For the NWO Gravitation Project ‘New Science of Mental Disorders’, the department of Clinical Psychological Science of UM has an opening for a PhD student with a strong interest, and preferably experience, in conditioning research and psychopathology

The NWO Gravitation Project conceptualizes mental illness as a dynamic network of interacting symptoms, in which interactions are driven by transdiagnostic processes. The PhD student will study the transdiagnostic processes of appetitive and aversive learning across different mental disorders.

In the Gravitation Project ‘New Science of Mental Disorders’, a consortium of researchers from Dutch universities will further develop and critically test the network approach to mental illness. The goal of the current PhD project within this Gravitation Program is to investigate the role of appetitive (approach) and aversive (avoidance) learning in a broad spectrum of mental health conditions, from anxiety disorders and mood disorders to substance use disorders and eating disorders. While the acquisition of approach and avoidance behavior is generally adaptive, it can also lead to maladaptive behavior. For instance, the ability of positively reinforced conditioned stimuli to motivate behavior might underlie real-world maladaptive behaviors, such as drug addiction wherein drug-related stimuli in the environment trigger drug-seeking behavior. Avoidance-based conditioning can be a useful model for disorders involving avoidance of aversive stimuli, such as anxiety. Much is still unknown about how and when adaptive approach and avoidance learning escalates into such maladaptive behaviors. This project focuses on (a)symmetries in appetitive and aversive learning and overgeneralization as potential transdiagnostic mechanisms that may contribute to the escalation of normal approach and avoidance behavior into maladaptive behaviors. The first scientific challenge within this project is to understand how appetitive and aversive learning may contribute to symptoms of mental disorders. The second challenge is to test whether and how we can target appetitive and aversive learning and overgeneralization mechanisms to reduce maladaptive behavior.


  • A (Research)Master’s degree in (cognitive, health, or clinical) psychology
  • Ambition to do experimental psychological research, in particular conditioning research in the laboratory
  • Academic interest in mental disorders and transdiagnostic processes
  • Substantial knowledge of research methodology and statistical methods
  • Strong analytical skills and programming skills (e.g., E-prime, Presentation, Inquisit)
  • Excellent writing and presentation skills (English)
  • You are characterized by enthusiasm, creativity, passion and perseverance

contract: 4 years.

We offer a (in total) four year full-time appointment as PhD candidate. At the end of the first year your performance will be reviewed and upon a positive assessment, your contract will be extended for a three-year period.

More information on terms of employment can be found on the Maastricht University website.

Maastricht University

Maastricht University is renowned for its unique, innovative, problem-based learning system, which is characterized by a small-scale and student-oriented approach. Research at UM is characterized by a multidisciplinary and thematic approach, and is concentrated in research institutes and schools. Maastricht University has around 18,000 students and 4,400 employees. Reflecting the university's strong international profile, a fair amount of both students and staff are from abroad. The university hosts 6 faculties: Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Faculty of Law, School of Business and Economics, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience.

A brief project description can be requested from dr. Katrijn Houben (e-mail:

The interviews for this position will be (provisionally) scheduled on June 15 and 16. Applicants who are selected for the interviews will receive an invitation via email.

The preferred starting date of this PhD-project is September 1, 2020.

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