Dr Megan Birney

Senior Lecturer

School of Health, Science and Wellbeing

I am a social psychologist interested in identity processes, intergroup contact, communication, social stigma, obedience, and social exclusion; I love teaching about how these theories can be applied to real-world problems in society and passing my passion for these topics on to students. Currently I am the Module Leader for Understanding the Social World, but I cover the social content on several of the modules on the Undergraduate Psychology degrees.

I completed my own undergraduate degree in Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies from Virginia Tech (USA). I then spent some time working and travelling until I found myself in Exeter with a British husband. While there, I received an MSc (with distinction) in Social and Organisational Psychology and a PhD in Psychology at the University of Exeter. My research during this time focused on understanding how perceptions of non-native accents influence the relationship between immigrants and host country natives. After my PhD, I worked as a Research Fellow at the University of St. Andrews investigating the role that identity processes play within variants of the Milgram paradigm.

Before coming to Staffordshire, I spent 6 years at the University of Chester helping to develop the psychology provision at undergraduate and postgraduate level at their campus in Shrewsbury. I both taught and led modules there in areas related to Social Psychology, Organisational Psychology, and Quantitative Research Methods. In 2016, I became a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.

I am always keen to hear from students who are interested in Social Psychology. If that’s you, do get in touch!

Professional memberships and activities

  • Fellow of the Higher Education Academy
  • Full Member of the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP)

Academic qualifications

  • PhD Psychology, University of Exeter
  • MSc Social & Organisational Psychology, University of Exeter
  • BSc Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies (Business Leadership & International Relations), Virginia Tech (USA)


  • Social Identity Theory
  • Communication
  • Intergroup Processes
  • Followership & Obedience
  • Stigma & Exclusion

Research interests

Current Projects:

  • Engaged Followership – The New Psychology of Obedience (with Stephen Reicher and Fergus Neville, University of St. Andrews, & Alex Haslam and Nik Steffens, University of Queensland
  • Taking one for the Team: Sport and Immoral Development (with Peter Coffee, Heriott-Watt, Stephen Reicher & Fergus Neville, University of St. Andrews)
  • Perceptions of/experiences with speaking with a non-native accent (with Anna Rabinovich, University of Sussex & Thomas Morton, University of Copenhagen
  • Perceptions of masculinity among adolescents (with Anne McNulty, University of Chester
  • The relationship between spite and belief in conspiracy theories (with David Gordon, University of Chester)
  • The impact of existential risk on human behaviour (with David Gordon, University of Chester)
  • Examining perceptions of intentions in communities (with Suzanne Stewart, University of Chester)

Enterprise and commercial interests

I am currently working with Climbing Out, a non-profit organisation dedicated to helping people who have experienced trauma re-build their confidence. Our project looks at the effectiveness of their programmes.


Undergraduate Teaching

  • Adventures in Psychology
  • Understanding the Social World
  • The Psychology of Social Perception
  • Oppression and Empowerment
  • Dissertation Supervisor


Birney, M.E. (expected 2023). Self and identity: The basics. Routledge. (Contracted for completion – Oct 2022)

Birney, M.E., Reicher, S.D., Haslam, S.A., & Steffens, N. (under review). Following in the name of science: Evidence that obedience to authority is a result of perceived prototypicality of the cause.

Gordon, D. & Birney, M.E. (under review). Conspiracy theories as an expression of spite.

McNulty, A. & Birney, M.E. (under review). What makes a good man? A mixed-methods investigation of adolescent attitudes towards masculinity

Birney, M. E., Rabinovich, A., Morton, T. A. (2020). Where are you from? An investigation into the intersectionality between accent strength and nationality status on perceptions of non-native speakers in Britain. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 39(4). https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X20932628

Birney, M.E., Roessel, J., Hansen, K., & Rakic, T. (2020). Prologue: Language challenges in the XXI century. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 39(4). https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X20933315

Birney, M. E., Rabinovich, A., Morton, T. A., Heath, H., & Ashcroft, S. (2020). When speaking English Is not enough: The consequences of language-based stigma for nonnative Speakers. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 39(1), 67-86. https://doi.org/10.1177/0261927X19883906

Gonzalez-Franco, M., Slater, M., Birney, M. E., Swapp, D., Haslam, S. A., & Reicher, S. D. (2018). Participant concerns for the Learner in a Virtual Reality replication of the Milgram obedience study. PloS One, 13(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0209704

Morton, T.A., Wilson, N., Haslam, C., Birney, M., Kingston, R., & McCloskey, L. (2016) Activating and guiding the engagement of seniors with online social networking: Experimental findings from the AGES 2.0 project. Journal of Aging and Health, 25, 1 – 25. https://doi.org/10.1177/0898264316664440

Haslam, S.A., Reicher, S.D., & Birney, M.E. (2016). Questioning authority: New perspectives on Milgram’s ‘obedience’ research and its implications for intergroup relations. Current Opinion in Psychology, 11, 6 – 9. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2016.03.007

Haslam, S.A., Reicher, S.D., & Birney, M.E. (2014). Nothing by mere authority: Evidence that in an experimental analogue of the Milgram paradigm participants are motivated to continue not by orders but by appeals to science. Journal of Social Issues, 70(3), 473 – 488. https://doi.org/10.1111/josi.12072

Haslam S.A., Reicher, S.D., Millard, K., & Birney, M. (2014). Just obeying orders? New Scientist, No. 2986 (September 13), 28 – 31

Rabinovich, A., Morton, T.A., & Birney, M.E. (2012). Communicating climate science: The role of perceived communicator’s motives. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 32(1), 11-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2011.09.002

UK University

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

for Job Prospects

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

for Student Satisfaction

Complete University Guide 2022

for Social Inclusion

The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023

for Course Content

StudentCrowd University Awards 2022

of Research Impact is ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Very Considerable’

Research Excellence Framework 2021