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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

2 PhD students for the project "A Threat and coping perspective on social change"

02.09.2021, by Tina Keil

Leiden / Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Application deadline: September 20th, 2021

In the context of a grant obtained by Daan Scheepers (Leiden / Utrecht University) and Naomi Ellemers (Utrecht University) we are looking for two PhD candidates to work on a project on dealing with the threat of social change.

Project description

Societies undergo rapid changes in the relations between social groups, for example due to migration, shifting gender roles, globalization, crises like Covid-19, and social movements like #BLM. Heated societal debates suggest that social changes are often experienced as threatening, leading to a host of negative consequences like rigidity, polarization, and hostility towards the source of threat. This makes understanding how people cope with social change one of the major challenges of our times. However, how people regulate negative arousal stemming from societal change, and how this in turn shapes opinions, is as yet poorly understood.

The current project aims to develop a psychophysiological threat-and-coping model of social change. Linking social, psychological, and physiological levels of analysis this novel model describes and explains the interplay between lower-level physiological responses, and higher-level information processing, to understand how people form opinions about social change. Moving beyond maladaptive physiological arousal (threat) the possibility will be examined that change can also elicit more benign arousal (challenge) and link this to sensitivity to specific types of arguments (instrumental, moral, identity) and rigidity versus open-mindedness in opinion formation.

In a series of psychophysiological experiments, partly making use of a mobile lab (‘test-van’) to run psychophysiological experiments in the field, hypotheses derived from the model will be tested.

The gained insights will be used to inform policy-makers about ways to approach and communicate social change in order to avoid overly rigid and hostile responses.

2 PhD positions

We seek two PhD candidates on this project. The first successful candidate will work on a project on (dealing with) the threat of migration; this part of the project will be carried out at Leiden University. The second PhD candidate will work on a project on the threat of diversity- and sustainability policies in organizations; this part of the project will be carried-out at Utrecht University.


The students will work in team consisting of Prof. Dr. Naomi Ellemers (Utrecht), Dr. Félice van Nunspeet (Utrecht), Dr. Ruthie Pliskin (Leiden), and Prof. Dr. Daan Scheepers (Leiden/Utrecht); a postdoc will join the team in a later phase.

More information and how to apply

For questions regarding the positions, please contact Daan Scheepers (

More information about the projects and information on how to apply can be found via the links below

Project 1 (Migration; Leiden University):

Project 2 (Diversity- and sustainability policies; Utrecht University):

If you apply for both positions, please indicate this in your motivation letter and also indicate a possible preference for one or the other position. 

The deadline for applying is September the 20th; The first round of interviews takes place at the 24th of September 2021 and the second round at the 7th/8th of October.