DepartmentDepartment of Psychology
October, February and April
Applications accepted all year round
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
Visit the research subject area page for fees and funding information for this project.
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).
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.
When you are ready to apply, please follow the 'Apply now' link on the Psychology postgraduate research degrees and select the link for the relevant intake. 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.