PhD Position in Do Complex Film Stories Foster Real-World Understanding

VU University of Amsterdam Department Communication Science


If you want to take on this challenge and be part of an exciting team working at the forefront of how people understand the world around them through narratives, please apply at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

FTE: 0.8 - 1

Job description

The PhD student’s task will be to carry out empirical studies that test whether complex stories in films help people to understand and deal with complexity of the real-world using experiments and field studies. This in collaboration with an interdisciplinary team (media psychology, computational methods, political psychology, and film studies), building evidenced-based models that explain viewers’ emotional and cognitive engagement with complexity in filmic storytelling and the effect thereof on opinion formation of complex issues in the real world.

About the project
We live in an increasingly complex world. For example, if you aim to behave environmentally friendly, should you drink plant-based milk or is it better to drink locally produced cow milk? This is not an easy answer, and the answer brings a lot of “buts” and “ifs” to the table. This, in turn, might lead to confusion or frustration, or in other complex situations may even appear threatening. At the same time, complexity is an increasingly popular trend in mainstream film and television, manifesting in narratives presenting formal‐structural narrative complexities (multiple timelines, complicated causality of events, etc.), yet attracting wide audiences. This new trend of filmic narrative complexity provides an opportunity to build evidence‐based theories of viewers’ emotional and cognitive engagement with complexity in filmic storytelling and the effect thereof on opinion formation of complex issues in the real world. In this cross‐disciplinary project, the PhD candidate will integrate theories and methods from the Humanities (film studies, cognitive narratology), Communication Science and Social Sciences (narrative engagement, media effects, public opinion formation). The current PhD vacancy focuses on real-world understanding through complex narratives in films in various social contexts (e.g., climate change).

The research is embedded in the department of Communication Science (Department Communication Science), in the Media Psychology and Political Communication Programs of the department. Supervisors are prof. dr. Elly A. Konijn, dr. Katalin Balint, and dr. Mariken van der Velden. We are an interdisciplinary team of media psychologists, film-, and political communication scholars, and have won several prestigious awards honoring our work (e.g., DFG, VENI, Aspasia, Huibregtsen award from KNAW/NWO). You will have opportunities to collaborate with many researchers in their research groups on narratives in films and public opinion formation.

Your duties
Test psychological models of information processing to answer the following research question: To what extent do complex stories in films help people to understand and deal with complexity of the real-world using experiments and field studies? Carry out your research according to international standards resulting in a PhD dissertation; make your research and experiments publicly available and reproducible, such as through publications in academic journals, conference proceedings, and brief reports accessible to the public at large. Thereby following the principles of Open Science.


  • Completed (Research) Master degree in Communication Science, Media & Film Studies, Psychology, or any related field;
  • Interest in the topic and methods of the project;
  • Knowledge of and experience with empirical (field or experimental) studies and research designs;
  • Advanced statistical and analytical skills with a willingness to learn or experience with programming in R or Python;
  • Excellent academic writing skills;
  • Excellent command of written and spoken English (IELTS score of 7 or higher);
  • Excellent organizational skills;
  • Ability and interest to work in an interdisciplinary team as well as work independently;
  • Candidates who are due to finish their Master's thesis before August 31st 2023 are welcome to apply.

What are we offering?

A challenging position in a socially involved and highly interdisciplinary organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts to €2,541 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,274 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for at least 0.8 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a total duration of 4 years (or 5 years in case of a 0.8 fte contract). Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:

  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • a wide range of sports facilities which staff may use at a modest charge
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package

About Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavor – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 30,000 students. We employ over 5,500 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

Faculty of Social Sciences
The Faculty of Social Sciences examines the major social problems of our time from multiple perspectives. From bullying at school to dealing with transnational immigration, from the rise of populist politicians to creating a self-reliant society. Only at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam you will find all the academic disciplines needed to understand these 'wicked problems': alongside the traditional disciplines such as sociology, anthropology and politics, we also research and teach the new social sciences such as communication science and management & organization science. We do not settle for easy answers in our teaching and research. Our researchers and students are critical thinkers and doers who work together to devise surprising solutions to the problems of today.

Working at the Faculty of Social Sciences means working with colleagues from a range of academic disciplines in an inspiring and personal work and study environment with excellent research facilities. We employ more than 350 staff members, and we are home to around 3,000 students.


Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until February 28. The job interviews will take place online or in person from March 13, 2023 - March 17, 2023. Preferred starting date is May 1, 2023.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: dr. Katalin E. Balint and dr. Mariken A.C.G. van der Velden
Position: Associate Professors
Telephone: +31 (0)20 598 6854 (secrerariat)

No agencies

In your application, please refer to


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