Corruption Corrupts: the vicious cycle of dishonesty

  • Panagiotis Mitkidis, Dept. of Management & Center for Advanced Hindsight, SSRI, Duke University
  • Seednumber: 26151
  • Collaborators:


Would an otherwise moral individual become corrupt if she would live in a corruptive environment? And if this is the case, what is the mechanism under which a good person turns bad in its “core values?” A recent cross-cultural study showed that the dominance of rule violations in a society is detrimental to individual’s honest behavior (Gächter & Schulz, 2016; Shalvi, 2016). In another study, Mann and colleagues (2016) found no apparent differences in moral behavior between different cultures. Those mixed results were not necessarily explained by a recent study that found that a corrupt society predicts higher acceptance of bribes (Muthukrisna et al. 2017). Finally, Rada-Garcia and colleagues found that a potential mechanism, moral contagion operationalized as exposure to bribes, is detrimental to human moral behavior (Rada-Garcia et. al., in rev.). Here, we propose a series of experimental studies that aim to find how an environment that could potentially allow for less honest behavior (ambiguity) could lead to degradation of morality, both in terms of dishonesty and trust.

Collection of a large sample of recorded prayers to begin project on the acoustic markers of the felt presence of God

  • Uffe Schjødt, School of Culture and Society
  • Seednumber: 26152
  • Collaborators: Oliver Niebuhr, Mads Clausen Institute (SDU Electrical Engineering)


The content, the intonation, the breaks, the phrasing, and the entire expression of the speaker seem to indicate that devout practitioners expect God to be listening during prayer. However, no one has ever tried to support this impression by objective and detailed acoustic measurements. This seed project aims to collect a large sample of recorded prayers, which will be used to identify the acoustic markers of theistic beliefs and the felt presence of God in prayers.

After collection, we intend to examine the recorded prayers using semi-automatic phonetic analysis algorithms developed for signal processing. We expect that Christians with strong theistic beliefs will differ from other speakers by showing markers indicative of real dialogues and emotional states in prayer.

Cooperation and Defection in an Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma: Do Liberals and Conservatives Display Differences in Social Cognition?

  • Michael Bang Petersen, Dept. of Political Science
  • Seednumber: 26153
  • Collaborators: Dr. Jordan Mansell, University of Oxford

Project description:

Recent research into ideological differences has linked expression of liberal and conservative ideological positions, such as social attitudes and values, to variation in physiological, psychological, and genetic factors, including heredity. These studies find that liberal and conservative orientated individuals show significant differences in cognition and decision-making in response to environmental stimuli including risk taking behaviour, and negative or threatening imagery. Unfortunately, political science has given only minimal attention to studying whether these different traits produce tangible effects on individuals’ in the day-to-day social interactions. By failing to explore the relationship between trait and behavior political scientists have neglected a potentially significant mechanism with which to understand the causes of ideological differences. In light of the biological influences to ideological orientation we apply an evolutionary framework and investigate whether the differences in cognition and decision-making observed in liberals and conservatives reflect alternative adaptive strategies for social interactions?

To explore the relationship between traits and behavior, we recruit a sample of (N=600) liberals and conservatives to participate in an economic game, an iterated prisoner’s dilemma. The objective of this study is to measure whether liberals and conservatives show significant differences in behavior during a real-life social interaction. In particular, we are interested in whether they display differences in their willingness to cooperate with an anonymous partner, and whether they differ in their willingness to forgive a social defection. Drawing from research on the cognitive differences in liberals and conservative we hypothesize that both ideological groups will converge towards cooperation however, cooperation in conservative participants will be more sensitive to social defections delaying the onset of cooperative outcomes. As the first study evaluate the social utility of liberal and conservative traits for repeated social encounters our research has the potential to make a significant contribution to the causal understanding of ideological differences.

Ideology; Cooperation; Experimental; Behavior; Adaptation; Evolutionary Psychology; Political Psychology

Upper-body Strength and Conflict Resolution in Human Males

  • Alexander Koch, Department of Economics and Business Economics
  • Seednumber: 26154
  • Collaborators: Julia Nafziger, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Dan Nguyen, EY Aarhus, Michael Bang Petersen, Department of Political Science


Conflict is universal across all living species. Among non-human animals, a key strategy is to resolve conflicts without fighting by merely assessing relative fighting ability. We demonstrate the existence of the same system for conflict resolution in humans by providing experimental evidence that human male contestants spontaneously coordinate conflict behavior on the basis of differences in upper-body strength. We do so by applying a non-physical, anonymous, economic game - the war-of-attrition - in which contestants compete by means of perseverance to win a monetary prize. Though strength differences are not relevant for payoffs in this game, contestants respond to physical cues to avoid conflict escalation and do so quicker if strength differences are larger. The results show that the complex conflict-resolution strategies of humans are founded on more rudimentary strategies, present throughout the animal world.

The creative process in dyadic collaboration

  • Kristian Tylén, School of Communication and Culture - Center for Semiotics
  • Seednumber: 26155
  • Collaborators: Alonso Domínguez Cabañes and Lior Noy (Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel)


Creativity is a fundamental yet ill understood cognitive phenomenon. It is critical for how we derive novel solutions for issues ranging from everyday tasks to the greatest scientific discoveries on shorter and longer time scales. While creativity is typically thought of as an individual process, it often unfolds in social settings and, thus, is likely to be influenced by it. Inspired by Hills et al. (2008) we characterize the creative process as a search through a possibility space, relying on mechanisms similar to those used in foraging behavior. These can be characterized as balancing exploitation of local solutions and exploration of more distal solutions. In a simple experimental environment, we compare individual and social creative behavior testing the hypothesis that social collaboration in dyads follows a more optimal screening of the possibility space, approximating the distribution of the Lévy flight found in animal foraging (Buchanan, 2008). We rely on a modified version of Hart et al.’s (2017) paradigm: In a simple creative task, participants move around ten square tiles to create beautiful pictures and select the shapes they consider more creative to a “gallery”. The paradigm allows us to quantify central aspects of the creative process. We hypothesize differences between individual and collective creative search with dyads approximating the distribution of the Lévy flight found in animal foraging.

Cognitive flexibility, diversity and social interaction

  • Kristian Tylén, School of Communication and Culture
  • Seednumber: 26156
  • Collaborators: Cordula Vesper (School of Communication and Culture) and Tatiana Goregliad Fjaellingsdal, (Department of Psychology, University of Oldenburg, Germany)


Cognitive flexibility concerns our ability to readily update our beliefs based on experience and flexibly adapt our cognitive strategies for engagement with a changing or unstable world. As such, it can be contrasted to cognitive fixation: the inability to escape habitual thinking and change the representation of a problem or task. In this experimental project, we test the hypothesis that social interaction stimulates cognitive flexibility. When interacting with another individual, we are less likely to experience cognitive fixation, as slight differences in perspectives, cognitive styles and strategy help interlocutors break fixation and explore a broader space of solutions (Tylén et al., 2014). If so, interlocutors with more diverse beliefs and perspectives might have an advantage over interlocutors that largely share beliefs and perspectives (Hong & Page, 2004; Page, 2008). Inspired by the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (Berg, 1948), we will use a complex categorization task where aliens have to be categorized in four groups based on combinations of their features. Participants are either individually trained on a session of the same categorization rule or they are trained on different rules before they enter the collaborative categorization task. Here they solve the same task in pairs however with a new categorization rule. As they reach ceiling the rule changes again. We predict that pair members that are initially trained on different rules and thus enter the collaboration with different expectations and intuitions will have an advantage and behave more flexibly and adaptive than pair members trained on the same rule and thus enter the task with similar expectations.

Effects of vasopressin on sensorimotor synchronization

  • Michael Winterdahl, Dept. of Clinical Medicine
  • Seednumber: 26157
  • Collaborators: Alessandro Miani, (Dept. of Clinical Medicine); Panagiotis Mitkidis (Dept. of Management); Simone Dalla Bella (University of Montpellier) and Andrea Ravignani 


Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects 6 million people worldwide. Individuals with PD display movement disorders, reduced mobility, postural instability, and increased risk of fall. Rhythmic stimulation has been found to enhance walking performance in PD patients. Music, due to a hormonal regulation, promotes neuroanatomical and cognitive changes, and has been widely used as a cost-free therapy without side effects. Two neuropeptides have recently been found to have a role in rhythmic synchronization, namely oxytocin and vasopressin (AVP). Similar in their structure, these neuropeptides are involved in a wide array of physiological and social functions acting both peripherally and centrally in the brain. In regard to their effect on improved synchronization, while oxytocin administration selectively affects social tasks, AVP fluctuations seem to work even in the absence of social interaction. Animal studies show that the basal ganglia contain AVP receptors. By connecting the auditory to motor areas, the basal ganglia are crucial in rhythmic entrainment for regular beats in human and nonhuman species. In humans, intranasal administration of AVP increases the basal ganglia activity. PD is characterized by progressive dopaminergic cell death in the basal ganglia. Because cerebrospinal fluid levels of AVP are lowered in PD patients, the proposed study aims to investigate a possible effect of AVP on rhythmic synchronization in PD patients. Before doing this, a pilot is necessary in order to estimate the sample size needed for subject recruitment. Besides therapeutic intervention, rhythm synchronization and interpersonal coordination foster prosociality. Thus, framed in social cognition, knowing neurohormonal mechanisms of sensorimotor synchronization might shed light on its functions, ranging from group cohesion, affiliation, trust, and cooperation. 

Culturally situated scaffolding of language acquisition: a computational approach

  • Christina Dideriksen, School of Communication and Culture
  • Seednumber: 26158
  • Collaborators: Riccardo Fusaroli (School of Communication and Culture), Morten Christiansen (Cornell University and IKK/IKS), Blair Armstrong (University of Toronto Scarborough)


Child Directed Speech (CDS) is a way of emphasizing key information about a language to better enable children to pay attention, share an interaction and acquire new linguistic forms. CDS is currently seen as largely invariant across human population, however, different languages present widely different phonetics, syntax and pragmatic structures, thus arguably requiring different foci and scaffolding strategies. Danish presents an ideal window into this issue: amongst other peculiarities, it presents an extremely wide variety of vocalic sounds (ca. 60, compared to ca 20 in US English, Basbøll 2005). However, while English CDS hyper-articulates vowels (making them easier to distinguish), preliminary analyses suggest that Danish CDS hypo-articulates them. Is this hypo-articulation an intentional social scaffold designed to temporarily simplify the language that the child is learning so that he or she can carve out its basic structure, thereby facilitating the later learning of its detailed structure? To advance our understanding of this issue, our proposed project combines corpus and computational approaches to assess: i) the exact frequency and acoustic distribution of vocalic sounds in Danish CDS and Adult Directed Speech (ADS); ii) the impact of such distributions on a computational model attempting to learn Danish vowel sounds; iii) whether child engagement in the interaction has an impact on the degree to which Danish CDS articulates vowels.

Gender Bias Study

  • Lea Skewes, School for Culture and Society, IMC
  • Seednumber: 26159
  • Collaborators: Joshua Charles Skewes, (School of Communication and Culture) and MA student Julie Zederkof (Semiotics at AU)


Seed Funding has already funded this study which applies Bayesian statistics to explore how fundamental gender biases are. The participants have been exposed to a biasing text prior to a gendered face sorting task. The design assumes that priming has a biasing effect, but the control questions which was intended to check whether the prime in fact was perceived as gender stereotypical male or female by the participants did not register in our first data collection. Therefore, reviewers have requested that we run an additional check for sematic priming to show that our primes are perceived as gender stereotypical texts.

We expose the participants to the priming texts we used in the prior study and then we check for sematic priming with a word completion task. If the texts are associated with stereotypical gender traits then the word completion task should reveal an significant focus on gendered terms.

Decoding the phonotopic map in auditory cortex

  • Mikkel Wallentin, School of Communication and Culture (CFIN)
  • Seednumber: 26160
  • Collaborators: Roberta Rocca, School of Communication and Culture


We will use fMRI to investigate tonotopic and phonological mapping in the human auditory cortices. We will scan 30 participants while they listen to a) tone sweeps, b) sweeps of vowels and to c) a combination, where we modulate the fundamental frequency of the vowel space. The data will subsequently be analyzed using decoding techniques to map the differences in tonotopic and phonotopic organization of the auditory cortices. This will give important basic insights into the organization of the auditory cortices. Our future aim is to apply the methods to the study of dyslexia, where deficits in phonological processing is known to play a key role. The protocol can also potentially be used to investigate language processing across speakers of different languages, but Piloting of the protocol is ongoing. Scanning is planned to take place in June 2018.

Who Roots for the Villain?

  • Jens Kjeldgaard-Christiansen, School of Communication and Culture
  • Seednumber: 26161
  • Collaborators: Anne Fiskaali (Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, AU), Mathias Clasen (associate professor, Department of English, AU) and Henrik Høgh-Olesen (professor, Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, AU)


Why do some people like and identify with the villains of fiction—characters meant to morally repel their audience? Researchers in psychology and the humanities have variously attempted to explain, or explain away, our fascination with the villains of fiction by appealing to traditional explanatory frameworks either from psychology (e.g., Freudianism, Jungianism) or the “critical” humanities (e.g., Foucauldian cultural critique, Lacanian psychoanalysis) (e.g., Keen & Dunaway, 2012; Simpson, 2000). We aim instead to explain the phenomenon at the level of personality differences, which allows for a methodologically stringent, quantitative approach. Our hypothesis is that those people who like and identify with villains do so because they possess or idealize the same individualistic traits that villains tend to possess. 

We propose to test this hypothesis with a large-scale survey that employs personality psychological inventories that measure relevant trait-level differences (Dark Triad and Agency/Communion), as well as inventories that measure villain liking/identification.

Studying the human ability for cultural transmission

  • Karsten Olsen, School of Communication and Culture, IMC
  • Seednumber: 26162
  • Collaborators: Vanessa Ferdinand, Santa Fe Institute and Cordula Vesper, School of Communication and Culture


In this IMC Seed project, we will build on a novel paradigm to investigate the cognitive basis of cultural transmission and the mechanisms that underlie cumulative behaviour in human societies. The paradigm involves chains of participants solving a task, the Rubik’s Cube, after one another, with the purpose of understanding how different learning situations may affect the transmission of knowledge across the transmission chains. In particular, we will build 3D-printed cubes and integrate them with movement sensors, in order to record and model the transmission of knowledge across participants. 

Using a new focus on metacognitive social learning strategies in the experimental conditions, we will address the specific question: What are the cognitive mechanisms that contribute to the success and failure of cultural transmission? And we are also interested in follow-up questions, such as whether there are inter-individual differences in the ability to accumulate knowledge through cultural transmission, which may help us indentify the underlying cognitive mechanisms – and develop models of cultural transmission that give us concrete predictions i.e. about the learning processes and quantitative limits of transmission behaviour and cumulative improvements. With a novel task, and new experimental conditions and data opportunities for analysis and modelling, we submit a potential for discovering and understanding new aspects of the human ability for cultural transmission.