Post-doctoral position in cross-cultural child development - development of empathy

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Post-doctoral position in cross-cultural child development - development of empathy

Where: Durham University and Samoa
Department: Department of Psychology
Grade 7: - £33,797
Fixed Term - Full Time
Contract Duration: 36 months
Contracted Hours per Week: 35
Closing Date: 11-Mar-2020, 11:59:00 PM

The Project: The Development of Empathy- A Cross-cultural Investigation (See PDF for full job description)

Empathy – sharing and understanding others’ emotions and thoughts – is a defining feature of what it means to be human. However, we lack knowledge about its evolutionary and developmental origins. Thus far, research on empathy development in the first years of life remains limited and has also been mainly conducted in western or urban populations, which ignores the potential insights from studying cross-cultural variability. Here, we will address this by investigating the development of empathy in infants living in Samoa, a Pacific Island Nation listed as a UN small-island developing state with societal values based upon collective care for others. As part of broader project goals, comparisons are planned with infants in Vanuatu (South Pacific) and the UK. Combining longitudinal behavioural observations and novel experimental techniques, this project will yield rich datasets on how empathy develops in the first two years of life and how this may be shaped by the infant’s social environment. By taking into account potential variation across populations and developmental timepoints, this project seeks to advance our understanding of the development of empathy, one of our most remarkable capacities.

This project aims to:

1. Conduct a longitudinal behavioural analysis of empathy development in the first two years of life
2. To create and implement novel experimental techniques to study empathy comparatively
3. To investigate which features of the infant’s social environment influence empathy (such as the role of caregiving)

The position involves two main responsibilities:

  1. Working with the PI to manage and coordinate the larger-scale research project.
  2. Conduct/coordinate behavioural research in Samoa.

The research for this post will involve a combination of behavioural observations, eye-tracking experiments, psycho-physical measures (infra-red thermal imaging) and behavioural experiments.


• To play a proactive role in the research team; working alongside the Principal Investigator (PI) in project management, coordination and supervision of the cross-cultural research activities, including data collection, analysis and paper writing.
• To lead the research activities taking place in Samoa. This includes engaging respectfully with local communities and collaborators, collecting behavioural and experimental data, coordinating the activities of local research assistants and collaborators to develop and implement research objectives.
• Conduct individual and collaborative research projects under the direction of the PI.
• To contribute to the development of new research areas and methods
• To analyse, write up and disseminate the resulting datasets.
• To disseminate findings at conferences/seminars/workshops and to diverse audiences
• To publish high quality outputs in academic journals.
• To offer creative or innovative solution to problems arising that may affect the achievement of research objectives by discussing with the PI.
• To liaise with research colleagues and make internal and external contacts to develop knowledge and understanding to form relationships for future research collaboration.
• Public engagement with science/impact activities.
• To contribute to fostering a collegial and respectful working environment which is inclusive and welcoming and where everyone is treated fairly with dignity and respect.
• To engage in wider citizenship to support the department and wider discipline.
• To engage in continuing professional development, as appropriate to the role.

This post is fixed term for 36 months with a planned start date March/April 2020 though with flexibility.

The post-holder is employed to work on research/a research project which will be led by another colleague. Whilst this means that the post-holder will not be carrying out independent research in his/her own right, the expectation is that they will contribute to the advancement of the project, through the development of their own research ideas/adaptation and development of research protocols.

The successful candidate will work within a larger research project on the evolutionary and developmental origins of empathy (EMPORIGIN) funded by the European Research Council, led by Dr Zanna Clay. The candidate will engage with a diverse team of researchers and collaborators, including project team, grant collaborators (Prof Tanya Broesch & Prof Philippe Rochat), local field assistants and local collaborators in Samoa, including researchers at the National University of Samoa.

How to Apply

For informal enquiries please contact Dr Zanna Clay, All enquiries will be treated in the strictest confidence.

We prefer to receive applications online via the Durham University Vacancies Site. As part of the application process, you should provide details of 3 (preferably academic/research) referees and the details of your current line manager so that we may seek an employment reference.

Applications are particularly welcome from women and black and minority ethnic candidates, who are under-represented in academic posts in the University .

What to Submit

All applicants are asked to submit:

• A CV and covering letter which details your experience, strengths and potential in the requirements set out above.
• A brief research proposal outlining how we might investigate empathy development in infancy and why a cross-cultural approach is important (250-500 words).

Next Steps

The assessment for the post will include an interview and job talk. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for interview and assessment in March 2020.

See PDF for full job description