Thomas Sambrook


  • 0.107A Lawrence Stenhouse Building

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Personal profile

Administrative Posts

Teaching Interests

Module Leader: Evolutionary Psychology (Year 3)

Lecturer: Cognitive and Biological Psychology (Year 2)

Seminar Leader: Psychology Lab Skills (M.Sc.) 


Final Year Project Supervision

Here are some projects I would be happy to supervise:

Different value systems for junk food and healthy food? (lab study)

Psychologists have identified separate learning and reward systems: a goal directed one in the cortex (acting for some desired end) and a habitual one in the subcortex (acting without thinking on the basis of prior reward). Most people eat at least some healthy food and some junk. Can we show that learning a computer task to obtain healthy food activates the first system (since we consciously eat health foods for a reason) and learning the same task to win junk food activates the second (since the fat/salt/sugar rewards us even if we had no goal of eating it). You will use the two-step task of Nathaniel Daw (which is already programmed and ready to use). You will have an opportunity to look at possible mediators of the effect: for example eating disorders, IQ, sex or anything you think might have an effect!


Bipolar traits and behavioural economics. (lab or online)

A behavioural economics study examined prospect theory's value function in asymptomatic individuals with a history of bipolar disorder (Chandler et al., 2009). This study demonstrated that individuals at risk for bipolar disorder were less sensitive to framing effects than were healthy controls: these individuals made more risky choices for increased gains and made fewer risky choices to avoid losses than did controls. Can we recreate this effect using bipolar tendencies in participants drawn from the student pool?


Randomness and pattern detection in humans (lab or online)

This project uses one of the simplest of games, matching pennies. It is played between two players, Even and Odd. Each player has a penny and must secretly turn the penny to heads or tails. The players then reveal their choices simultaneously. If the pennies match (both heads or both tails), then Even wins. If the pennies do not match Odd wins. Surprisingly, this is not a game of pure chance and some people are quite good at it

When one player finds they are being reliably predicted by the other they should randomise their behaviour. Humans are not good at randomizing. They may try to produce "random" sequences by switching their actions from Heads to Tails and vice versa, but they switch their actions too often. This makes it possible for expert players to predict their next actions with more than 50% chance of success.

Footballers face this problem at the penalty spot (kicker is Odd, goalie is Even). U-boat captains and airmen faced it in WWII as the U-boats zig-zagged to avoid depth charges while the airmen tried to guess the next turning (captain is Odd, airman is even). Rabbits and foxes play it when the slower rabbit zig-zags and the fox chooses which way to pounce

This project will interest you if you are interested in pattern detection in humans in the context of competition. What you do is very much up to you. You might run a matching pennies tournament with winners invited back (for more SONA credits). You might explore whether good players are affected by a secondary task (e.g. reciting the alphabet backwards) than poor players. You might try and establish the predictors of good players, e.g. IQ, sex, personality. If you can get them on-board you could see if successful members in the University’s poker society are above average


Chandler, Rebecca A., et al. "Altered risk-aversion and risk-seeking behavior in bipolar disorder." Biological psychiatry 66.9 (2009): 840-846.

Daw, Nathaniel D., et al. "Model-based influences on humans' choices and striatal prediction errors." Neuron 69.6 (2011): 1204-1215.





Dr. Tom Sambrook joined the School of Psychology in 2017. He read psychology at Bristol University and was later awarded an M.Sc. in cognitive science from Birmingham University and Ph.Ds from St. Andrews University (field primatology) and Plymouth University (cognitive neuroscience)

Key Research Interests

At present, my research interests revolve around the cognitive processes underlying decision making ("what should I do?") and reinforcement learning ("how did it work out for me?"). My recent papers have looked at neural correlates of these processes and increasingly tend to use computational models. I have tended to use small monetary gambles as the means to study these processes but am now beginning to use primary reinforcers such as food and pain.

I am also interested in the role that habit plays in guiding our decision making behaviour

However I have worked in other areas, including field studies of primate social behaviour and assessment of bilingual language acquisition