Course.

Applicants are invited to submit a proposal for PhD research that aligns directly to this project.

Prospective candidates may qualify for direct entry into the PhD program if their research proposal (see above) is accepted and they satisfy at least one of the criteria listed below.

  • Bachelor's degree with first- or second-class honours in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis based on primary data not literature review
  • Master's degree by research in an appropriate area of study that includes a research thesis that draws on primary data
  • Master's degree by coursework, with a research thesis or dissertation of 12,000–15,000 words that draws on primary data not literature review, with a grade-point average of at least 80 per cent in the degree.
  • Demonstrated appropriate professional experience and alternative qualifications in the field of study.

For more information regarding applying for a PhD refer to the course details for Doctor of Philosophy (Arts and Social Sciences).

Please also refer to guidelines for preparing a research proposal.

A number of scholarships are available to support your studies.

These scholarships will provide a stipend allowance of $35,629 per annum for up to 3.5 years. Successful international students will also receive a tuition fee scholarship for up to 3.5 years.

For other scholarship opportunities refer to Faculty Research Scholarships (Domestic) or Faculty Research Scholarships (International).

For further details about the PhD project, contact Professor Agnieszka Tymula at agnieszka.tymula@sydney.edu.au.