Experimental Studies of the Development of Capacities for Cumulative Culture

University of Stirling PhD Studentship - Psychology Division

14 March 2017


In human populations, skills and knowledge accumulate over generations, giving rise to behaviours and technologies far more complex than any single individual could achieve alone. This ratchet-like property of human culture appears to be absent in nonhuman species, as socially transmitted behaviours in animal populations are generally no more complex than those that can be acquired by trial and error. Despite considerable interest from scientists from a wide range of disciplines, there is still no clear consensus about the underlying differences that may be responsible for this striking evolutionary discontinuity. Professor Caldwell’s current research team are working on identifying cognitive capacities implicated in cumulative culture. Our approach includes studies with nonhuman primates, young children, and adult human participants. It is expected that the holder of the currently advertised studentship will focus primarily on a developmental approach, geared at determining the effect of maturing cognitive capacities on potential for cumulative culture.

Responsibilities of Studentship Holders

The successful applicant will join the research team working on this project (Professor Caldwell, plus two postdoctoral researchers and four Phd students:  https://sites.google.com/site/christineannacaldwell/ratchetcog-team). The studentship holder will play a key role in this project in designing and running experiments. It is expected that the successful applicant will pursue a project with a developmental angle, involving studies with young children, but there is also potential for expanding the focus of the project to include studies with adult humans and/or nonhuman primates. As a member of a team working together on a large research project, the studentship holder will be strongly encouraged to become involved in the designing and implementation of the studies outside of their own topic area.

Financial Support:

The studentship is available for three-years, and includes a tax-free stipend of approximately £14,553 p.a. Tuition fees will be met by the University at the home/EU rate. Subject to satisfactory progress review at the end of the first year, the studentship will be renewed for a second year and thereafter for a third year. The studentships will have an anticipated registration date of 1 October 2017.

Application Requirements:

  • Eligible applicants must hold at least a Bachelor (hons.) degree of either first or upper second class in Psychology or another related discipline.
  • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are essential, as successful applicants will be working as part of a research team, and responsibilities will include interaction with research participants, and building relationships with external organisations.
  • A relevant MSc qualification would be desirable.
  • Relevant research experience (e.g. in developmental psychology, or experimental approaches to cultural evolution) would be desirable.
  • Some experience of using participant testing software (e.g. PsychoPy), and/or a strong motivation to develop such expertise, would be desirable, as the methods we are using across the whole of the project involve custom-written code for data collection. Full support would be available for relevant training.

To apply please include:

  • One A4 page covering letter outlining your suitability, why you are interested in pursuing a PhD in this area, and any other information relevant to the application.
  • One A4 page outlining how you think developmental psychology can contribute to our understanding of differences between humans and other species, and how you might go about testing a specific research question along these lines.
  • Your academic CV with contact details for two academic referees.
  • Copies of your academic transcripts

To apply online via ‘Research Degree in Psychology’: https://portal.stir.ac.uk/student/course-application/.  Once you have started the application process, please email research.admissions@stir.ac.uk to ask to be exempted from the ‘find-a-supervisor’ process.

For informal enquiries please contact Professor Christine Caldwell (c.a.caldwell@stir.ac.uk) or Linda Cullen (linda.cullen@stir.ac.uk Tel: +44 (0) 1786 466854).


The PhD studentship will be supervised by Professor Christine Caldwell.

Deadline for applications: 28 April 2017.

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