The capacity to perceive, share and understand other’s affective states represents an important component of successfully navigating the social world. Given the complex nature of our societies, these abilities are especially important for humans; nevertheless, the ability to perceive and effectively respond to the affective states of others can confer adaptive benefits to any social animal; indicative of an evolutionary continuum. In this regard, empathy-related responding should not be expected to be uniquely human. Developmental research has shown that, in humans, empathy-related responding emerges in tandem with other socio-emotional skills, which includes forming and maintaining social relationships, behaving appropriately in social situations and effectively regulating one’s own emotions. Although insights from nonhuman animals lag behind what is known for humans, a growing body of research has demonstrated evidence of various forms of empathy in a range of animal species.
Nevertheless, little is yet known about how empathy and socio-emotional competence develop in animals and to what extent there is overlap with the ontogenetic patterns observed during human infancy/childhood. Great apes represent pertinent comparative candidates in this regard, given their close genetic relationship to humans and relatively extended periods of ontogeny.
The main aim is to conduct a comparative analysis of the development of empathy and socio-emotional competence in children and immature great apes. The project will involve a combination of observational and experimental approaches that build on existing approaches in the literature, with the goal being to develop novel tasks and measures that enable direct species comparisons. The methodologies are expected to include eye-tracking techniques, playback experiments and observations of naturally occurring behaviours. The manner in which great apes and children communicatively express and perceive affective states also provide insights into underlying sociocognitive and affective processes. Therefore, the second component will involve exploring communicative behavior during emotionally arousing situations, from both producer and receiver perspectives.
Child research will take place in British nurseries/science museums in the Durham area.
Good BSc degree in Psychology, Biology or (Biological/Evolutionary) Anthropology with excellent project mark; Experience conducting behavioural research with animals and/or experience of fieldwork in remote conditions; Experience interacting with children/infants, Excellent communication skills, including working in a team. Eligibility for full DBS clearance.
Relevant Masters degree; Experience of behavioural data collection with animals under field conditions; Experience of conducting child/infant research; Proficiency in French (if research conducted in DR Congo) and/or proficiency in learning new languages. Strong candidates will also be able to suggest independent ideas for complementary research questions that could be answered (e.g. mother-infant relationships, peer behaviours, measures of emotion regulation).
This project offers full coverage of student fees plus stipend for UK/EU students (approx. £14 000/year) for three years. Fieldwork travel costs are not available so will need to be acquired by the student during the first year through application to grant funding (with my assistance).
Interested candidates should apply by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject header: ‘PhD Application- YOUR NAME’. Please provide the following:
2. Cover letter indicating how you meet the essential and desirable requirements
3. Research proposal consisting of:
a. An outline of how the comparative development of empathy/socioemotional competence could be investigated. This involves a brief summary of some potential research questions you would like to address and how you might tackle them (Max. 300-500 words)
b. An outline of any complementary research questions that could also be answered. Please state the research question(s) and how you could address it (e.g. methodology). Max. 250 words.
The deadline for applications is 03 March 2017. The top candidates will be invited for interview (in person, or via skype) in late March 2017, with a view to offering positions by April 2017.