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Year 2 Project in Experimental Philosophy brings students to the USA

01 December 2022

At the beginning of November, UCG students who were previously enrolled in the Year 2 Experimental Philosophy Project at UCG (the so-called X-Phi Project) have presented and discussed their research with scholars in the United States.

Some of the students also did an internship under Dr. Lieuwe Zijlstra’s supervision and all of them are part of the Experimental Philosophy Lab Group (xphi-lab Their work and research was celebrated with this academic field trip.

Lab Group

The UCG Experimental Philosophy Lab Group was launched in June 2022 as an exciting full-day workshop about topics in Experimental Philosophy. During the workshops, research internship students and researchers from other faculties presented fascinating research on personal identity, moral objectivism, moral enhancement, sociological topics, and much more.

Interdisciplinary Experimental Philosophy Project

Among the courses taught by Lieuwe we have the Year 2 Experimental Philosophy Project (the X-Phi Project), which is also an current interdisciplinary field of research. In this project, students examine a topic in experimental philosophy and propose and execute philosophical and empirical research. The students discuss a variety of philosophical topics during this course: personal identity, free will, normative and metaethics, psychological dualism, death, meaning in life, happiness, rationality, beliefs & behavior, and much more.

At the same time, they discuss the current state of knowledge in the social sciences (including cognitive sciences, neurosciences, and brain sciences) on these topics. The students suggest research on how to move forward on these topics and Lieuwe helps them to develop research that is interdisciplinary, contributes, enhances our knowledges, and is methodologically sound.


Some students who have done the Experimental Philosophy Projects decided to do a research internship with Lieuwe later on. Students can do this on the basis of vacancies within the Faculty. During a research internship, Lieuwe takes the students through the stages of empirical research: literature review, experimental design, data collection, data analysis, writing scientific manuscripts, presenting at conferences, communicating with scholars, and so forth.

In the past, several of Lieuwe’s students have presented research at conferences and workshop inside Netherlands or abroad. Recently, Julius Westerhoff has presented research at a conference in Amsterdam and Mika van Wijk at a conference in Granada, Spain.

In a recent internship session students presented and discussed research with scholars tuning in online from the United States.

Academic field trip

The internships led to an invitation from Joshua Knobe at Yale University to present and discuss the research students have conducted during their internship.

Sanne van Emmerik, Magdalena Ringle, Sybe van den Top, Julius Westerhoff, and Mika van Wijk (pictures below) went on this study trip to Yale University. During the study trip, they visited Boston to present their research to scholars at MIT and Harvard University. Moreover, they spent multiple days with these scholars discussing ongoing research, research methodology, and how to improve experimental design and engage in theory-formation.

Below you can read more about the specific research focus of each student and of the supervisor Dr. Zijlstra.

Sanne van Emmerik

Sanne has conducted research to the topics of personal identity and dualism. One of the studies she conducted was on a sample of children in primary school investigating in a very original and sophisticated “hamster-duplicating” experiment whether children believe memory and moral traits are more central to identity than physical traits. This is the case, which is relevant for developmental psychology. Other studies she conducted were done in collaboration with Julius Westerhoff and Lieuwe.

Magdalena Ringle

Magdalena is conducting research on personal identity. She is very interested in the different perspectives, and even concepts used, in relation to identity in different scientific fields. For instance, while many social scientists believe that one’s identity lies in membership of a social category (nationality, gender, political ideology, etc.), many philosophers believe that it lies in particular mental traits (morality, memory, or agency generally). Currently, Magdalena is researching whether people’s ordinary usage of the concept fits one scientific view over another.

Sybe van den Top

Sybe is conducting research together with Magdalena. He has also been a lab manager of the Experimental Philosophy Lab Group and is currently an exchange student at the Geneseo liberal arts college in the USA.

Julius Westerhoff

Together with Sanne (above) and Lieuwe, Julius has conducted several empirical studies investigating perceptions of identity. The research that they have done proposes a novel hypothesis that shines a different light on existing identity research. You can read about their findings soon in an academic paper. This is one of the reasons they have been invited to present results in the United States.

Mika van Wijk

There is a standing question in philosophy and psychology about ordinary people’s use of moral language. The idea is that people believe that moral statements can be objectively true or false in similar ways as scientific statements can be. Existing research is done quantitatively and the results of studies are mixed, which led to a scientific puzzle. Mika and Lieuwe aim at solving that puzzle by two recent qualitative studies they have done. One of those studies has already been presented in Granada, Spain. Both studies were presented in New Haven (Yale) and Boston (Harvard/MIT) during the study trip.
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Dr Lieuwe Zijlstra

Dr. Lieuwe Zijlstra is assistant professor at University College Groningen. One of his research focuses is Experimental Philosophy. Experimental philosophers do research combining theories, methodologies, and insights, from empirical social sciences with theories, methodologies, and insights from philosophy. Lieuwe researches the topic of folk moral objectivism, moral psychology, (meta)ethics, personal identity, happiness, and meaning of life.

Last modified:06 December 2022 11.01 a.m.

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