Junior Research Assistant in Psychology, Leiden University, The Netherlands


The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences, Institute of Psychology, the Cognitive Psychology and Developmental and Educational Psychology Units has a position available as Junior Research Assistant in Psychology (0.75 FTE). Key ResponsibilitiesAbout the research project "Proposal VR pilot study Full body mimicry”.

In our daily life people automatically take over each other’s behaviors, ranging from the pitch or tone of someone’s voice to facial expressions and bodily gestures or movements. In most cases, this mirroring is adaptive. By mimicking other people we are decreasing the dissimilarity with the other, literally becoming more similar, which helps in understanding the other’s state of mind and his or her emotions and intentions. For example, observing someone smile triggers a smiling response and it has been argued that this response helps the reciprocator to recognize the benign intent of the first expresser, which in turn acts as a social glue and promotes the social bond. However, there are also behaviors that are contagious but have a less clear adaptive value. Yawning, for instance, is highly contagious but there is a discussion in the scientific literature about why that is the case. Itch, for instance, can also be highly contagious. Seeing someone else scratching himself or even just reading about itch makes the perceiver itchy himself. Up to date there is very little understanding about these behaviors, why they are contagious, which are the mechanisms underlying different forms of mimicry, and how they relate to one another. The lack of a clear understanding of these phenomena is mainly due to the methodological shortcomings this field suffers from, such as low ecological validity and inadequate experimental control. Virtual reality technology represents a useful way for overcoming the limitations inherent to traditional research designs, as it may offer promising opportunities to achieve highly realistic and controlled experiments. For instance, manipulating mimicry in virtual reality can allow to emulate real life social interactions in which people mimic each other reciprocally, can guarantee higher control over the mimicry manipulation and the possibility to assess spontaneous (instead of artificially instructed) mimicry, can offer a more feasible measure of real-time responses to mimicry, and can provide researchers with the opportunity to assess in a systematic way whether and to what extent mimicry is affected by the social context and by characteristics of both the mimicker and the mimickee.The main goal of this proof-of-principle pilot study is to investigate whether 1. VR can be used to induce contagious behavior and 2. VR can be used to mimic participants’ behavior, thereby making them more aware of their movements. In this pilot study we will specifically focus on itch and scratching, because scratching is a highly contagious behavior [10]. Moreover, it has high clinical relevance given the relatively large proportion of patients (ca. 14 %) suffering from chronic itch and its associated scratching behavior, which both can reduce patients’ quality of life tremendously. Nevertheless, the mechanisms are far to be well understood.

The project will run in parallel with ongoing projects of Dr. Antoinette van Laarhoven and Dr. Roberta Sellaro and with the CoPAN lab, directed by Dr. Mariska Kret. The research groups participate in the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition (LIBC), an interfaculty center for interdisciplinary research on brain and cognition.


  • Creating a virtual environment and virtual agents;
  • Setting up a study;
  • Testing participants;
  • Analyse data;
  • Writing an NWO Talent application for turning this into a PhD project.

Selection Criteria

  • Minimal a BS.c. in experimental psychology or neuroscience;
  • Experience with Unity or other VR programs;
  • Knowledge of programming languages and software to program experiments (eprime);
  • Strong research motivation;
  • Excellent technical skills;
  • Excellent command of English;
  • Good social skills, we ask the RA to work closely together with another RA.

Our Faculty/InstituteThe 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.

The Institute of Psychology comprises six units for teaching and research: Health, Medical and Neuropsychology, Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Developmental and Educational Psychology, Social and Organizational Psychology, and Methodology and Statistics. The Institute of Psychology offers a stimulating environment that promotes collaboration within and between units.Terms and conditionWe offer a fixed-term post for 7 months, starting from March, which can possibly be expanded to 1.0 FTE with some teaching duties. Salary range for a full-time working week from €2,465 to €3,292 gross per month (pay scale 8, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities).

More information

Application deadline: 1 February 2018