We are looking for 4 PhD students to join a new research project lead by Prof. dr. Han van der Maas (PI), supported by an ERC advanced grant.

The project is hosted by the Psychological Methods group of the University of Amsterdam, one of the largest and most successful research and education centres in the field of psychological methods. Its main areas of research are network analysis, Bayesian statistics, mathematical psychology, and psychometrics.

The ERC project group of van der Maas will consist of two postdocs and 4 PhD students. The core hypothesis of this ERC proposal is that main changes in scientifically important and societal relevant psycho-social systems can be characterized as cascading transitions (Dekker et al., 2018, Earth Sys. Dyn.), where transitions within persons are part of transitions at the between person level. For instance, one teenager may initiate a surge of smoking in her peer group, while another just follows this suddenly emerging trend. Another example is individual radicalization in a polarizing society.

The main objective is to understand how these cascading transitions work, when they occur, how they can be prevented or triggered, and how they can be predicted. An example paper of this approach is van der Maas et al. (2020, J. of. Complex systems). To meet this overall objective, we will develop a formal modelling framework and an empirical approach for the study of cascading transitions in psycho-social systems and apply this methodology to four themes: opinion change (PhD1), learning (PhD2), addiction (PhD3) and perception (PhD4). The last project concerns cascading transition in multifigure multistable perception and in logical reasoning. In the first three projects the Cascading transition models will consist of social contagion ‘agent based’ models in which each agent is governed by a phase transition model. The specific phase transition models within agents and models of interactions between agents will be developed based on existing domain specific knowledge in the field of application. The empirical approach consists of reviews, reinterpretation, re-analysis of existing datasets and new experimental studies.

What are you going to do

The PhD students are responsible for the substantial research on each of the themes. They will collaborate with the supervisors and the two postdocs on the formal modelling part of the project.

PhD 1 (opinion change) will further develop the Ising attitude model (Dalege et. al, 2018 , Psych Inquiry) and the HIOM model (van der Maas et al, 2020, J. of. Complex systems). Key objective is to collect empirical support for the model, with reviews, re-analysis of existing datasets, by empirically testing model assumptions, and by testing predictions. Supervision team: PI + J. Dalege, F. van Harreveld, D. Borsboom + external members.

PhD 2 (learning) assists in creating a model for learning processes (Savi et al, 2019, PPS)`, where dropping out (quitting) and obtained expertise are the two alternative stable states. This model for the individual is the basis for an agent-based model for collective learning. By analysing existing datasets of online learning systems and games, evidence for some key aspects of these models will be collected. The PhD student will also be involved in new experiments on collaborative learning. Supervision team: PI + B. Jansen, A. Hofman, A. Savi+ external members.

PhD 3 (addiction) will be involved in developing a new model for the transitions between different states of addiction (see Grasman at al, 2016, Plos one; Epskamp et al. 2022, Addictive Beh.). This model for the individual is the basis for an agent-based model for the spread of addictive behaviours. The PhD student will be testing this model with existing datasets, reviews of the literature and new studies into online gambling. Supervision team: PI + R. Wiers + R. van Holst+ external members.

PhD 4 (perception) will further develop on a cascading transition model for multifigure multistable perception (search for ‘array of necker cube’ for an example) and a generalization of this model for the case of logical paradoxes. Empirical work consists of experiments using eye movement and EEG (see Ploeger et al, 2002, Psych. Bull & Rev; Nunez et al., 2015, Front N.; Canales-Johnson et al, 2022, bioRxiv). Supervision team: PI + M. Nunez, S. van Gaal, R. Grasman+ external members.

Teaching is limited to 5% of time, assisting in courses and supervising master students.

What do we require

You have:

  • A master degree with specialization in psychology or a related discipline
  • An interest in and experience with the formal modelling of psycho-social systems
  • The willingness and capacity to work and interact in a multidisciplinary team
  • Excellent written and spoken command of English
  • Relevant experience with data-analysis and experimentation in the area of the PhD proposal

You are available to start Jan 1 2023.

What can we offer you

The position concerns temporary employment of 38 hours per week. The initial employment is for one year. Following a positive assessment and barring altered circumstances, this term will be extended to a total duration of 4 years, which should result in the conferral of a doctorate. We will put together a curriculum which will also include the opportunity to attend training courses and both national and international events. For this position the University Job Classification profile ‘promovendus’ applies. Your salary will be € 2.541 gross per month in the first year and will increase to € 3.247 in the final year, based on full-time employment and in keeping with the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities. We additionally offer an extensive package of secondary benefits, including 8% holiday allowance and a year-end bonus of 8.3%. The UvA offers excellent possibilities for further professional development and education.

About us

The University of Amsterdam is the largest university in the Netherlands, with the broadest spectrum of degree programmes. It is an intellectual hub with 39,000 students, 6,000 employees and 3,000 doctoral students who are all committed to a culture of inquiring minds.

About the faculty

A challenging work environment with a variety of duties and ample scope for individual initiative and development within an inspiring organization. The social and behavioral sciences play a leading role in addressing the major societal challenges faced by the world, the Netherlands and Amsterdam, now and in the future. 

Want to know more about our organisation? Read more about working at the University of Amsterdam.


Do you have any questions or do you require additional information? Please contact:

Han van der Maas, Professor of Psychological Methods

E-mail: h.l.j.vandermaas@uva.nl

Job application

Do you recognize yourself in the job profile? Then we look forward to receiving your application by 21 October 22. You may apply online by using the link below.

Applications in 1 pdf should include your CV and covering letter. Covering letter (max 500 words) should address your fit to one or at most two projects (especially regarding the sections ‘what you will do’, ‘requirements’ and the cited papers). If you apply for two projects state a clear preference.

The UvA is an equal-opportunity employer. We prioritize diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for everyone. We value a spirit of enquiry and perseverance, provide the space to keep asking questions, and promote a culture of curiosity and creativity.

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