PhD Psychology: Computing the Face Syntax of Social Communication (FACESYNTAX)

Supervisors: Dr Rachael Jack (; Professor Philippe Schyns (

Description: This ambitious project aims to mathematically model the human face as an algebraic generator of dynamic social signals and build a psychologically and culturally valid generative model of social face signalling that is transferrable to social robots. The project will use a multidisciplinary approach that combines social and cultural psychology with dynamic 3D structural face computer graphics, vision science psychophysical methods, and mathematical psychology. Since the project involves interdisciplinary knowledge and skills, we are keen to identify someone with experience of both computational (e.g., programming) and social psychology, for example via a joint degree or complementary research experience/interests.

Background: Social interactions are critical to all societies. One of the most powerful tools for social interaction is the face – a complex system comprising variations of movement (expressions), morphology (shape/structure) and complexion (color/texture). Consequently, the face can elicit myriad rapid social judgments (e.g. personality, emotion, group membership, age, health, social status) with significant consequences (e.g. sentencing/voting decisions, social isolation, job offers). Yet, little is known about how the complex, dynamic face transmits the myriad messages that regulate social interactions in different cultures, how these complex face signals map onto psychological processes (e.g. categorical/dimensional perception) or which signals facilitate or hinder cross-culture communication. This is largely due to fragmented research on social concepts (mental states, personality, emotions), face signals (morphology, movements, complexion) and culture, which, consequently, has overlooked a possible latent algebraic, syntactical structure to social face signals across cultures. This ambitious program will unify these fragments to derive the first generative, algebraic and syntactical model of social face signals using innovative methods combining social/cultural psychology, 3D dynamic computer graphics, vision science psychophysical methods, and mathematical psychology. It will thus test and validate a new theoretical framework of social face signals that will unite both categorical/dimensional and universal/culture-specific accounts of social face perception. This framework is highly relevant in the context of globalization and cultural integration where social communication using virtual agents is integral to modern society. It is thus imperative to equip digital agents with the tools to flexibly generate socially and culturally sophisticated face signals. FACESYNTAX will thus transfer the generative model to social robotics.

The ideal candidate will make creative contributions to the research program including co-authoring manuscripts resulting from the research. We seek a candidate who is self-motivated, highly organized, and a team player, with an interest in pursuing a career in psychology/HRI.

Funding notes: Funding is available from the European Research Council (ERC) to cover tuition fees for UK, EU and International applicants for 4 years, as well as paying a stipend at the Research Council rate (estimated £14,999 for Session 2019-20).

How to Apply: For more information, prospective candidates should contact Dr Rachael Jack ( by email with an up-to-date CV and 1-page cover letter describing their qualifications for the position, relevant experience, and research/career interests, along with the names of 2-3 references that may be contacted for a recommendation.

Deadline: 31 May 2019

Start Date: 1 October 2019