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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Travel Grant Report by Dr Biljana Jokic

08.08.2016, by Sibylle Classen in grant report

Collaboration with colleagues from University of Ulm, Germany and University of Belgrade, Serbia

The EASP travel grant helped me to continue the collaboration with colleagues from the University of Ulm, since our two teams (i.e. research team from the Social Psychology Laboratory, University of Belgrade, and the team from the Social Psychology Section at Ulm University) have an ongoing collaboration established in Belgrade 2015. In particular, the main purposes for my visit were:

  1. To continue the training in state of the art techniques to investigate physiological correlates of psychological processes, since I had an opportunity to learn basics about physiological measures (e.g. impedance cardiography, eye tracking etc.) on October 2015, when a group of colleagues from Ulm University visited Belgrade University,
  2. Planning new collaborative research projects with colleagues from Ulm – both in the paradigm of social psychophysiology and beyond that.

My primary research interest is actually about judgment and decision making processes which I have already examined in the framework of social cognitive models, while I have also been interested in getting new insights from different perspectives (e.g. psychophysiological or motivational ones).

More specifically, my research experience concerning the role of social norms and affect in judgment and decision making (e.g. how our decisions differ depending on the social desirability of outcomes, when reaching a goal involves unpleasant affect) inspired me to search more deeply for external factors and underlying psychological mechanisms that could explain when and why people are ready to behave in a socially desirable way even if it means that they have to experience some kind of discomfort (e.g. help a person in need by investing some effort). Since I have already conducted numerous experiments examining the role of mental representations and affect in judgment and decision making, I was interested in examining this topic more broadly – by including physiological correlates of psychological processes. It has been even more intriguing due to the inconsistent relationship between conscious visceral interoception (e.g. muscle activity, skin temperature, hormonal changes, cardiovascular system etc.) and psychological processes such as emotions 1). Collaboration with colleagues from Ulm has been valuable for me because they have already conducted numerous experimental studies about socio-psychological phenomena using physiological measures 2). Additionally, the opportunity to design collaborative studies in different countries always provides valuable insights regarding the examined phenomenon.

During my stay at Ulm, I got more detailed training in using impedance cardiography, thanks to Michael Wagner from Ulm University. First of all, I got theoretical background information, as well as a practical guide for using BIOPAC software (BIOPAC equipment was already planned to be procured for our Lab). Then, I was able to practice it in the framework of an ongoing experimental study at Ulm University about the cardiovascular perspective on empathy with a person in need. The idea was to observe participants’ internal states online during the presentation of a person in need. Specifically, participants were confronted with a suffering person after their empathy level had been manipulated using an established perspective-taking instruction. Then, their helping tendencies were assessed. In brief, cardiovascular measurement was useful in investigating the relation between empathy and helping. The results suggest that participants in the high empathy condition experienced internal states while reacting to a suffering person which are clearly not outright negative in character – this is not in line with the “negative-state-relief hypothesis” (according to which witnessing a person in need always leads to a negative internal state of distress).

Colleagues from Ulm University and I have also considered an option to use impedance cardiography in developing new study designs addressing moral judgment and behavior, when internal conflict is included (e.g. the opportunity to cheat without being caught, as realized in the “moral hypocrisy” paradigm 3). Since people have a tendency to hypothetically choose socially desirable goals as well as to think about themselves as moral persons, but typically behave differently in real life situations, there is a possibility that physiological measures provide valuable data about the correlates of the discrepancy between attitude (or self-perception) and behavior.

Considering my interest in social desirability issues, I have established a collaboration with Dr. Stefan Pfattheicher focusing on the watching eye phenomenon (the tendency of people to not only behave differently in the actual presence of others but also when merely a subtle cue of being watched, i.e. stylized watching eyes, is present in the environment). Given that both Stefan and I are interested in the possibilities of influencing people to behave in a more socially desirable way, we have agreed to develop a study where the watching eye phenomenon could be examined in a more systematic way, so that we could get more insights in the conditions which moderate it – i.e. which internal and external conditions are optimal for the watching eye effect to arise.

Finally, I have appreciated the opportunity to discuss judgment and decision making problems from the perspective of regulatory focus and regulatory fit theories with Prof. Johannes Keller. As a result of our discussion, we agreed to develop a collaborative study with the main goal to examine new possibilities of investigating state level regulatory focus and its role in judgment and decision making, based on verbal production measures.

In summary, thanks to the EASP travel grant, at the moment I am involved in developing several new collaborative projects with my colleagues at Ulm and Belgrade universities, including studies involving psychophysiological paradigms – which represents a new research perspective in our Social Psychology Laboratory at the University of Belgrade.