The importance of visibility of the face and eyes for human-unique collaborative efficacy
PhDs and postgraduate research
Self-funded PhD students only
Department of Psychology
October and February
Applications accepted all year round
Applications are invited for a self-funded, 3 year full-time or 6 year part-time PhD project.
The work on this project will involve:
- Data collection with chimpanzees at Ngamba Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Uganda.
- Data collection with children at Winchester Science Centre
- Experience working with a team of comparative researchers with expertise in developmental, evolutionary and comparative psychology and quantitative methods.
This research delves into the fundamental question of how humans evolved a vast and complex array of social cognitive capacities in comparison to any other species on earth, particularly in relation to our ability to coordinate and collaborate (Tomasello, Carpenter, Call, Behne & Moll, 2005). We are highly motivated to collaborate with others from a young age rather than acting independently (Rekers, Haun & Tomasello, 2011), in contrast to our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, who prefer individual strategies over collaborative ones (Bullinger, Melis & Tomasello, 2011). We have automatic tendencies to coordinate with others even when we are unaware we are doing so (Chartrand & Bargh, 1999) and we prefer people who coordinate with us (Hove & Risen, 2009).
One of the most promising and elegantly simple proposals for how we achieve this collaborative sophistication, often known as the ‘Cooperative Eye’ hypothesis, argues that humans have a unique sensitivity to the eyes of a co-actor (Tomasello et al., 2017; Grossmann, 2017; Kano & Tomonaga, 2010; Gomez, 1996). In comparison to other primates, humans have an extremely high colour contrast between the white sclera and the iris and surrounding skin colour (Kobayashi & Kohshima, 1997; Kobayashi & Kohshima, 2001). This has been argued to be a human-unique adaptation to aid cooperation, as if we can easily detect the eye gaze of a partner this aids us in predicting their actions and coordinating accordingly (Tomasello et al., 2017). This is an intuitively appealing explanation of our coordination abilities – we are all familiar with experience of coordination breakdown when communicating without access to eye contact, such as through messaging media or email.
However, these proposals have neglected to make the appropriate comparisons to test their theoretical standpoint. This project will fill this gap by making direct comparisons between the influence of eye contact and visual access to the face on the collaborative performance of human children, who already engage in joint attention, and one of our closest living relatives, the chimpanzee. By doing so, we can test whether the key role of eye contact for coordination really is a human-unique adaptation. If access to a partner’s eyes is crucial during collaborative interactions, collaboration should collapse during conditions where access to eyes is not possible. This will have huge theoretical implications for how we came to be such a collaborative species.
Fees and funding
Funding Availability: Self-funded PhD students only
PhD full-time and part-time courses are eligible for the UK Government Doctoral Loan (UK and EU students only).
2020/2021 entry (for October 2020 and February 2021 entries)
Home/EU/CI full-time students: £4,407 p/a
Home/EU/CI part-time students: £2,204 p/a
International full-time students: £16,400 p/a
International part-time students: £8,200 p/a
2021/2022 entry (for October 2021 and February 2022 entries)
Home/EU/CI full-time students: £4,407 p/a*
Home/EU/CI part-time students: £2,204 p/a*
International full-time students: £17,600 p/a
International part-time students: £8,800 p/a
All fees are subject to annual increase.
If you are an EU student starting a programme in 2021/22 please visit this page.
*This is the 2020/21 UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) maximum studentship fee; this fee will increase to the 2021/22 UKRI maximum studentship fee when UKRI announces this rate in Spring 2021.
Some PhD projects may include additional fees – known as bench fees – for equipment and other consumables, and these will be added to your standard tuition fee. Speak to the supervisory team during your interview about any additional fees you may have to pay. Please note, bench fees are not eligible for discounts and are non-refundable.
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 Psychology or a related 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.
- Strong interest in developmental and comparative psychology.
- Knowledge of quantitative research methods.
- Experience working with children and/or non-human animals.
How to apply
We’d encourage you to contact Dr Sophie Milward (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss your interest before you apply, quoting the project code.
When you are ready to apply, you can use our online application form. 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.
Please also include a research proposal of max 1,000 words outlining the main features of your proposed research design – including how it meets the stated objectives, details on data collection and analysis, and how the work will build on or challenge existing research in the above field.
When applying please quote project code: PSYC5051021