PhD Opportunities in Embodied Emotion, Cognition, and Interaction in Autonomous Robots

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 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 (Inter-)Action in Autonomous Robots, 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.


Emotional (Hormonal) Modulation of Cognition-Action Loops: The Dynamics of Behavior Control

In biological systems, emotions are part of the bioregulatory mechanisms that contribute to the maintenance of the stability of the internal environment needed to survive in changing (external) environments. They do so by acting on (modulating) the global 'state' of the organism, including bodily state and cognition-action interactions. This project 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. 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.

Developmental and Epigenetic Robotics: the development of affective systems; affective and cognitive Development

Developmental or "epigenetic" robotics is an area that investigates how different mechanisms underlying the behavior of robots can "grow" as a consequence of their interactions with the physical and social environment, allowing robots to acquire new cognitive and behavioral capabilities in ways that are akin to the development of intelligent behavior in biological systems. 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 mobile robots.

The Evolution of Emotions and their Expression in Autonomous Agents and Robots

Emotions and their expression are 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 play a number of survival- related functions: for example, anger energizes and prepares the body for action, fear enhances features that permit to 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.

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 specie) and the development (at the level of individuals) of emotional systems.

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.

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.

Robots and Mental Health

Different projects would be available to develop and test autonomous robot models of affect-related mental disorders as part of our project 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.

Funding and application process

A limited number of studentships (15,009 per annum bursary plus the payment of the student fees) are available for exceptional candidates. Applicants from outside the UK or EU are eligible.

The next SHORTLISTING process for studentship applications will start in early July (possibly July 1), 2019.

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.)

Please mention clearly in the application form 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:

Lynette Spelman and Emma Thorogood
Research Student Administrators
University of Hertfordshire
College Lane
Hatfield, Herts, AL10 9AB, UK
tel: +44 (0)1707 286083

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

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.

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