Comparative, Developmental, and Experimental Approaches to Understanding Human Cumulative Culture

5 PhD Studentships available in Psychology, Behaviour and Evolution Research Group

University of Stirling PhD Studentships – Psychology Division

Comparative, Developmental, and Experimental Approaches to Understanding Human Cumulative Culture

Applications are invited for five funded full-time PhD Studentships based in the Behaviour and Evolution Research Group (BERG) in the Psychology Division at the University of Stirling. The studentship holders will join a research team, led by Professor Christine Caldwell, funded by the European Research Council. 


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. The aim of this ERC-funded project (RATCHETCOG) is to identify the cognitive capacities implicated in cumulative culture by approaching the question from three different perspectives (comparative, developmental and experimental): studies with nonhuman primates will clarify the constraints on learning in these species; studies with children will allow us to determine which cognitive abilities predict the development of capacities for cumulative culture; and experimental studies of cultural transmission in adult human participants will provide insights into factors influencing the complexity of cultural traditions. 

Responsibilities of Studentship Holders

The successful applicants will join the newly-established research team working on this project (Prof Caldwell, plus postdoctoral researchers Mark Atkinson and Elizabeth Renner, and Early Career Fellow Eoin O’Sullivan: The studentship holders will play a key role in this project in designing and running experiments. It is expected that two of the successful applicants will pursue projects involving studies with nonhuman primates (with study species likely to be squirrel monkeys, capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees or macaques). A further two are expected to pursue projects involving young children (likely to focus mainly on preschool age groups, but possibly also extending to younger and/or older participants). One studentship holder is expected to pursue a project involving experimental studies of cultural evolution with adult human participants. Dependent on the interests and experience of the successful applicants, project topics may be distributed differently. All studentship holders will be strongly encouraged to become involved in the designing and implementation of the studies outside of their own assigned area.

Financial Support:

There are four four-year studentships, and one three-year studentship, available. All studentships include a tax-free stipend of approximately £14,057 p.a. (2016/17 stipend amount to be confirmed). 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 (and fourth where appropriate). The studentships will have an anticipated registration date of 1 October 2016.

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 (i.e. in primatology, developmental psychology, or experimental approaches to cultural evolution, as appropriate to the preferred topic) 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 at least two of the studentship holders will be expected to be involved in programming experiments for the project (with full support available for relevant training).

To apply please include:

(i)      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.

(ii)      One A4 page outlining which of the research methods (comparative, developmental, or cultural evolution experiments) you would be most interested in pursuing as a PhD topic and why. You may express an interest in more than one of the approaches.

(iii)      Your academic CV and one reference (this can be sent directly to the Postgraduate Admissions Office by the referee).

(iv)      Copies of your academic transcripts

Apply online via 'Research Degree in Psychology'.  Once you have started the application process, please email to ask to be exempted from the ‘find-a-supervisor’ process.

For informal enquiries please contact Professor Christine Caldwell ( or Linda Cullen ( Tel: +44 (0) 1786 466854). 

The PhD studentships will be supervised by Professor Christine Caldwell.

Deadline for applications: 29 February 2016

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