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Rethinking complexity in facial communication systems

Project Description

Applications are invited for a fully-funded three year PhD to commence in June 2019.

The PhD will be based in the Department of Psychology,Centre for Comparative and Evolutionary Psychology and will be supervised by Dr Jérôme Micheletta, Prof Bridget Waller and Dr Julie Duboscq. The successful candidate will work closely with a Postdoctoral Research Fellow as well as the principal investigator (PI) and collaborators on the project.

The work on this project will:
-Develop a new theoretical and methodological framework combining an anatomically-based system to identify facial muscle movements (FACS: Facial Action Coding System), with a network approach which measures the relationships between units in a system (SNA: Social Network Analysis)
-Test the hypothesis that social complexity drives the evolution of facial communication complexity by comparing four closely related species characterised by different degrees of social complexity: rhesus, long-tailed, Barbary, and crested macaques.

Project description
Humans and other primates are capable of incredibly subtle and meaningful facial movements that are important channels of communication. Current evidence suggests that species characterised by more complex social systems (e.g. large social groups, individualised, diverse and long-term relationships) have more complex communication systems, in order to deal with their complex social lives.

Testing this hypothesis is hampered by the dominant theoretical approach which conceptualises facial expressions as static configurations of the face, reflecting categorical internal states such as anger or fear (i.e. universal emotions). Scientists are trying to approximate complexity by forcing a species’ facial behaviour into these arbitrary categories, resulting in a number (usually between 2 and 10) used to compare species. We believe that this arbitrary classification is highly subjective, and does not account for the subtlety, variability and dynamism of communication via the face. First, the expressions may differ anatomically. Second, the expressions might blend with others, incorporate additional muscle movements at times, and link with others in complex sequences. Third, the expressions may not have the same duration and temporal dynamics.

This project aims at developing a new theoretical and methodological framework based on the Facial Action Coding System (FACS) and Social Network Analysis, and test the hypothesis that social complexity drives the evolution of facial communication complexity by comparing four closely related species characterised by different degrees of social complexity: rhesus, long-tailed, Barbary, and crested macaques.

General admissions criteria
You’ll need a good first degree from an internationally recognised university (minimum upper second class or equivalent, depending on your chosen course) or a Master’s degree in a relevant subject area. In exceptional cases, we may consider equivalent professional experience and/or Qualifications. English language proficiency at a minimum of IELTS band 6.5 with no component score below 6.0.

Specific candidate requirements
You should have a strong interest in primate communication, especially facial expressions. Ideally, you’ll have an MSc in Animal Behaviour or related discipline, previous research experience with behavioural observations of wild and/or captive animals (preferably primates), experience in video coding, and in advanced quantitative methods (preferably using R). Experience in social network analyses and/or using the Facial Action Coding is highly desirable but not essential. Training can be provided by the supervisory team.

How to Apply
We’d encourage you to contact Dr Jérôme Micheletta () to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.

When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form and select ‘Psychology’ as the subject area. Make sure you submit a personal statement, proof of your degrees and grades, details of two referees, proof of your English language proficiency and an up-to-date CV. Our ‘How to Apply’ page offers further guidance on the PhD application process.

If you want to be considered for this funded PhD opportunity you must quote project code PSYC4920319 when applying.

Funding Notes

The project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust and is available to UK and EU students only. The funding covers tuition fees and an annual maintenance grant in line with the RCUK rate (£15,009 for 2019/20) for three years.

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