PhD Studentships

Two fully funded PhD studentships on the cultural evolution of human social behaviour


Closing date: 15th June 2017


School of Psychology, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Jena, Germany


Applications are invited for two 3-year PhD studentships based at the Language, Culture and Cognition Lab in the School of Psychology at the University of Auckland, and jointly supported by the University of Auckland and the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. The studentships will begin in 2017 or 2018 and will be supervised by Dr Quentin Atkinson.


PhD Studentship 1: Predicting cultural diffusion dynamics using networks


A key aspect of understanding and predicting human behaviour lies in understanding how information spreads through cultural groups to shape our norms, values, behaviours, institutions, and technologies. Over the last decade, there has been increasing interest in the use of large network datasets to capture connections between individuals and populations. This project will use newly available data and network diffusion models developed in the Language, Culture and Cognition Lab to test hypotheses about how information spreads. We will apply these findings to predict diffusion dynamics for a range of phenomena, including political systems, ideologies and consumer goods. As well as addressing general questions about the laws of human cultural evolution, this project will have wide-ranging applications outside the social sciences, for example among policy makers and business leaders interested in forecasting political, economic and social change.


The successful applicant will have a background in psychology, anthropology, economics or computational modeling, with strong statistics/programming skills and an interest in cultural evolution. A grounding in evolutionary theory and familiarity with R are desirable but not essential. Willingness to work as part of a team is also important. Although based in Auckland, the project is likely to involve periods in Boston and Germany.


PhD Studentship 2: Predicting prosocial behaviour in small scale societies


The strategies people use to navigate their social worlds and negotiate social dilemmas vary enormously both within and between cultures. Understanding this variation is critical both for unravelling our evolutionary past and for tackling some of the major challenges of our future. This project will examine how a range of prosocial behaviours cluster within and across socio-cultural groups and what factors predict the variation we observe. The research will use experimental economic games, together with interview and survey data, with study sites in urban Auckland, New Zealand and groups of small-scale subsistence farmers in rural Vanuatu. The work promises a better understanding of the common mechanisms driving variation in prosocial behaviour across different cultural contexts.


The successful applicant will have a background in psychology, economics or anthropology, with quantitative skills and an interest in research on human cooperation. Fieldwork experience, a background in evolutionary theory and familiarity with Pacific language/culture are desirable but not essential. Willingness to work as part of a team is also important. Although based in Auckland, the project is likely to involve periods of fieldwork in Vanuatu and other locations across the Pacific.


Host institution

The University of Auckland is New Zealand’s leading university ranked 81 in the world in the 2016 QS survey. The School of Psychology is ranked 33rd in the world. The University of Auckland has a strong international focus and is the only New Zealand member of Universitas 21 and the Association of Pacific Rim Universities – international consortia of research-led universities. Auckland is ranked third out of 221 world cities for quality of living in the 2017 Mercer Quality of Living Survey (see www.mercer.com/qualityofliving).


Studentship Entitlement

Each studentship covers international student fees, a monthly stipend, and research and travel expenses associated with the projects. There are also opportunities for paid teaching assistantships within the School of Psychology.


Any enquiries should be directed to Dr Quentin Atkinson (Email: q.atkinson@auckland.ac.nz  Website: http://www.fos.auckland.ac.nz/~quentinatkinson/).