Two PhD positions ‘Understanding artificial agents’ impact on family dynamics’

Universiteit Utrecht

Datum: 1 week geleden
Stad: Utrecht, Utrecht
Salaris: € 2.770 - € 3.539 per maand
Contract type: Voltijd
Universiteit Utrecht

We are looking for two fully-funded PhD candidates for the F-AI-MILY project at the department of Social, Health and Organisational Psychology at Utrecht University. The F-AI-MILY project, funded by an ERC Starting Grant to Dr Ruud Hortensius, aims to understand and embrace the impact of artificial agents on the social dynamics of families. How do family members trust, feel, understand, and connect with each other when living with a robot or digital voice assistant?

Wat ga je doen?

In this project, we will take a neurocognition-at-home approach to measure distinct aspects of social dynamics. We will develop a mobile lab that combines the strengths of self-report, behavioural, and brain measures, and assess social dynamics within homes of families living with an artificial agent. We will test theoretical predictions on how living with AI influences the similarity in trust, empathy, theory of mind, and affiliation between members and how this impacts family well-being. Besides in-depth interview, questionnaire, and behavioral assessments, you will be using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to record brain activity of all members simultaneously.

PhD project 1 focuses on the developmental aspects of changes in households’ social dynamic during long-term interactions with artificial agents. You will investigate long-term engagements with artificial agents within households with children in the age of 4 to 12. The first objective is to assess what the developmental trajectory is of the impact of artificial agents on social dynamics in the household. The second objective is to map the temporal trajectory of age-dependent changes in social dynamics.

PhD project 2 addresses the impact of artificial agents on the social dynamics of families using a multi-level approach incorporating behavioural and brain measures. Using a mobile lab setup, you will investigate how long-term interactions with robots and digital voice assistants shape distinct aspects of social dynamics (e.g., empathy, affiliation). Next, you will identify how sustainable interactions with artificial agents can provide support in households with chronic illness.

You will be part of an interdisciplinary research team supervised by Dr Ruud Hortensius, and collaborate with researchers from family psychology, social neuroscience, and artificial intelligence, including Professor Esther Kluwer who will serve as promotor of the PhD trajectory. You will participate in the education programme of the Kurt Lewin Institute.

The PhD projects will run for four years (90% research, 10% teaching). Your teaching tasks will be attuned to your interest and skillset and might include the supervision of Bachelor’s and Master’s theses and seminars for courses related to the topic of your project. Of course, you will be guided and supported by your supervisor and colleagues.

Wat breng je mee?

We are looking for enthusiastic and collaborative team members who have multiple of the following:

  • a (Research) Master’s degree in the field of social psychology, experimental psychology, developmental psychology, family psychology, cognitive neuroscience, or an equivalent programme;
  • for PhD project 1 we are especially interested in candidates that have a background in developmental psychology and/or developmental (social) neuroscience;
  • a strong interest, motivation, and affinity to conduct interdisciplinary research at the intersection of family psychology, social neuroscience, and artificial intelligence: you don’t have to be(come) an expert in all these fields but should have an interest in becoming familiar with these fields;
  • a strong professional and communication skills: you feel at ease interacting with scientists and families with children alike;
  • interest in or experience with neuroimaging methods (e.g., fMRI, EEG, fNIRS);
  • eagerness to embrace an open science approach (e.g., preregistration, data sharing, pre-prints);
  • experience and/or affinity with coding, especially for statistical analyses (e.g., R and/or python);
  • strong proactive, collaborative, and creative work approach;
  • high proficiency in written and spoken English; while Dutch proficiency is not compulsory, commitment to learn Dutch (up to B2 level) would be recommended as you will be testing Dutch families;
  • interest and motivation to contribute to the teaching activities of the faculty.

Wat bieden wij?

We offer:

  • a place in a collaborative, social, internationally-oriented, and dedicated (ERC) team that aims to do research on the forefront of science;
  • a position for one year, with an extension to a total of four years upon successful assessment in the first year, and with the specific intent that it results in a doctorate within this period;
  • a working week of 38 hours and a gross monthly salary between €2,770 and €3,539 in the fourth year of employment in the case of full-time employment (salary scale P under the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO NU);
  • 8% holiday pay and 8.3% year-end bonus;
  • a pension scheme, partially paid parental leave and flexible terms of employment based on the CAO NU.

In addition to the terms of employment laid down in the CAO NU, Utrecht University has a number of schemes and facilities of its own for employees. This includes schemes facilitating professional development, leave schemes and schemes for sports and cultural activities, as well as discounts on software and other IT products. We also offer access to additional employee benefits through our Terms of Employment Options Model. In this way, we encourage our employees to continue to invest in their growth. For more information, please visit Working at Utrecht University.

Over ons

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major strategic themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Pathways to Sustainability. Sharing science, shaping tomorrow.

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences is one of the leading faculties in Europe providing research and academic teaching in cultural anthropology, educational sciences, interdisciplinary social science, pedagogical sciences, psychology, and sociology. Almost 7,000 students are enrolled in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate programmes. The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences has some 1,100 faculty and staff members, all providing their individual contribution to the training and education of young talent and to the research into and finding solutions for scientific and societal issues. The faculty is located at Utrecht Science Park near the historical city centre of Utrecht.

Meer informatie

For more information about this position, please contact Assistant Professor Ruud Hortensius at [email protected].

Please note that international candidates that need a visa/work permit for the Netherlands require at least four months processing time after selection and acceptance. Our International Service Desk (ISD) can answer your questions about living in the Netherlands as international staff. Finding appropriate housing in or near Utrecht is your own responsibility, but the ISD may be able to advise you therewith. In case of general questions about working and living in The Netherlands, please consult the Dutch Mobility Portal.


As Utrecht University, we want to be a home for everyone. We value staff with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and identities, including cultural, religious or ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, disability or age. We strive to create a safe and inclusive environment in which everyone can flourish and contribute.

If you are enthusiastic about this position, just apply via the 'apply now' button. Please enclose:

  • your letter of motivation (you can specify which position you apply to);
  • your curriculum vitae;
  • the name, telephone number, and email address of one referee.

The first round of interviews will take place in May. The position is available from 1 September 2024 and the expected starting date should be autumn 2024.

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