Concept of the Research Group
The projects of the present research group aim at experimentally investigating the interplay between impulsive determinants of human behavior and reflective control and regulation processes. Thereby, great importance is attached to the role of evaluations and emotions. By combining theoretic perspectives and methods from both social and biological psychology we expect major synergy effects.
Approach and avoidance motivations will be of particular importance in all projects. Social (Lewin, 1935; Cacioppo, Priester, & Berntson, 1993) as well as biological psychology (Gray, 1982; Lang, 1995) possess concepts which link the positive or negative valence of information with the elicitation of approach or avoidance tendencies. In the impulsive system emotions are thereby of special importance. Following prominent classification systems (e.g. Russell, 2003) emotions are ordered according to arousal as well as valence. Emotion theories (e.g. Frijda, 1987) further postulate specific links between emotion and behavior.
Against this background the role of emotions in guiding behavior shall be investigated from a social as well as biological psychological perspective. First, the focus is on mental and neuronal basics of emotional processes. Second, it is about orienting behavior towards approach (in terms of reducing the distance of a behavioral object) or avoidance (in terms of increasing the distance).
Thereby, we expect major synergy effects from combining the principal investigators’ specific expertises in inducing affective states. Those include cognitive imaginative methods of induction which are primarily applied in social psychology, methods of building virtual realities (VR) which are mainly applied by the principal investigators from the biological and clinical psychology, and analog examinations of clinical disorders which can serve as models for specific emotional states or reactions. We assume that the basic psychological principles of human behaviors labeled as “normal” or “pathological” do not differ. We rather think that each behavior can be understood as the joint result of two interacting systems which consist of reflective or impulsive mechanisms.
The dominance of one of the two systems can increase or decrease the adaptive performance according to the specific situation. Accordingly, the startled backing away from a threatening danger is adaptive as long as it happens fast and without time consuming reasoning processes. On the other hand, phobic fear is hardly adaptive and often leads to severe impairments.
In social psychological research priority is given to the acquisition of implicit or explicit subjective indicators (e.g. evaluations, expectations) whereas in biological psychology mainly objective peripheral physiological (e.g. heart rate, skin conductance, EMG) or central nervous measures (e.g. EEG, ERPs, fMRI) are used. Combining both groups of variables will increase the validity and significance of results as well as their theoretical implications remarkably.