PhD Discovering the psychology of communicating tipping points for social change


Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences


University of Groningen

The University of Groningen is a research university with a global outlook, deeply rooted in Groningen, City of Talent. Quality has had top priority for four hundred years, and with success: the University is currently in or around the top 100 on several influential ranking lists.

The Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences is a centre of knowledge focusing on individuals and society. We study issues relating to human behaviour, and the relationships between people and society as a whole. This includes the study of how people function under normal circumstances, but also of the problems encountered by individuals or groups, and how to resolve or prevent these. Our Faculty employs about 650 employees.

Job description

We are looking for a highly motivated candidate for the following 4-year PhD position on the NWO SSH Open Competition funded project: Now or never: Discovering the psychology of communicating tipping points for societal change.

Social change often happens slowly, yet sometimes occurs rapidly after a certain tipping point is reached. This research proposes and tests whether communicating such tipping points (i.e., it’s “now or never”.) motivates people to act together for social change. This can occur with respect to political change (e.g., in an election campaign), but also to global issues affecting societies worldwide, such as climate change. Unfortunately, we know little about whether and how communicating tipping points is effective. In this project, we study a new model that hypothesizes that effectively communicated tipping points are characterized by a sense of urgency (now) and the idea that consequences of not engaging in action will be severe (or never).
Moreover, the model propose that the frame is most effective when it is spread through group-based interaction. As such, the model integrates social and psychological factors to explain how communicating tipping points facilitate social change. To empirically test this model, we offer a multi-method project involving interviews, lab experiments, experiments in an immersive interactive simulated society game, and proof-of-concept intervention studies. This enables us to empirically evaluate the motivational power of framing events as tipping points and the key role of group-based interactions in spreading the frame. The findings will help achieve a more comprehensive picture of when communicating tipping points is psychologically (when framed as now or never) and socially (when spread through social interaction) effective, and evaluate whether they can be used to elicit behavioral change in individuals that fosters social change.
The empirical approach contains a mix of quantitative and qualitative studies as well as an intervention study in a more applied context.

The project is situated at the interface between research on intergroup relations, social cognition and political communication. It will be supervised by dr. Kai Epstude and prof. Martijn van Zomeren (Dept. of Social Psychology, RUG). Moreover, within the project, you will have the opportunity to work with and visit two internationally renowned scholars, prof. Daniel Effron (London Business School), and prof. Eran Halperin (Hebrew University of Jerusalem). The project is funded by an NWO SSH Open Competition grant awarded to dr. Kai Epstude and prof. Martijn van Zomeren. It will be hosted at the Social Psychology Group at the University of Groningen.


We are looking for a talented and motivated PhD candidate who is able to tranform ideas into action and is interested in connecting insights from consumer and social psychology in order to address an issue that is highly relevant. More specifically, given the background of the project we are looking for candidates with:

- a Master’s or Research Master’s degree in (social) psychology or related behavioral sciences
- passion for theory-driven research and a demonstrable interest in the topic of the project
- an interest in recent developments in the area of open science
- strong analytical and writing skills
- excellent English proficiency
- demonstrable competences as conceptual capacity, presenting, monitoring, planning and organizing
- experience with different types of statistical software (e.g., SPSS, R, JAMOVI) is helpful.

Conditions of employment

Contract length: 48 months.

In accordance with the collective labour agreement for Dutch Universities, we offer:

- a gross salary of € 2,541 gross per month in the first year to a maximum of € 3,247 gross per month in the final year (salary scale PhD), based on a full-time position (1.0 FTE)
- 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% year-end bonus on the annual gross income
- attractive secondary and market terms of employment
- job classification in the UFO job profile of PhD
- a position for four years. The successful candidate will first be offered a temporary position of one year with the option of renewal for another three years. Prolongation of the contract is contingent on sufficient progress in the first year to indicate that a successful completion of the PhD thesis within the contract period is to be expected.

Starting date: preferably November 1, 2022.

Job Application

If you are interested, we invite you to apply no later than September 14, 2022, 24.00 hrs (Central European Time). Please click on the "Apply" button below. The application package consists of the following separate documents:

1. your cv
2. a motivation letter (2 A4 max) including a short paragraph (300 words max) with initial ideas about the project (in case of a second round we will ask for a more elaborated proposal).
3. a transcripts of grades and if already available a scan of your diploma
4. other relevant documents

The interviews will take place in the last week of September 2022.

The University of Groningen strives to be a university in which students and staff are respected and feel at home, regardless of differences in background, experiences, perspectives, and identities. We believe that working on our core values of inclusion and equality are a joint responsibility and we are constructively working on creating a socially safe environment. Diversity among students and staff members enriches academic debate and contributes to the quality of our teaching and research. We therefore invite applicants from underrepresented groups in particular to apply. For more information, see also our diversity policy webpage:[…]/

Our selection procedure follows the guidelines of the Recruitment code (NVP): and European Commission's European Code of Conduct for recruitment of researchers:

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Additional information

For additional information, please contact:

dr. Kai Epstude

prof. Martijn van Zomeren

In your application, please always include the job opening ID 222542

Digital application form