PhD opportunities

PhD Opportunities in Embodied Emotion, Cognition, and Interaction in Autonomous Social Robots and Artificial Life Simulations

Applications are invited from excellent candidates with good first degrees in computer science, cognitive science, biology, neuroscience, cybernetics, psychology, or other relevant disciplines to work as research students with Dr Lola Cañamero ( at the Embodied Emotion, Cognition, and (Inter-)Action Lab ( for a period of three years. Projects are available regarding various aspects of Embodied Emotion, Cognition, and Interaction in Autonomous Social Robots and Artificial Life Simulations, from a biologically-inspired embodied perspective that emphasizes and models the roles that the body and physical and social interaction play in embodied affective cognition, primarily in (but not limited to) the areas listed below.

Please visit for videos of related projects in our lab.

  1. Emotional (Hormonal) Modulation of Cognition-Action: e.g., in decision making, memory, learning, motivational processes, the dynamics of behavior control, bodily representations, the development of awareness.

    In biological systems, emotions are part of the bioregulatory mechanisms that contribute to the maintenance of the stability of an organism's internal environment (to its viability and homeostasis), which is needed to survive in changing (external) environments. Emotions and their expression are also key components of social interactions in humans and other animals, serving as mechanisms for communication, signaling, directing attention, motivating and controlling interactions, assessing situations, etc. As put forward by Darwin, they also have a number of survival-related functions: for example, anger energizes and prepares the body for action, fear enhances features that facilitate escape from predators and other dangers, etc. Both aspects are relevant for autonomous and social robots that must inhabit and survive in dynamic environments presenting similar kinds of challenges, particularly the natural environments of humans.

    Emotions interact with motivational and cognitive processess by acting on (modulating) the global 'state' of the organism, including bodily state and cognition-action interactions. This research proposes to investigate similar types of regulatory systems for robots. Research will be conducted into the adaptive value of different affective phenomena to modulate and control the behavior and interactions of autonomous robots in physical and social environments, and to contribute to aspects such as decision making, memory, learning, motivational processes, the dynamics of behavior control, bodily representations, and the development of awareness. Suitable mechanisms and architectures underlying such affective phenomena will be investigated and implemented, taking inspiration from theories and findings from disciplines such as affective and cognitive neuroscience, biology, ethology, developmental psychology, and the psychology of emotion. This research will have a strong component of experimentation and testing using robotic scenarios and suitable methods for quantitative and qualitative analysis of results.

  2. Developmental and Epigenetic Robotics: the development of affective systems; affective and cognitive development in human-robot interactions.

    Developmental or "epigenetic" robotics is an area that investigates how robots can acquire new sensorimotor, affective, cognitive and behavioral capabilities as a consequence of their interactions with the physical and social environment, in ways that are akin to the development of (human and non-human) infants. A challenging (and as yet largely unexplored) topic within this area is the study of the relationships between emotional and cognitive development, and in particular how affective mechanisms influence the development of cognitive and behavioral mechanisms and skills. In robotics, one of the possible projects along this line would investigate the influence of affective mechanisms in the development of (neural) controllers for autonomous and social robots.

  3. The Evolution of Affective Systems and Affect Expression in Autonomous Agents and Robots.

    From the perspective of evolution, emotions can be regarded as adaptive mechanisms that arose to better face significant survival-related events that recurred in evolutionary history. Artificial life and robotics can contribute to the understanding of how our emotions became what they currently are by simulating in computers and robots how they could have evolved under different environmental conditions and in response to various evolutionary pressures. Different projects could be developed within this general theme, depending on the background and interests of the candidate. The projects would investigate, in an artificial life environment and ideally also using physical robots, the evolution of a subset of emotion-related systems and (expressive) behaviors as a function of diverse evolutionary pressures, putting particular emphasis on social interaction and dynamics. Another aspect that would be of particular interest involves the interactions between the evolution (at the level of the species) and the development (at the level of individuals) of emotional systems.

  4. Affective Social Cognition and the Dynamics of Affect-Based Relationships in Social Groups.

    Social animals can have very complex social relations and structures. Some of them are somewhat rigid, based on "family" and ''dominance'' relations. Others form in a more dynamic way, based on the history of (positive and negative) affect-based interactions among individuals, or as emergent phenomena in social situations (e.g., phenomena such as emotional contagion). The proposed project would involve building artificial societies (simulated and possibly robotic) as tools to study how some of these relations and phenomena can develop and affect social dynamics on the grounds of a few relevant parameters that can be varied and analyzed in different ways.

  5. Affective Robot Companions: ROBIN, an affective autonomous robot to support children with diabetes.

    Projects would be available to further develop and test our affective autonomous robot companion Robin, developed to help children improve their confidence and skills in managing their diabetes. Please visit Robin's website for further information about Robin.

  6. Embodied Computational Psychiatry (Robots and Mental Health): Autonomous Robots as Embodied Models of Mental Disorders.

    Different projects would be available to develop and test autonomous robot models of affect-related mental disorders as part of our research on Autonomous Robots as Embodied Models of Mental Disorders, which aims to explore dysfunctions of affective cognition in humans and other animals, and bring embodiment into the area of Computational Psychiatry. Please visit the project's website for furthern information.

Funding and application process:

A limited number of studentships (£15,285 per annum bursary plus the payment of the student fees) are available for exceptional candidates, with an application deadline of 31st May 2020 (shortlisting will start on 1st June 2020). Applicants from outside the UK or EU are eligible.

We also accept applications for self-funded PhDs throughout the year.

Application forms can be downloaded here. Please note that you must download the application form to your computer before you complete it. If you try to complete the form in the browser window, the information you have entered might be lost when the form is saved.

In the application, please mention clearly that you are applying for a studentship in the area of Embodied Emotion, Cognition and (Inter-)Action, and the topic(s) of your interest.

Completed application forms should be returned to the Doctoral College Admissions service, by email to:

Lynette Spelman and Emma Thorogood
Research Student Administrators
University of Hertfordshire, UK

It is advisable that you Cc me ( when you email your application

Applications should also include two references and transcripts of previous academic degrees.

Application deadline: please apply by the end of 31st May at the lastest; the next shortlisting process for studentship applications will start on 1st June 2020.

Research in Computer Science at the University of Hertfordshire has been recognized as excellent by the latest Research Assessment Exercise, with 50% of the research submitted being rated as world leading or internationally excellent. The Centre for Computer Science and Informatics Research (CCSIR), where our PhD students are based, provides a very stimulating environment, offering a large number of specialized and interdisciplinary seminars as well as general training or researcher development opportunities. The University of Hertfordshire is situated in Hatfield, in the green belt just north of London.