PhD position

The Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, investigates the attentional, cognitive, and affective mechanisms of aesthetic perception and evaluation.

The Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology invites applications for a

PhD position 
fixed term (36 months), salary scale 13 TVöD 65%


The newly founded Department of Cognitive Neuropsychology, headed by Prof. Dr. Fredrik Ullén, at the MPI for Empirical Aesthetics uses music as a model to analyze the brain mechanisms that underpin human expertise, skill learning, and creativity. We offer a dynamic and enthusiastic research environment, which employs a broad combination of techniques, ranging from structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging and psychological and physiological experiments, to behavior genetic analyses of gene-environment interplay.

Creativity, defined as the capability of coming up with ideas that are both novel and appropriate, is a defining characteristic of the human species. In the last decade, there has been a surge of creativity research enabled by technological and analytical advances in neuroimaging. These newfound opportunities have presented novel ways of associating creative behaviors with brain activity. The focus of the present doctoral project is to study the neural underpinnings of musical improvisation using behavioral experiments and fMRI, with the aim to break new ground in our understanding of not just musical improvisation, but also of the neural basis of creativity in general.

Requirements for this position are a Master’s degree, or equivalent, in cognitive neuroscience, psychology, or a related field, as well as a high proficiency in oral and written English. A solid methods background in statistics, prior experience with fMRI, as well as a basic experience with programming in Python and MATLAB are highly desirable. Experience with playing a musical instrument is desirable.

The position will begin earliest on December 1, 2021 and is initially limited to three years. The selection process will continue until the position is filled. Salary is based on the pay scale of the Max Planck Society.

The research will be conducted at MPI for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt am Main with access to a Siemens 3T MRI scanner, as well as laboratories for behavioral and physiological experiments. The facilities are supported by experienced IT and physicist staff. Analyses are carried out on the Institute’s high-performance cluster. The institute is a highly interdisciplinary and international scientific environment, with English and German being the languages spoken in the laboratory. It is located in an attractive location with excellent infrastructure in Frankfurt’s Westend. You can expect a modern workplace with a pleasant and inspiring working atmosphere.

The Max Planck Society strives for gender equality and diversity. We are also committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in our workforce. Therefore, applicants of all backgrounds are welcome.

Your application should include: your detailed CV; a cover letter that explains why the lab’s research and pursuing a doctoral degree interests you and how your skills and abilities are suitable; copies of relevant degrees and/or certificates; a short summary of your Master’s thesis (one page); names and contact information of two references who have previously agreed to be contacted.

Please send these materials all together in a single PDF file, before October 25, 2021, by e-mail to using the code “PhD Musical improvisation” in the subject. 

Please feel free to contact, or Dr. Örjan de Manzano or Prof. Dr. Fredrik Ullén at the department if you have any questions about the position.