Cognitive Psychology – Decision, Emotion, Perception

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Our research aims to understand the role of emotion in everyday behaviour. We examine this using experimental methods using behavioral, self-report and physiological measures (eg. pheripheral psychophysiology, brain imaging).

More specifically we are interested in how emotions are elicited and how they influence decisions and judgements and which role of emotions have in helping behaviors and moral judgments? We also study how emotional information processing combines with more cognitive information processing and what role emotion has in number processing? Another area of interest is how we can present information so that people rely on emotions when they should and avoid when they shouldn’t rely on feelings (nudging).

Recent studies

The decision to help others in need

What motivates people to do good things? Traditional theories of economic behavior cannot easily explain why people are willing to forego personal benefits in order to help other individuals. However, altruistic and prosocial behaviors are an integral part of the society we live in today. The fact that individuals are willing to help other individuals - without expectations of direct reciprocity, is, arguably, the glue that holds society together.

In this research program we examine the psychological factors that facilitate and hinder the spreading of pro-social behaviors. The goal of the proposed research is to examine how emotion (and intuitive judgments/fast thinking) and cognition (deliberate/slow thinking) jointly influence altruistic and prosocial behaviors using multi-method approaches (behaviors/self-reports,
peripheral psychophysiology, fMRI and computer simulations). Specifically, we examine how feelings and thoughts of efficacy (i.e. making a difference) may demotivate or motivate individuals to give.

The proposed research is expected to provide new knowledge that will help understand the psychological foundations of prosocial behavior and cooperation, as well as novel answers to basic research about how cognition and emotion.

The collapse of compassion, pseudoinefficacy and our willingness to help

In a great many situations where we are asked to aid persons whose lives are endangered, we are not able to help everyone. What do we then do? Research has shown that people often feel less good about helping those they can help and they help less, when their attention is drawn to those who can’t be helped. The demotivation exhibited by these people may be a form of “pseudoinefficacy” that is nonrational. We should not be deterred from helping whomever we can because there are others we are not able to help. The studies proposed here aim to provide a better understanding of the cognitive and emotional underpinnings of pseudoinefficacy and test strategies to combat it.

Dual-process theories of cognition, characterized by Daniel Kahneman as “thinking fast and slow” represent an important advance in our understanding of the roles of emotion and reason in motivating human behavior. The studies we conduct examine fast and slow thinking and associated pseudoinefficacy in novel ways in the context of decisions about whether or not to aid people whose
lives are endangered. Laboratory experiments are designed to illuminate the interplay between the scope and framing of the humanitarian need, the type of fast and slow thinking it stimulates, and the emotional responses associated with such thinking. The results are expected to help improve personal and societal decisions motivated by perceived efficacy (giving or other threats to human
health and the environment).