ESR3 : Does prediction drive neural alignment in conversation?

PhD fellowship


Recent studies on neural alignment in language have shown that successful communication relies on the synchronization of the same brain regions in both speakers. However, more explicit links between neural alignment and specific linguistic functions remain to be established. ESR3’s project relies on the hypothesis that the degree of neural synchronization depends on the degree of predictive processing: the more predictability between speaker and listener (e.g. by modulating meaning predictability, syntactic familiarity, or speaker dialect), the more their brain responses will align and display similar oscillatory dynamics. This will be tested for specific linguistic functions in dual-EEG experiments with pairs of interlocutors engaged in conversations. The identification of component-specific brain markers of predictability and alignment will allow to establish which linguistic factors can enhance the predictability, and thus alignment, in human-machine interactions.

Expected results:

  • Establish whether neural alignment is dependent on inter-speaker predictability;
  • Obtain neurophysiological measurements of predictability in conversation;
  • Identify for different linguistic functions the time course of neural alignment and oscillatory dynamics in perception-production interactions;
  • Apply these neural markers of inter-speaker predictability and alignment as an evaluation tool for the assessment of the human-likeness of human-machine interactions.

Based in Aix-en-Provence, France

Full-time three-year contract, starting September 2020

PhD enrolment at: Aix-Marseille University

Main supervisor’s institution: Aix-Marseille University

Main supervisor: Dr Kristof Strijkers


  • Freie Universität Berlin: explore how predictive alignment interacts with different verbal acts and pragmatic contexts (5 months);
  • Furhat Robotics, Stockholm: apply neurophysiological insights of predictability and neural alignment to test and improve the effectiveness of human-machine interactions (6 months).

Co-supervisors’ institutions:

  • Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
  • Furhat Robotics, Stockholm, Sweden


The ESR will be contractually employed for 36 months by the main institution, and will be covered under the social security scheme of the enrolling country. She/he will monthly receive a Living Allowance, a Mobility Allowance and a Family Allowance (if applicable) compliant with the applicable EC Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions-ITN general conditions.

The net salary for ESR1 will be about €2.300-2.700 according to her/his situation.

Eligibility criteria:

Experience eligibility requirement: Eligible applicants must be in the first 4 years of their research careers (full-time equivalent research experience) at the signature of the contract (measured from the time the Master’s degree has been obtained).

Eligible applicants must not hold a Doctoral Degree yet.

Mobility eligibility requirement

The fellow must not have resided in the main institution’s country for more than 12 months in the 3 years immediately prior to the recruitment date, and not have carried out their main activity (work, studies, etc.) in that country.

Selection process

February-March 2020: Opening of the call

Applications must be sent to administrative support and contain the following:

  1. An up-to-date CV, without gaps, in order for the selection committee to easily check the mobility and experience requirements. CVs that either do not clearly show the applicant’s past experience, or have gaps, will be considered ineligible;
  2. A letter exposing her/his motivation for a COBRA PhD fellowship, and her preference for two of the fifteen PhD projects proposed in COBRA;
  3. At least 1 reference letter (in English) from one former supervisor and/or lecturer;
  4. The scan of the degree (usually the master’s degree) which would formally entitles her/him to embark on a doctorate, either in the country in which the degree was obtained, or in the country in which the researcher will be recruited. If the degree has not been obtained yet, the applicant will have to provide a declaration of her/his university stating that the degree will be obtained before the expected starting date;
  5. Transcripts of records (document indicating the applicant’s ranking and marks within her/his master’s degree as well as the courses/modules she/he has followed).

Admissions time-line

  • April 2020: Selection & ranking of pre-selected candidates
  • May 2020: pre-selected candidates’ interviews
  • June 2020: Notification of the selected candidates
  • September-October 2020: beginning of contracts

Additional comments

REQUIRED EDUCATION LEVEL: Master’s degree or equivalent

Specific Requirements:

Applications must be in English and will be evaluated against the following criteria:

  • Educational record;
  • Scientific quality of the applicant’s CV;
  • Expected impact and benefit to the fellow and to the project;
  • Previous experiences in the area of the COBRA research programme.

COBRA supports equal opportunity and encourages female researchers to apply for positions.

In the event that the ESR recruited has a disability such that her/his participation in the project is not possible without extra financial support, the host institution will apply for a dedicated Special Needs Lump Sum allowance (SNLS) to the European Commission.

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