Dr Sabine Pahl

Dr Sabine Pahl

Associate Professor (Reader) in Psychology

School of Psychology (Faculty of Health & Human Sciences)


Secretary to the International Association of Applied Psychology's Environmental Division (iaapsy.org)

Honorary Associate Professor, University of Exeter, Centre for Environment and Human Health (www.ecehh.org)

International Student Recruitment and Exchange Representative; International Tutor (School of Psychology)
Research Committee (School of Psychology)
Internationalisation Committee (Faculty of Science and Technology)
Member of the Management Group Institute for Sustainability Solutions (ISSR) 


since 2012    Reader / Associate Professor in Psychology, Plymouth University, UK
2006-2012    Lecturer in Psychology, University of Plymouth, UK
2003-2006    Lecturer in Psychology, University of Erlangen, Germany
2002-2003    ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship, University of Sheffield, UK
2002            PhD in Psychology, University of Sheffield, UK
1999            Diplom in Psychology, University of Bremen, Germany
1998            MSc in Social and Applied Psychology, University of Kent, UK

Professional membership

UK Society for Behavioural Medicine (UKSBM)

European Social Cognition Network (ESCON)

Psychological Society (BPS); BPS Cognitive Section; BPS Social Section

International Social Cognition Network (ISCON)

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychologie (DGPs); Fachgruppe Umweltpsychologie

European Association for Decision Making (EADM)

European Association of Experimental Social Psychology (EAESP)

Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)

International Association for People-Environment Studies (IAPS)

IAPS Restorative Environments Network

Roles on external bodies

Honorary Associate Professor, University of Exeter     since 2015             

Member of the ESRC Peer Review College     since 2015

Member of  GESAMP Working Group 40     since 2015              

Advisory Panel member for EPSRC-funded TEDDINET     since 2014

Secretary of the International Association of Applied Psychology (http://www.iaapsy.org/) Environmental Division      since 2014

Member of the Editorial Board for Environment & Behaviour     since 2014

Member of the International Energy Agency’s DSM task 24 Behaviour Change     since 2013

Affiliate Member of the Collaborative for Advanced Landscape Planning, University of British Columbia, Canada.     since 2011

Affiliate Member of the European Centre for Environment and Human Health, Exeter Medical School     since 2010

Visiting Lecturer, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada     March 2011

Teaching interests

Office hours Autumn Term 2016

Mon 4-5

Thurs 2-3

Please e-mail before you come to my office hour. Occasionally I have other commitments during those times and it's safer to check the office hour you're intending to use.


Research interests

Keywords: Social Cognition; self-positivity biases (e.g. unrealistic optimism, the better-than-average effect); behaviour change; psychology of sustainability; restorative effects of natural environments. 
see @SabinePahl 

Research focus. I am a Social Psychologist covering basic and applied research. My applied work focuses on attitudes and behaviour change, particularly in the area of energy efficiency and protecting marine environments. Other applied work examines restorative effects of natural environments including the use of natural environments in healthcare. My basic research is in social cognition,e.g., construal level and memory and self-other biases such as unrealistic optimism.

Grants & Publications. I’ve been involved in attracting research funding in excess of £7m since 2010 (approx. £2m as Principal Investigator) from EPSRC,ESRC, DEFRA, DECC, FP7 and H2020. Peer-review publications since 2010 include papers in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Environment & Behavior,Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin and Psychology & Health.

Impact. Our role in MARLISCO was to evaluate science-in-society activities regarding marine litter in 14 European countries plus Turkey, summarised in a guide for influencing behaviour. Within the eViz-project we have run field studies with the Eden Project / DECC and Plymouth City Council, and a >5,000 home trial run in collaboration with the Behavioural Insights Team. My former PhD student Kayleigh Wyles and I are the only two social scientists involved in the United Nations GESAMP Working Group 40 on microplastics, and the Phase 1 report contains our recommendation for more behavioural science. I was the lead convenor for two sessions (behaviour change and perceptions of climate change) at the UNFCC COP21 science conference in Paris in July 2015, which summarised the science to inform the COP 21 policy meeting in December that year. 

Sustainability & Psychology group, see http://psychology.plymouth.ac.uk/research/working-groups/sustainability/ 

Current post-docs:

Former post-docs

Research degrees awarded to supervised students

  • Christine Boomsma (Director of Studies; F/T 2009 - 2012): Visual images as a motivational bridge to pro-environmental behaviour: A cognitive approach. Viva passed January 2013.
  • Julie Goodhew (co-supervisor; P/T 2007-2013): Thermal images as prompts for energy-saving behaviour. Viva passed May 2013.
  • Lauren Carroll (Director of Studies; F/T 2009 - 2013): The effect of choice set size and other choice architectures on decisions to volunteer. Viva passed September 2013.
  • Kayleigh Wyles (Director of Studies; F/T Oct 2010 - 2014): Rocky shores - From habitat threat to marine awareness and restorative experiences. Viva passed February 2014. 
  • Becky Jenkin (European Centre for Environment and Human Health; co-supervisor; F/T 2011-2015): Blue Gym 4 kids. 

    Current PhD students:

    • Debbie Cracknell (Director of Studies; P/T since Oct 2010): The restorative potential of subaquatic environments.
    • Carolyn Arnold (Falmouth College; co-supervisor; F/T since Oct 2011): Storytelling as a paradigm for promoting pro-environmental behaviour
    • Hazel Gibson (SoGEES - CRES; co-supervisor; F/T since Sept 2012). Underground Britain.

    external PhDs examined:

  • Nina Lockwood, University of Sussex, June 2010, "Motivations for mountain climbing: The role of risk."     
  • Laura Rennie, Sheffield University, January 2011, "The role of perspective in visualising health behaviours: Effects on motivation and behaviour." 
  • Alexander Van der Jagt, University of Aberdeen, November 2013, "Restorative environments: Why the saliency of natural and built scene content matters"
  • Hyunji Kim, University of Cambridge, January 2014, "Construal level theory and economic decision making: Psychological distance as a de-biasing tool"
  • Grants & contracts


    Fuertes, A. et al. EnerGAware: Energy Game for Awareness of energy efficiency in social housing communities. Feb 2015 - Feb 2018, Plymouth work package 300k in €2m EU H2020 project.

    Anderson, A. et al. (2015). Public perception of microbeads. ISSR small grant, Plymouth University, £2.5k.

    Goodhew, J. et al. (2015). Solar gain visualised through thermal imaging. ISSR small grant, Plymouth University, £3k.

    Pahl, S., de Wilde, P. et al. eViz – EnergyVisualisation for Carbon Reduction (2012-2016). EPSRC multi-centre grant with the Universities of Bath, Birmingham and Newcastle £1,876,000, with £1,125,000 to Plymouth. (Post docs Christine Boomsma and Julie Goodhew).

    Thompson, R. C. & Pahl, S. (2012-2015). Marine Litter in European Seas: Social Awareness and Co-Responsibility (MARLISCO). Plymouth Work Package £300k in £4,100,000 EU-FP7 Grant. (Post doc Bonny Hartley and Research Assistant Matthew Holland).

    White, M. P., Pahl, S. & Depledge, M (2010-2016). The restorative potential of sub-aquatic environments. Studentship awarded by NMA: Deborah Cracknell.


    Thompson, R. C. & Pahl, S. (2014). Evaluation of Fishing for Litter programme (variation). DEFRA: 19k. Research Assistant: Kayleigh Wyles then Lauren Carroll.

    Pahl, S. & Carroll, L. (2013). SmallEvaluation of Stepping Stones programme. Plymouth City Council, SteppingStones: 2.5k. RA: Lauren Carroll.  

    Attrill, M., Pahl, S., Thompson, R. C. & Wyles, K. (2013). The benefits of engaging with the Marine Centre at Wembury Beach. University of Plymouth Community Research Award: £9k. Research Assistant: Lauren Carroll.

    Goodhew, S., Pahl, S. & De Wilde, P. (2013). Thermal imaging intervention as part of Cornwall together. Eden Project, funding from DECC, £65k.

    Pahl, S. & Thompson, R. (2010-13). Human Well-being and Habitat Threat in Marine Environments. ESRC/NERC Studentship: Kayleigh Wyles.

    Pahl, S., White, M. P., Andrade, J. & May, J.(2010-13). Dental anxiety, nature exposure and virtual reality. (University of Plymouth: approx. £100k [postdoc Karin Tanja-Dijkstra]).

    White, M. P., Pahl, S. & Depledge, M. (2010-13). Blue Gym: The health and well-being effects of blue space. (University ofPlymouth: approx. £120k [post doc Kat Ashbullby]).

    Wyer, N., Pahl, S. & Perfect, T. (2010-13). Construal, processing style and memory for social events.(ESRC: £240k). RA: Jean Roper.

    Depledge, M., Pahl, S. & Lilley, A.(2010-2013). Seeing is Believing. (European Centre for Environment and Human Health, PCMD [post doc WillStahl-Timmins])

    White, M. P., Pahl, S. & Edworthy, J. (2009-12). Choice Architectures and Volunteering. UoP Faculty of Science PhD Studentship: Lauren Carroll.

    Pahl, S. (2011). Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS) Fellowship, British Columbia, Canada, March.

    Pahl, S. (2011). International Networking Scheme University of Plymouth, for research visit to the University of British Columbia, March.

    LeFroy,M., LeFroy, E., White, M. & Pahl, S. (2010). Surf to success / surfing for success. (Ecominds: 20k awarded to GB Boardriders CIC).

    Butel, L., Pahl, S. & Memery, J. (2009-11). The psychology of giving to independent schools. Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Plymouth College (TechnologyStrategy Board: £81k).

    Pahl, S. (2009-10). Optimism, pessimism and pro-environmental engagement. (Seale-HayneEducational Trust: £2k).

    Pahl, S. & White, M. P. (2008-09). Predicting and improving satisfaction with a rewarding activity: Volunteering for the Samaritans. (University of Plymouth: £8k).

    Pahl, S. (2006). Self-activation and betting behaviour. Dr. German Schweiger Spende: €1k.

    Pahl, S. (2006-08). Role models, social comparison & gender: Effects on career aspirations of men and women. University of Erlangen: €9k.

    Pahl, S. (2005-06). Linguistic norms and the focus effect in self-other comparisons. EAESP Postdoctoral Seedcorn Grant: €2k.

    Pahl, S. (2002-03). ESRC Postdoctoral Fellowship: £26k.

    Research groups

    • Centre for Research in Brain, Cognition and Behaviour (CBCB)
    • Behaviour

    Key publications are highlighted

    Veiga JM, Vlachogianni T, Pahl S, Thompson RC, Kopke K, Doyle TK, Hartley BL, Maes T, Orthodoxou DL & Loizidou XI 2016 'Enhancing public awareness and promoting co-responsibility for marine litter in Europe: The challenge of MARLISCO' MARINE POLLUTION BULLETIN 102, (2) 309-315 Author Site , DOI
    Boomsma C, Goodhew J, Goodhew S & Pahl S 2016 'Improving the visibility of energy use in home heating in England: Thermal images and the role of visual tailoring' Energy Research & Social Science 14, 111-121 , DOI PEARL
    Jones RV, Fuertes A, Boomsma C & Pahl S 2016 'Space heating preferences in UK social housing: A socio-technical household survey combined with building audits' Energy and Buildings 127, 382-398 , DOI PEARL
    White MP, Pahl S, Wheeler BW, Fleming LEF & Depledge MH 2016 'The 'Blue Gym': What can blue space do for you and what can you do for blue space?' JOURNAL OF THE MARINE BIOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION OF THE UNITED KINGDOM 96, (1) 5-12 Author Site , DOI
    Boomsma C, Goodhew J, Pahl S & Jones RV 2016 'The feasibility of saving energy in challenging organisational contexts: Testing energy visualisation in a social services office in the United Kingdom' Energy Research & Social Science 15, 58-74 , DOI PEARL
    Pahl S, Goodhew J, Boomsma C & Sheppard SRJ 2016 'The Role of Energy Visualization in Addressing Energy Use: Insights from the eViz Project' FRONTIERS IN PSYCHOLOGY 7, Author Site , DOI
    Goodhew J, Pahl S, Auburn T & Goodhew S 2015 'Making Heat Visible: Promoting Energy Conservation Behaviors Through Thermal Imaging' ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR 47, (10) 1059-1088 Author Site , DOI PEARL
    Hartley BL, Thompson RC & Pahl S 2015 'Marine litter education boosts children's understanding and self-reported actions' Mar Pollut Bull 90, (1-2) 209-217 Author Site , DOI
    Pahl S, Sheppard S, Boomsma C & Groves C 2015 'Perceptions of time in relation to climate change (vol 5, pg 375, 2014)' WILEY INTERDISCIPLINARY REVIEWS-CLIMATE CHANGE 6, (3) 359-359 Author Site , DOI
    White MP, Pahl S, Ashbullby KJ, Burton F & Depledge MH 2015 'The Effects of Exercising in Different Natural Environments on Psycho-Physiological Outcomes in Post-Menopausal Women: A Simulation Study' INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH AND PUBLIC HEALTH 12, (9) 11929-11953 Author Site , DOI
    Wyer NA, Hollins TJ, Pahl S & Roper J 2015 'The hows and whys of face memory: level of construal influences the recognition of human faces' FRONTIERS IN PSYCHOLOGY 6, Author Site , DOI PEARL
    Wyer NA, Hollins TJ & Pahl S 2015 'The Hows and Whys of Face Processing: Level of Construal Influences the Holistic Processing of Human Faces' JOURNAL OF EXPERIMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY-GENERAL 144, (6) 1037-1041 Author Site , DOI PEARL
    Tanja-Dijkstra K, Pahl S, White MP, Andrade J, May J, Stone RJ, Bruce M, Mills I, Auvray M & Gabe R 2014 'Can virtual nature improve patient experiences and memories of dental treatment? A study protocol for a randomized controlled trial' Trials 90, (15) Publisher Site , DOI PEARL
    Tanja-Dijkstra K, Pahl S, White MP, Andrade J, Qian C, Bruce M, May J & Moles DR 2014 'Improving Dental Experiences by Using Virtual Reality Distraction: A Simulation Study' PLOSOne 3, (9) , DOI PEARL
    Wyles KJ, Pahl S & Thompson RC 2014 'Perceived risks and benefits of recreational visits to the marine environment: Integrating impacts on the environment and impacts on the visitor' OCEAN & COASTAL MANAGEMENT 88, 53-63 Author Site , DOI
    Pahl S, Sheppard S, Boomsma C & Groves C 2014 'Perceptions of time in relation to climate change' WILEY INTERDISCIPLINARY REVIEWS-CLIMATE CHANGE 5, (3) 375-388 Author Site , DOI PEARL
    White MP, Pahl S, Ashbullby K, Herbert S & Depledge MH 2013 'Feelings of restoration from recent nature visits' JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY 35, 40-51 Author Site , DOI
    Manzi S, Nichols A, Pahl S, Richardson J, Bennallick M & Grose J 2013 'How do they manage it? An observational study of health and social care waste management' PSYCHOLOGY & HEALTH 28, 262-262 Author Site
    Pahl S & Bauer J 2013 'Overcoming the Distance: Perspective Taking With Future Humans Improves Environmental Engagement' ENVIRONMENT AND BEHAVIOR 45, (2) 155-169 Author Site , DOI
    Ashbullby KJ, Pahl S, Webley P & White MP 2013 'The beach as a setting for families' health promotion: a qualitative study with parents and children living in coastal regions in Southwest England' Health Place 23, 138-147 Author Site , DOI
    Grose J, Bennallick M, Nichols A, Pahl S & Richardson J 2012 'Facilitating Sustainable Waste Management Behaviors Within the Health Sector: A Case Study of the National Health Service (NHS) in Southwest England, UK' SUSTAINABILITY 4, (4) 630-642 Author Site , DOI
    Grose J, Bennallick M, Nichols A, Pahl S & Richardson J 2012 'Facilitating Sustainable Waste Management Behaviors Within the Health Sector: A Case Study of the National Health Service (NHS) in Southwest England, UK' Sustainability 4, (4) 630-630
    Carroll L & Pahl S 2012 'Too much choice: Is this affecting decisions to volunteer?' INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY 47, 172-172 Author Site
    Carroll LS, White MP & Pahl S 2011 'The impact of excess choice on deferment of decisions to volunteer' Judgment and Decision Making 6, (7) 629-637
    Pahl S 2011 'Would I bet on beating you? Subtly increasing other-focus helps overcome egocentrism' Exp Psychol 59, (2) 74-81 Author Site , DOI
    White M, Smith A, Humphryes K, Pahl S, Snelling D & Depledge M 2010 'Blue space: The importance of water for preference, affect, and restorativeness ratings of natural and built scenes' Journal of Environmental Psychology 30, (4) 482-493
    Zlatev M, Pahl S & White M 2010 'Perceived risk and benefit for self and others as predictors of smokers' attitudes towards smoking restrictions' Psychology and Health 25, (2) 167-182
    Wyer NA, Perfect TJ & Pahl S 2010 'Temporal distance and person memory: thinking about the future changes memory for the past' Pers Soc Psychol Bull 36, (6) 805-816 Author Site , DOI PEARL
    Pahl S, Eiser JR & White MP 2009 'Boundaries of self-positivity: the effect of comparison focus in self-friend comparisons' J Soc Psychol 149, (4) 413-424 Author Site , DOI
    Pahl S, Bauer J & Zhou M 2008 'Perspective-taking and the environment' INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY 43, (3-4) 763-763 Author Site
    Goodhew J, Auburn T & Pahl S 2008 'That's it we're having more insulation! Will householders change behaviours and attitudes after being shown an infrared image of their homes leaking heat?' INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PSYCHOLOGY 43, (3-4) 273-273 Author Site
    Blueher R & Pahl S 2007 'Der "mere exposure" Effekt und die Wahl von Produkten - Ein Experiment im Feld [Mere exposure and product choice - A field experiment]' Zeitschrift fuer Sozialpsychologie 38, 209-215
    Pahl S & Eiser JR 2007 'How malleable is comparative self-positivity? The effects of manipulating judgemental focus and accessibility' European Journal of Social Psychology 37, (4) 617-627 , DOI
    Bluher R & Pahl S 2007 'The mere exposure effect and product choice: A field experiment' Zeitschrift fur Sozialpsychologie 38, (3) 209-215
    White MP, Eiser JR, Harris PR & Pahl S 2007 'Who reaps the benefits, who bears the risks? Comparative optimism, comparative utility, and regulatory preferences for mobile phone technology' Risk Analysis 27, (3) 741-753
    Pahl S 2006 'Seedcorn grant report (A closer look at the focus effect)' European Bulletin of Social Psychology 18, 77-80
    Pahl S & Eiser JR 2006 'The focus effect and self-positivity in ratings of self-other similarity and difference' British Journal of Social Psychology 45, (1) 107-116 , DOI
    Pahl S, Harris PR, Todd HA & Rutter DR 2005 'Comparative optimism for environmental risks' Journal of Environmental Psychology 25, (1) 1-11 , DOI
    Pahl S & Eiser JR 2005 'Valence, comparison focus and self-positivity biases - Does it matter whether people judge positive or negative traits?' Experimental Psychology 52, (4) 303-309
    Pahl S & Eiser JR 2004 'Reducing positive biases for the self' International Journal of Psychology 39, (5-6) 568-568
    White MP, Pahl S, Buehner M & Haye A 2003 'Trust in Risky Messages: The Role of Prior Attitudes' Risk Analysis 23, (4) 717-726 , DOI
    Eiser JR, Pahl S & Prins YRA 2001 'Optimism, pessimism, and the direction of self-other comparisons' Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 37, (1) 77-84
    Gibson H, Stewart I, Pahl S & Stokes A 0 'A "Mental Models" approach to the communication of subsurface hydrology and hazards' Hydrology and Earth System Sciences Discussions 1-29 , DOI PEARL
    Wyles KJ, Pahl S, Holland M & Thompson RC 0 'Can Beach Cleans Do More Than Clean-Up Litter? Comparing Beach Cleans to Other Coastal Activities' Environment and Behavior , DOI PEARL
    Wyles KJ, Pahl S, Thomas K & Thompson RC 0 'Factors That Can Undermine the Psychological Benefits of Coastal Environments: Exploring the Effect of Tidal State, Presence, and Type of Litter' Environment and Behavior , DOI PEARL
    Cracknell D, White MP, Pahl S, Nichols WJ & Depledge MH 0 'Marine Biota and Psychological Well-Being: A Preliminary Examination of Dose-Response Effects in an Aquarium Setting' Environment and Behavior , DOI PEARL
    Conference Papers
    Casals M, Gangolells M, Macarulla M, Fuertes A, Jones R, Pahl S & Ruiz M 2016 'Promoting energy users' behavioural change in social housing through a serious game' 11th European Conference on Product & Process Modeling Limassol, Cyprus 07/09/2016 09/09/2016 PEARL
    Goodhew J, Boomsma C, Pahl S & Goodhew SMR 2015 'Exploring mental models of home heating' BCEP Groningen //0 //0
    Pahl S, Goodhew J, Boomsma C & Goodhew SMR 2015 'The power of thermal imaging to change energy understanding and action' BCEP Groningen //0 //0
    Goodhew J, Goodhew SMR, Boomsma C & Pahl S 2015 't's fffffffffffreezsing!...thought thermal imaging might shed some light as to where the heat's going!" Can visualisation shed a light on heating?' Proceedings from the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy 2015 France //0 //0