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PhD Studentship: NERC GW4+ DTP PhD Studentship for 2024 Entry - Project Partner Choice and Behavioural Variation in Social Networks

University of Exeter - Department of Psychology

Qualification Type: PhD
Location: Exeter
Funding for: UK Students, EU Students, International Students
Funding amount: £18,622 p.a. for 2023-24
Hours: Full Time
Placed On: 2nd November 2023
Closes: 9th January 2024
Reference: 4975

 About the Partnership

This project is one of a number that are in competition for funding from the NERC Great Western Four+ Doctoral Training Partnership (GW4+ DTP).  The GW4+ DTP consists of the Great Western Four alliance of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Cardiff University and the University of Exeter plus five Research Organisation partners: British Antarctic Survey, British Geological Survey, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology,  the Natural History Museum and Plymouth Marine Laboratory. The partnership aims to provide a broad training in earth and environmental sciences, designed to train tomorrow’s leaders in earth and environmental science.

Project Background

For many species, the social environment can profoundly impact the health and survival of individuals. For instance, across vertebrates, individuals who are socially isolated die younger than individuals who are well connected to their social networks. But how the relationship between social connectivity and biological outcomes comes about it less well understood. One possibility is that having a variety of different types of social partners allows individuals to respond to the variable challenges they face in the environment. This could mean that an individual’s choice of partners is important, but so too are their behaviours toward those seeking them as possible partners. In this project, we will explore the link between an individual’s choice of partners and their behaviour. Individuals might tend associate with partners who have either similar or complimentary behaviour. The behaviour of individuals might also be influenced by their social connections, e.g., cooperate when others cooperate, or follow when others act as leaders. The best way to understand the links between individual behaviour and partner choice is to make computational models of social networks that can be tested with empirical data from social animals.

Project Aims and Methods

The student will learn to carry out analyses of simulated and real social networks with some of the pioneers in the field. They will also develop skills in computational modelling and game theory to make predictions that can be tested with real data. The project will focus on the causality between partner choice and individual behaviour, drawing on game theoretical approaches and network theory. One possibility is that reputation may select for consistency in individual behaviour. Another possibility is that behaviour may be influenced by social partners, so may be expected to change if partners change. The student will be involved from the beginning in project design. For instance, decisions will be made about what behaviours to focus on, how to capture these behaviours efficiently, the types of games to examine, and how to incorporate information in computational models of social networks. Supplementary to theoretical models and analysis of empirical social networks, the student can also carry out behavioural experiments in the aquarium facility at the University of Bristol with Prof. Ioannou. Here, social networks can be quantified in three-spined sticklebacks and compared to individual behavioural types. Small groups can be assayed, comparing groups made of individuals that prefer to associate with one another, groups of individuals with typical behavioural types that closely associate with one another but who do not closely associate in the network, and groups of individuals that are not typical of closely associated individuals in the network.

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