PhD Candidate: Enhancing Marketing Interactions Using Virtual Humans

PhD Candidate: Enhancing Marketing Interactions Using Virtual Humans

Published Deadline Location
19 Mar 21 Apr Nijmegen

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Job description

Would you buy something from a virtual human? Why or why not? And how would you want a virtual human to interact with you? These questions are at the core of this PhD trajectory. If you would like to develop an innovative research project at the intersection of communication, marketing and artificial intelligence, then you may be the PhD candidate we are looking for!

Virtual humans are increasingly being used in the marketing of commercial services and products, in particular via social media. They can handle or support a wide range of customer interactions, freeing up human agents to focus on more complex tasks. One example are virtual humans that recommend products or offer customer service via social media.

Virtual humans are unique in their ability to mimic human communication using communication channels such as speech and text, as well as facial expressions and gestures. The use of such cues has been found to induce a perception of humanness in users, which can enhance users' relationships with them (e.g. trust, liking). However, using these cues is not a one-size-fits-all solution and more is not always better. Yet, which social cues can best be used to build a relationship with the customer has remained underexplored. As a result, companies and organisations are not yet making optimal use of virtual humans in their marketing strategy.

Current user experience research relies mainly on self-reported measures, prone to biases like socially desired responses. Incorporating objective measures such as EEG, fMRI, skin conductance, eye tracking, or emotion recognition from neuroscience and physiology could offer deeper insights into user-virtual human relationships. In this PhD project, you will therefore investigate user-agent interactions and the role of social cues in these interactions using neuroscience and physiological measurements alongside traditional methods. The project allows flexibility in choosing specific research focuses.

As a PhD Candidate, you will initiate, develop and execute several studies. You will write scientific papers, resulting in the completion of a PhD thesis at the end of your employment contract. You will participate in supervision meetings and staff meetings of the Communication Science department as well as other relevant research meetings.

You will be embedded in the Communication & Media research programme, which is part of the Behavioural Science Institute (BSI). As a member of the BSI Graduate School PhD programme, you will be expected to complete several courses related to the basic professional skills of scientific researchers such as presentation skills, scientific integrity, and data management. We also encourage you to attend and present your work at relevant workshops and conferences. As part of your PhD position, you will have a 10% teaching load and the opportunity to work towards the university teaching qualification.


Radboud University


  • You hold a Master's or Research Master's degree in Behavioural Science, Communication Science, Psychology, Artificial Intelligence, Neuroscience or Marketing.
  • You have good research, methodological and statistical skills.
  • You preferably have experience with quantitative- and qualitative research and neuroscience or physiological response measurements, or are willing to acquire these skills.
  • You have affinity with consumer marketing, technology and virtual humans.
  • You have good social skills and you are a team player.
  • You like to think outside the box and are interested in learning and thinking across disciplines.
  • You have good written and spoken English language skills as required for scientific publishing.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: We will give you a temporary employment contract (1.0 FTE) of 1,5 years, after which your performance will be evaluated. If the evaluation is positive, your contract will be extended by 2.5 years (4-year contract).

  • We will give you a temporary employment contract (1.0 FTE) of 1,5 years, after which your performance will be evaluated. If the evaluation is positive, your contract will be extended by 2.5 years (4-year contract).
  • You will receive a starting salary of €2,770 gross per month based on a 38-hour working week, which will increase to €3,539 in the fourth year (salary scale P).
  • You will receive an 8% holiday allowance and an 8,3% end-of-year bonus.
  • You will be able to use our Dual Career and Family Support Service. The Dual Career Programme assists your partner via support, tools, and resources to improve their chances of independently finding employment in the Netherlands. Our Family Support Service helps you and your partner feel welcome and at home by providing customised assistance in navigating local facilities, schools, and amenities. Also take a look at our support for international staff page to discover all our services for international employees.
  • You will receive extra days off. With full-time employment, you can choose between 30 or 41 days of annual leave instead of the statutory 20.

Work and science require good employment practices. This is reflected in Radboud University's primary and secondary employment conditions. You can make arrangements for the best possible work-life balance with flexible working hours, various leave arrangements and working from home. You are also able to compose part of your employment conditions yourself, for example, exchange income for extra leave days and receive a reimbursement for your sports subscription. And of course, we offer a good pension plan. You are given plenty of room and responsibility to develop your talents and realise your ambitions. Therefore, we provide various training and development schemes.


The Behavioural Science Institute (BSI) is a multidisciplinary research institute and one of the three research institutes of the Faculty of Social Sciences at Radboud University. Our researchers collaborate across the boundaries of psychology, pedagogical sciences, educational sciences, and communication science. Our mission is to strengthen people through understanding the foundations of human behaviour, by creating synergy between different paradigms, and by facilitating craftsmanship, curiosity and connection in academic research. BSI has seven research programmes covering three major research themes, namely human development, connection and health. BSI conducts fundamental as well as applied/translational research and has excellent facilities and support for lab and field research. Moreover, the institute is known for its successful graduate school and strong commitment to open science.

The Communication & Media research programme investigates the production, content and reception of mediated communication. Our first and main objective is to study the psychological mechanisms underlying uses of media, processes and effects, while taking into account the social-cultural mechanisms of the media landscape. Secondly, the research group aims to apply these fundamental insights to developing and testing media interventions. Within the context of 'positive communication research', we investigate the potential of mediated communication for improving well-being. A key role is played by techniques and tools from the area of Artificial Intelligence: innovative methods such as machine learning and knowledge representation are used to develop intelligent media interventions that make people happy, healthy and well-informed.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 24.001.24



Houtlaan 4, 6525XZ, Nijmegen

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