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Award details

Modelling the evolution of human personality and social learning, Biosciences/Psychology/Anthropology – PhD (Funded) Ref: 4537

About the award


Professor Alex Mesoudi, University of Exeter

Dr Sasha Dall, University of Exeter

Professor Jochen Gebauer, University of Mannheim / University of Copenhagen


Department for Ecology and Conservation / Human Behaviour and Cultural Evolution Group, Penryn Campus, Cornwall

The University of Exeter is inviting applications for a fully-funded PhD studentship to commence on 9 January 2023 or as soon as possible thereafter.  For eligible students the studentship will cover Home or International tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £17,668  for 3 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study. 

This is a 3 year PhD studentship funded by the ACT project, which is a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant supported by the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme.

Project Description:

The aim of this studentship is to use agent-based models to test evolutionary explanations for personality variation in humans. Recent empirical work in psychology suggests that human personality varies along two fundamental dimensions: agency (or authority vs. submission) and communion (or benevolence vs. malevolence). Our models will explore the hypothesis that these two personality dimensions reflect two different social learning strategies (i.e. biases in who people learn from), both of which are negatively frequency dependent. The aim of this studentship is to model these hypothesised dynamics to test their logic and generate predictions for further empirical research.

The student will be part of the ERC-funded ACT (Agency-Communion Theory) project awarded to Prof Jochen Gebauer (Mannheim/Copenhagen) in collaboration with Prof Alex Mesoudi (Exeter). They will be part of the Human Behaviour and Cultural Evolution Group at the University of Exeter. They will also participate in group meetings with other ACT project members, and potentially collaborate on projects involving lab experiments, Big Data analyses and panel studies.

Experience with computer programming and/or modelling is desirable but not essential. Training in agent-based modelling will be provided during the studentship.

International applicants need to be aware that you will have to cover the cost of your student visa, healthcare surcharge and other costs of moving to the UK to do a PhD.

The conditions for eligibility of home fees status are complex and you will need to seek advice if you have moved to or from the UK (or Republic of Ireland) within the past 3 years or have applied for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme.

Entry requirements

Applicants for this studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a relevant subject (e.g. Biosciences, Human Sciences, Anthropology, Psychology).  

If English is not your first language you will need to meet the required level (Profile B) as per our guidance at

How to apply

In the application process you will be asked to upload several documents. 

• CV

• Letter of application (outlining your academic interests, prior research experience and reasons for wishing to undertake the project).

• Transcript(s) giving full details of subjects studied and grades/marks obtained (this should be an interim transcript if you are still studying)

• Names of two referees familiar with your academic work. You are not required to obtain references yourself. We will request references directly from your referees if you are shortlisted.

• If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need to submit evidence of your proficiency in English.

The closing date for applications is midnight on Tuesday 1st Nov 2022

Interviews will be held virtually / on the University of Exeter Penryn Campus in the week commencing 14th Nov 2022.

If you have any general enquiries about the application process please email or phone 0300 555 60 60 (UK callers) +44 (0) 1392 723044 (EU/International callers)  

Project-specific queries should be directed to the main supervisor Professor Alex Mesoudi


Application deadline:1st November 2022
Number of awards:1
Value:For eligible students the studentship will cover Home or International tuition fees plus an annual tax-free stipend of at least £17,668 for 3 years full-time, or pro rata for part-time study.
Duration of award:per year
Contact: PGR Admissions Team