Short and long-term spread and modulation of individual physiological stress states in the collective

4 Ph.D/Postdoctoral Positions

Research objectives: The physiological arousal state of the individual is a cue that can spread to others. Pioneering work on humans from the 1970s has shown that this is possible for autonomic states, with recent work extending this to endocrine systems. Whether the ‘transmission’ of these and other physiological states through groups is common across species has not yet been investigated. If physiological state can spread, there are likely to be major consequences for collectives, both positive and negative. An acutely stressed individual can potentially provide information about the presence of a nearby threat. At the same time, if an individual can induce a stressed physiological state in others, this may alter functional aspects of groups (e.g. increasing conflict and decreasing task efficiency). We will investigate such questions using parallel approaches across four types of organism: humans, rodents, fish, and birds. In light of research showing that chronic stress is a significant predictor of psychopathology, the findings of this project will have important implications for revealing factors determining normal development

The Department of Psychology has an opening for two Ph.D positions. The successful candidates should ideally have prior knowledge of, and prior experience with, stress research including hormone assessment from saliva and blood,  and be able to interpret results in line with current theories and models. Additionally, the candidates should bring particular interest and motivation to study the collective, and to apply stress research questions in groups. Prerequisite is a M.A. degree in Psychology or Neuroscience. (Advisers Profs. Jens Pruessner and Petra Wirtz.

The Department of Biology and Max Planck Institute for Ornithology have an opening for one Ph.D. or Postdoctoral position. The successful candidate will have the opportunity to conduct pioneering studies linking individual stress physiology to collective animal behaviour in birds. The project will make use of novel tracking technologies in a captive zebra finch model system to investigate the effects of stress on pair-bonding, social behaviour, and group function. The tracking technology has already generated some of the largest datasets ever collected on vertebrate social behaviour, and provides both long-term data on social relationships and short-term moment-by-moment data on individual-level and group-level behaviours. The student will benefit from established colonies of birds with experimentally-manipulated early-life experiences and established social groups. They will also have the opportunity to develop a range of experiments combining differences in early-life experiences with short-term experimental manipulations of individuals and laboratory quantification of stress physiology metrics. Quantitative skills are not a prerequisite for consideration, but the candidate should have a strong interest in social behaviour, and ideally an interest in studying the building blocks of animal societies as well as an understanding of stress physiology. (Adviser Dr. Damien Farine).

The Department of Biology has an opening for one Ph.D. position at the Chair for Immunology. The aim of the project is to investigate whether the adverse effects of social stress on the immune response of mice against viral infection or outcome of immunotherapy can be influenced by the stress experience of littermates. We will also investigate whether early-life adversity affects the outcome of viral infection and vaccination and whether stress-mediated immunosuppression can spread through a collective. Finally, the effect of cytokine deficiency and infection status on group behaviour will be investigated in a close to natural habitat. The candidates should preferably have a sound educational background in immunology and experience with mouse work. (Adviser: Prof. Marcus Groettrup)