PhD position ‘Persuasive Technology, Allocation of Control, and Social Values ‘

The position is part of a larger research grant in the “Social Responsible Innovation” program of NWO and will include researchers from psychology, philosophy and mechanical engineering.

The section of Philosophy and Ethics of Technology has the mission (i) to contribute to the bachelor and master programs of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences and (ii) to contribute to a reflective attitude of engineering students in all engineering disciplines at TU/e, with regard to the development and use of technology.

Project description

Social values can be in conflict with the interests or preferences of individual persons. Sustainability, for example, is widely viewed as crucial for our future. At the same time it is recognized that technology alone cannot bring about a sustainable society. Individual agents need to change their behavior as well. How do we motivate agents such that they realize our social values, even when these values conflict with their own private interests? This is where persuasive technology comes into the picture. It aims at persuading human agents to behave in socially-valued ways, by giving information, providing feedback, and taking over actions. The success of a persuasive technology that serves the public interest depends on the integration of sound technology, effective persuasive principles and careful attention to ethical considerations.

This research program investigates the psychological mechanisms and the ethical dilemmas of persuasive technology in two ways. First, we develop an in-depth empirical study of a concrete case where persuasive technology is under development: the energy management and safety of vehicles (cars, trucks). Vehicle simulators will be used to observe human agents using various forms of persuasive technology, where the most important variable will be the amount of control transferred from the user to the technological system. Second, we analyze the general psychological mechanisms, ethical dilemmas, and value conflicts at stake, which will result in design recommendations for developers of persuasive technology. Since persuasive technology is a perfectly generic technology our results will be important for many other areas as well.

This interdisciplinary research project will be conducted by researcher from the fields of philosophy, psychology and mechanical engineering.

The ethical part of the project will address moral issues that arise when using persuasive technology. Persuasive technologies raise various ethical questions, many of which have to do with a conflict between the individual values of human agents and the social values that these technologies aim to promote. The philosophical part of our research will study the ethical issues of technological ‘persuasion’. The main research question is: What are morally acceptable means of technological ‘persuasion’? The ethical questions we consider are prompted by the technological case study. However, most of these ethical issues are of a general nature. The ethical project thus starts from the level of the concrete technological case and moves on to the level of general ethical principles and design guidelines. This will be specifically relevant for the social, political and legal aspects of persuasive technology and for the public debate about it.


The PhD student is expected to do both supervised and unsupervised research, write a PhD thesis and research papers on ethical issues regarding persuasive technologies and to participate in activities of the 3TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology. A small part of the studentship may involve teaching in courses offered by the section. Active cooperation in the interdisciplinary setting of the project (which involves research in psychology and mechanical engineering) is required.


  • Your prior studies and current interests prepare you to do research on and write a thesis on ethical issues related to development and usage of persuasive technologies.
  • In particular, you have a Master degree in philosophy, with a proven interest in ethics and technology, or a Master degree in engineering science, with a proven interest in ethical issues.
  • You aspire to further academic development, you possess excellent analytical skills and you know how to make contact outside your immediate working environment.
  • You must have sufficient knowledge of the English language.

Appointment and salary

We offer:

  • a full-time temporary appointment for a period of 4 years;
  • a gross monthly salary of € 2042 during the first year up to € 2612 during the fourth year of the appointment;
  • a holiday allowance of 8% of the yearly salary and an end year allowance of 8.3% of the yearly salary;
  • a PhD program of 1,000 course hours, suited to the specific needs of the candidate;
  • a broad package of fringe benefits, including an excellent technical infrastructure, child care, savings schemes, and excellent sports facilities;
  • a stimulating, internationally renowned research environment. In the latest international assessment of research in philosophy in the Netherlands, the section of Philosophy and Ethics of Technology received top marks on all four criteria of the assessment (quality, productivity, relevance, and viability);
  • the university covers (partly) the costs of publishing your dissertation.

Attaining a PhD at Eindhoven University of Technology provides you with excellent career opportunities.


Additional information about this position can be obtained from Dr. Andreas Spahn ( Further general information: Marc Roelands, HR advisor, phone +31 40 2474886, e-mail:


Send a written (printed) application letter with motivation for application, a recent, detailed Curriculum Vitae, names and contact details of (at least) two referees, and a sample of written work to:

Technische Universiteit Eindhoven
Department of Industrial Engineering and Innovation Sciences
HR Services, Pav. C 0.17
PO Box 513
5600 MB Eindhoven
The Netherlands

Applications should be received by July 17th 2009. Please include the job vacancy code: V39.480. As part of an equal opportunity scheme, women are explicitly requested to apply.