PhD student NWO gravitation programme

PhD student NWO gravitation programme

Published Deadline Location
21 Jan 4 Feb Leiden

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Leiden University, as part of the NWO Gravitation programme “New science of mental disorders” The Institute of Psychology of The Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Leiden University in collaboration with the Experimental Health Psychology unit of Maastricht University has an opening for a PhD student NWO gravitation programme

Job description

Project description
The title of the NWO gravitation programme is “The transdiagnostic role of expectancy learning and avoidance behaviour across somatic and mental symptoms” The Gravitation project focuses on a new and challenging view on the origin, maintenance and change of all mental disorders. The vision is that mental illnesses are dynamic and complex networks of symptoms that interact with one another over time. The 10-year Gravitation project focus on (1) the estimation of complex and dynamic networks of individual patients, which can change over time, (2) disorder-transcending network-based interventions tailored for the individual, and (3) in-depth fundamental studies into transdiagnostic behavioural, cognitive, neurocognitive and interpersonal processes that can drive connectivity between symptoms. The current project is part of the third category.

The aim of the current PhD project is to understand the role that expectancy and avoidance learning play in a broad spectrum of physical symptoms, particularly pain, itch and fatigue, and related mental symptoms, such as anxiety and depressed mood, in the transmission from an acute to a chronic state. For this goal, the PhD student will study these relationships in subjects with and without physical symptoms (pain, itch and fatigue) in both laboratory and natural field settings. Moreover, the PhD student will examine the conditions in which learned expectancy effects and avoidance behavior can be extinguished, and test manipulations to optimize expectancies and reduce avoidance behavior in order to reduce physical and related mental symptoms and mitigate risk of chronification. The current project is expected to show the relevance of both expectancy and avoidance learning for the development and maintenance of chronic somatic symptoms, such as pain, itch and fatigue, and related mental symptoms, in both experimental and field studies. Moreover, innovative techniques how these learning mechanisms can be altered and used for innovative treatments in the area of chronic physical symptoms and related mental symptoms are explored. 

Key responsibilities

  • You will be responsible for conducting different clinical-experimental and field studies of this PhD project;
  • You will write scientific, peer-reviewed publications, resulting in a PhD thesis.


Leiden University


  • A Master or equivalent degree in a relevant field (completion of the MA thesis before the PhD project starts), including (health, medical or biological) psychology, health sciences, cognitive neuroscience, or biomedical sciences;
  • High affinity with experimental psychoneurobiological research (e.g. conditioning approaches, avoidance paradigms, Quantitative Sensory Testing, psychophysiological reactivity measures) in healthy subjects and patients groups;
  • Substantial knowledge of statistical methods and high analytical skills;
  • Ambition as high-potential researcher aimed at excellent scientific research;
  • Ability to work independently in a multidisciplinary setting;
  • Social and organizational competencies;
  • Proficiency in Dutch and English (or the intention to reach it within a short period of time).

Conditions of employment

Appointment is for a period of one year with an extension of three years after positive evaluation of capabilities and compatibility. The appointment must lead to the completion of a PhD thesis. Salary range from € 2,325.- to € 2,972.- gross per month (PhD scale in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities).

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with additional holiday (8%) and end-of-year bonuses (8.3 %), training and career development. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. For international spouses we have set up a dual career programme. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break. More at the website.


Leiden University

The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences comprises four institutes: education and child studies, political science, psychology and cultural anthropology & development sociology. The Faculty also includes the Centre for Science and Technology Studies. The Faculty is home to 5,000 students and 600 members of staff. Our teaching and research programmes cover diverse topics varying from adoption to political behaviour.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • 36—38 hours per week
  • 20-022



Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK, Leiden

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