Projects

Our lab investigates a broad number of topics in social psychology, with overlap to neighboring disciplines such as motivation science, health psychology, personality psychology, and behavioral economics. These collaborative projects include research on self-control and self-regulation, social comparison, intergroup relations, moral judgment, implicit social cognition, consumer and health behavior, social media, and close relationships, among others. On this page, we provide a brief overview of some ongoing or recent lines of research.

 

 

Pushing, Coasting, Disengaging: How Social Comparison Impacts Self-Regulation

People often strive to improve on important challenging goals, such as the wish to lead a healthier lifestyle, to save more money, or to climb up the career ladder. However, these struggles for self-improvement do not occur in a social vacuum. Rather, people often turn to their social environment to assess their current standing. Depending on the outcome of such social comparisons, people may receive a motivational boost and invest additional effort into their projects (“pushing”), slow down and feel good about themselves (“coasting”), or even disengage entirely (“giving up”). However, despite decades of research into social comparison processes, the fundamental connection between social comparison and motivation remains ill-understood. This project investigates the motivating or demotivating role of social comparison processes for the pursuit of self-improvement goals—in laboratory and also in field studies, one in collaboration with the Deutsche Sporthochshule Köln (Prof. Markus Raab). Taking a dynamic perspective, we also look at how different motivational mindsets influence the strategic selection of social comparison partners. We hope to not only improve the theoretical understanding of the motivational implications of social comparison; The project may also help to design better campaigns and interventions in those fields in which self-improvement motivation or lack thereof has tangible benefits and costs, respectively, including health science, work psychology, and education.

Contact: Kathi Diel and Wilhelm Hofmann

This project is part of the DFG Research Unit "Relativity in Social Cognition"

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Implicit Partner Evaluations

The assessment of implicit partner evaluations has been recently shown to be of key importance for relationship science. Implicit partner evaluations . that is, spontaneous feelings toward one's partner - can predict later relationship satisfaction when explicit evaluations fail to do so (e.g., McNulty et al., 2013). Although previous research has shown the longitudinal implications of implicit partner evaluations on relationship well-being, little is known about which relationship dynamics are likely to influence changes in implicit partner evaluations and why implicit partner evaluations have such a strong influence on relationship well-being over time. This ORA project, jointly funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG9 and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), addresses these questions in three subprojects. The first subproject assesses which relationship dynamics are likely to have a particular impact on implicit partner evaluations. The second subproject assesses whether implicit partner evaluations affect dyadic processes through their influence on non-verbal behavior. Finally, the third subproject assesses the consequences of having divergent implicit and explicit partner evaluations, a state called implicit ambivalence, for the individual and the relationship well-being. The project makes use of diverse methodologies (i.e., large scale diary studies, questionnaires, videotaped interactions, laboratory experiments) to investigate these ideas.

Contact: Grace Larson and Wilhelm Hofmann

 

Work Hard, Play Hard: Neuropsychological Correlates and Behavioral Implications of Hedonic Compensation

People pay less and less attention to their meals and often eat while watching TV, while driving, or while monitoring their computers. At the same time, foods and drinks have become sweeter, saltier, and fatter over the past decades. We argue that these are not independent trends. Engaging in activities requires mental capacity. This capacity is limited, leaving less room for processing of sensory information such as taste. We posit that mental load, induced by concurrent tasks or concerns, interferes with reward processing from consumption. Because people strive to obtain pleasure from the goods they consume, they employ compensatory behaviors to up-regulate hedonic value. We advance a new framework to understand this phenomenon, which we label hedonic compensation. We will integrate lab-based behavioral neuroscience experiments with experience sampling studies in the field. By linking neural reward responses to sweet substances with consumption, we examine how reduced hedonic processing under mental load leads to compensation. By extending our findings to other consumption domains, and to the real world, we study the general nature of hedonic compensation. This ORA project, jointly funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG) and the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), combines the expertise of two research labs to gain more insight in the relationship between mental capacity, hedonic experience, and consumption, and in the problems resulting from an imbalance between these factors. This, in turn, may lead to new tools to help people live a healthier life.

Contact: Stephen Murphy and Wilhelm Hofmann

 Hedonic

Acceptance of Nudging and Other Public Policy Measures

Motivating slogans on stairs, happy faces on trash cans or shocking images on cigarette packets are common public policy tools nudging people through to the right decision (e.g., the healthier, environmentally friendlier or more social decision). Reisch and Sunstein (2015) defined nudging as influencing people's behavior in a predictable way without using prohibitions or economic incentives. They stress its voluntary and transparent nature. A policy tool promoting environmental preservation and people’s well-being without manipulating their decision-making processes sounds promising. In this project, we wonder what citizens actually think about being nudged? Who accepts which public policy measures and why or why not? We propose that people who tend to attribute the responsibility of making the right decision to external factors (such as the presence or absence of proper regulations) rather than to their own show a higher acceptance of public policy tools in a given domain (e.g. smoking behavior, physical activity, environmental care). We further investigate if people’s political perspective might influence their acceptance ratings. We further investigate if the intensity of these measures (with nudges being the most subtle and less restricting measure and laws the most intense and restricting measure) affects their acceptance ratings.

This project is part of the Research Area on "Markets and Values" from the Cluster of Excellence of "ECONtribute: Markets & Public Policy", a joint initiative of the Universities of Bonn and Cologne funded by the German Excellence Strategy.

Contact: Sonja Grelle and Wilhelm Hofmann

Social media and Self-Regulation

Social networking sites (SNSs), such as Facebook or Instagram, show a remarkable increase regarding their popularity over the last two decades, so that many studies tried to examine different motives for SNS use as well as repercussions to personality and different markers of psychological well-being. Studies show an abundance of correlations and interdependencies to personality (e.g., extraversion, neuroticism, narcissism, and materialism), and social psychological constructs (e.g., self-esteem, social comparison orientation, satisfaction with life) and figured out three basic motives, i.e., Need to Belong, Need to Self-Presentation, and Need to Social Comparison. However, despite these correlations, interdependencies, and motives, a superordinate theory is missing. The Social Online Self-regulation Theory (SOS-T) is a first approach to subsume all these different findings to self-regulation as one superordinate, latent variable for explaining SNS use. The SOS-T proposes that people use SNS in order to regulate their emotions, satisfy a variety of needs and motives, and to reach (consciously as well as unconsciously) an abundance of different personal goals. Thus, the aim of this project is to validate the proposes of the SOS-T by using correlational as well as experimental designs.

Contact: Phillip Ozimek

 

Beyond Us versus Them: Explaining Intergroup Bias in Multiple Categorization

The psychological and sociological explorations of intergroup relations have traditionally focused on understanding prejudice and discrimination along a single dimension of social categorization: We study racism and sexism, anti-immigrant attitudes and homophobia, ageism and Islamophobia. What these studies fail to consider is that in real life, each of us belongs to multiple groups. Sociology experiences a boom of research on intersectionality, whereas psychological accounts of consequences of belonging to multiple social groups are still underdeveloped. This project aims to address this gap by investigating attitude formation in situations in which multiple group memberships of a target person are salient, i.e. in multiple categorization settings. Building on social cognition and intergroup relations literatures, we develop a theoretical framework that (1) differentiates between two routes through which group memberships can affect attitudes: ingroup bias and preference for higher status; (2) places perception of similarity as the main cognitive mechanism linking the information about group memberships of others to attitudes towards them; (3) incorporates individual- and societal-level moderators of the effects of group memberships on attitudes. The project brings attention to and opens up new avenues for the study of psychological consequences of the complexity of social worlds we live in.

Contact: Lusine Grigoryan

 

Morality in Everyday Life

Moral psychology has drawn heavily on lab experiments using well-controlled, but artificial situations. To study morality in everyday life, we have been conducting a large experience sampling study, the Everyday Morality Project (Hofmann, Wisneski, Brandt, & Skitka, 2014, Science) to investigate how often people experience or engage in moral or immoral acts in everyday life, how everyday morality relates to religion and political ideology, how morality is linked to happiness and sense of purpose, and dynamics among moral events such as self-licensing and moral contagion. In a recent article, we investigated a number of key determinants and consequences of the desire for moral punishment (Hofmann, Brandt, Wisneski, Rockenbach, & Skitka, 2018, PSPB).

Contact: Wilhelm Hofmann

 

Towards and Integrative Model of Self-Control

As the science of self-control matures, the organization and integration of its key concepts becomes increasingly important. Together with my then Ph.D student, Hiroki Kotabe (University of Chicago), we identified seven major components or "nodes" in current theories and research bearing on self-control: desire (or reward anticipation), higher-order goal, desire-goal conflict, control motivation, control capacity, control effort, and enactment constraints. We formulated the interplay of these components in an integrative model of self-control to unify these diverse and interdisciplinary areas of research, connecting research on reward processing, goal pursuit, conflict monitoring, motivational switching/balancing, executive functioning, effort allocation, and choice architecture, among other things (Kotabe & Hofmann, 2015, Perspectives on Psychological Science). The proposed theoretical framework is useful for highlighting several new directions for research on self-control and for classifying self-control failures and self-control interventions.

Contact: Wilhelm Hofmann

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Open Science

Our team actively supports efforts towards a more transparent and reliable psychological science. Wherever possible, we aim to pre-register our studies on the Open Science Framework and to provide Open material, Open data, and Reproducible Code. An number of our projects and publications are documented at the Open Science Framework.