Vacant postdoc position at Maastricht University

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For the NWO VIDI project ‘When the good gets bad…and sticks! Understanding and challenging (the spreading of) pain-related avoidance behavior’, we are looking for an excellent postdoc with extensive experience in associative learning, psychophysiology, pain disorders and/or health psychology.

Please submit your application online no later than November 13, 2017:

Growing evidence suggests that pain-related fear and avoidance behavior are more disabling than pain itself, and contribute to the transition from acute to chronic pain. When avoidance averts genuine bodily threat, it is highly adaptive. In chronic pain, when avoidance behavior spreads to behaviors that do not pose a threat to the body, it is no longer adaptive. Unbridled generalization of avoidance behaviors may lead to excessive activity disengagement, culminating into a crippling disorder with substantial personal and societal impact. Avoidance behavior also compromises the accurate disconfirmation of bodily threat, contributing to the self-perpetuating cycle of pain, fear, and disability. Despite its prominence in chronic pain models, instrumental avoidance –a topic that has long fascinated researchers (and clinicians)– lacks systematic research due to the absence of appropriate experimentalparadigms, leaving the mechanisms underlying its spreading and persistence poorly understood.

Research method
You will use an innovative operant conditioning paradigm to study pain-related avoidance behavior: a robotic arm-reaching task wherein pain can be avoided by performing more effortful movement trajectories (in terms of distance and resistive force) to reach a target. Avoidance behavior is operationalized as the maximal deviation from the shortest, pain-associated trajectory. Outcome measures include self-reports (pain-expectancy, pain-related fear), a psychophysiological fear measures (e.g. EMG eyeblink startle), and behavioral measures (maximal deviation, exerted force) but can vary depending on the specific research question.

We are looking for an exceptional candidate with
• A PhD in a relevant field, including (health, medical or biological) psychology, health sciences, biomedical sciences, or neuroscience;
• Keen interest in understanding pain-related behavior and pain disorders;
• Strong affinity and experience with associative learning (Pavlovian and/or operant conditioning) and/or psychophysiological research;
• Outstanding research skills and creativity;
• Excellent proficiency and communication skills in English language, both verbally as well as in writing as documented by a history of publications in leading internationally peer-reviewed journals;
• Experience with the supervision of Bachelor, Master students and/or PhD students is desirable;
• Excellent social and excellent organizational competencies.

• The project is very versatile, but also demanding and will ask for dedication, creativity and strong teamwork within the research group as well as with other local and international partners.
• You will further develop the designs of the studies that are described in the project and work closely together with and co-supervise a PhD student that will be hired on this project.
• We expect the candidate to quickly acquire programming skills, new statistical methods and script-based analysis packages (such as R, Matlab).
• The postdoc is expected to actively participate in grant writing.

The successful candidate will be employed at the Behavioral Medicine section of Maastricht University ( There is a productive network of collaborative research within and outside Europe. For example the research group has strong ongoing collaborations with the Health Psychology research group of the KU Leuven (Belgium). As a partner of the Dutch-Flemish postgraduate school Experimental Psychopathology (EPP), the Behavioral Medicine section offers the opportunity to follow several courses/workshops on both methodology and diverse aspects of health psychology and psychopathology.

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 16,500 students and 4,000 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 Humanities and Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience.

Inquiries may be addressed to Dr. Ann Meulders, principal investigator of the NWO Vidi project, via e-mail: The preferred starting date of this project is 01-02-2018 (but this is negotiable). Applications should include a motivation letter, a full CV (including copies of your academic transcripts), and the names and contact information of two references including recommendation letters.