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Sound structure, compensatory mechanisms, and understanding in dialogue

  • Riccardo Fusaroli, School of Communication and Culture - Center for Semiotics
  • Seednumber: 26208
  • Collaborators: Morten Christiansen, Jakob Steensig, Mark Dingemanse, Andreas Roepstorff, Kristian Tylén

Project description:

Danish has been shown to be a difficult language to learn and to understand, due for instance to high degrees of phonetic reduction (Bleses et al., 2008, 2011). However Danes still seem to understand each other. How does this work?

This project combines conversation analysis and speech signal processing to investigate the compensatory strategies employed by Danish speakers in relation to phonetic reduction in a cross-linguistic perspective.

As an ‘exotic’ case, the study of Danish can inform current general discussions about the relation between language structure, cognition and social interactions. Rather than universal systems, our approach will conceive of cognition and language as complex adaptive systems, building on each other’s constraints and mutually compensating for each other. 

Learning to interact: development of alignment skills in ASD

  • Riccardo Fusaroli, School of Communication and Culture - Center for Semiotics
  • Seednumber: 26209
  • Collaborators: Ethan Weed, Letitia Naigles

 Project description:

Interactive alignment (IA) has been argued to underlie not only successful social interactions (Pickering & Garrod, 2004), but also language development. By re-using each other’s language, the child and the caregiver engage each other, and the child acquires new linguistic skills and receives feedback on their use (Nguyen & Delvaux, 2015; Messum & Howard 2015). However, little is known about how the ability to align develops, and how social impairment, such as in Autism Spectrum Disorder, might affect it. We ask two questions: i) how do patterns of IA change as the child and her cognitive and social skills develop? and ii) what is the effect of ASD (and its varied spectrum of social and cognitive profiles) on IA?

The project will employ natural language and speech processing techniques to investigate a large longitudinal corpus (30 children with ASD, 30 controls, age 2-5 years, ca. 400 videos) of parent-child playful interactions.

Contextual Factors Shaping The Emergence Of Communication Systems

  • Kristian Tylén, School of Communication and Culture - Center for Semiotics
  • Seednumber: 26210
  • Collaborators: Riccardo Fusaroli, Jonas Nölle, Marlene Staib

Project description: 

It has been argued that communication systems are shaped by internal cognitive biases and processes of transmission and learning. We hypothesize that additional contextual factors, such as the frequency and saliency of environmental affordances motivate the structural and conceptual layout of our communicative conventions. This is particularly evident in aspects of systematicity and iconicity in communication systems (such as natural languages). While iconicity is related to the relation between sign and referent, systematicity is related to relations among signs internally in a communication system. In this project, we investigate the selective pressures leading to the emergence of different structural properties of communication systems. We predict the frequency of recurrent features in the referent stimuli to be a driving factor in the evolution of different linguistic conventions.

The investigation will consist of a series of interactive experiments where pairs of participants through interaction will converge on novel communication systems (e.g. using only gesture) while we systematically manipulate the environments (e.g. critical aspects of the stimuli).


The role of social networks in exploration/exploitation dynamics of problem solving

  • Riccardo Fusaroli
  • Seednumber: 26211
  • Collaborators: Andrea Baronchelli, Kristian Tylén

Project description:

How does social structure affect the capacity for innovation?  The structure of social networks has a strong impact on how cultural conventions spread and evolve. However, not much is known about its impact on problem solving strategies and the tendency to explore or exploit the solution space. In other words, which kind of social structure facilitates the solution of which kind of problems?

We plan a two-side study involving an agent-based simulation and a collective problem solving experiment. The study explores the dynamics of exploration-exploitation in joint problem solving by manipulating the structure of social network and the information available to participants (knowing the maximum possible score or not).


Is Weak Coherence Related to Deficit in Memory Binding? A Study of High-Functioning Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Maja Bjerg Hedegaard and Rasmine L. Mogensen
  • Seednumber: 26212
  • Collaborators: Line Gebauer (Dept. of Psychology), Joshua Skewes (IMC) and Uta Frith (University College London)

Project description:

This project will be the first to study whether Weak Central Coherence is involved in deficits in memory binding in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Furthermore, it aims to examine how the interplay between these two cognitive mechanisms may be related to difficulties in the recall of autobiographical episodic memories. 20 children with high-functioning ASD and 20 neurotypical participants, 9-14 years, will be recruited for the project.

Our project will contribute with new ground-breaking knowledge regarding cognitive mechanisms involved in autobiographical memory deficits in children with ASD. Autobiographical narratives serve important social functions as they play a critical role in both communication and the construction of lasting social relations. Therefore, it is important to examine how autobiographical memory deficits may be related to the core symptoms characterizing children with ASD. We combine quantitative and qualitative methods as we believe that an interdisciplinary approach will contribute with a unique insight into the inner world of children with ASD. Such insight may provide potential pointers regarding the design of future interventions.


Livestock breeding in the Maasai Mara: A Tragedy of the Commons

Project description:

This project aims to help the Maasai livestock breeders towards a sustainable management of grassing areas.

For grass areas to sustain, there has to be a balance between grassing and growth of grass. To better understand the balance between grassing and growth of grass, we will build a system dynamics model (see e.g. Håkonsson, Klaas, & Carroll, 2012; Lomi & Larsen, 2001; Sterman, 2000). System dynamics models enable understanding of the nonlinear behavior of complex systems over time. System dynamics models focus on the system level, and model the behavior of systems as a whole. Therefore, a system dynamics approach will enable a representation, diagnosis, and subsequent adjustment of behavior patterns of livestock breeders in Mara North.

Based on the model, we will develop a card board game which we want the Maasai livestock breeders to play. The card board game’s theoretical background is The Tragedy of the Commons paradigm (see e.g. Ostrom, 2008) which shows that individuals who act independently and rationally according to their self-interests, will behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common resource (in this case the Mara North grass areas). The grass areas constitute a commons in the sense that they can be used by everyone and there is no management of them as such. As a result, the areas are overexploited.

The card board game will enable us to collect data on participants’ behavioral patterns, and at the same time serve to inform the livestock breeders about the consequences of their behaviors, as they will gain an understanding of the dynamics of the overall system.


Cooperation across cultural groups: scaling up from local to global cooperation

  • Jessica Barker, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies
  • Seednumber: 26214
  • Collaborators: Caitlin Stern (Santa Fee Institute, USA); additional collaboration under discussion with Djuke Veldhuis (AIAS)

Project description

The goal of this project is to investigate the conditions under which cooperation can arise among distinct cultural groups, working with the diverse Native tribes of Southeast Alaska. Coordinated international cooperation is essential for resolving many pressing social and environmental issues of the modern world, including climate change and fisheries management. However, humans evolved to cooperate with members of small groups, often at the expense of people in other groups (parochial altruism), and cultural heterogeneities among groups make people less likely to cooperate across group boundaries. Developing strategies to promote cooperation among diverse national groups is thus a challenging and a crucial task.

The Native tribes of Southeast Alaska have a long history of both cooperation and conflict, meaning that working with these groups offers a unique opportunity to better understand the factors that affect cooperation among groups. While within-group cooperation has been studied in several disciplines, cooperation among groups is comparatively under-studied. Mechanisms that promote within-group cooperation may affect inter-group cooperation in complex and unpredictable ways. In this study, we will work with people from different Tlingit tribes, carrying out economic games experiments to investigate whether two mechanisms known to promote within-group cooperation (reputation and punishment) can also promote cooperation among participants from groups with distinct cultural identities. In addition, we will conduct post-experiment surveys to learn the cultural practices for solving inter-group coordination problems developed by Alaska Natives. These efforts will advance our understanding of the global cooperation necessary to solve trans-boundary collective action issues.


Proxemics and trust in serious mental illness

  • Dimitris Xygalatas, Dept. of Anthropology
  • Seednumber: 26215
  • Collaborators: Phil Corlett (philip.corlett@yale.edu)

Project description:

We will measure the impact of serious mental illnesses (schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder, BPD) on tolerable social distance and interpersonal trust. We operationalize trust and social interaction in the laboratory by combining proxemics and game theory. In so doing, we will develop a laboratory measure of social comfort and competency in two illnesses characterized by profound social impairment. Participants will be invited to the Belief, Learning and Memory lab at the Connecticut Mental Health Center (n=50 BPD, n=50 psychosis and n=50 matched controls). They will stand face to face with an experimenter confederate and walk towards them until they feel social discomfort. We will measure comfortable social distance and record physiological responses during the task.  Next, in a 10-round economic game with an investor and a trustee, investments will be tripled, and the trustee will then decide how much to return to the investor. In prior work, control trustees respond to low investments with increased returns to “coax” investors to invest more; BPD trustees coax less.  This economic game has been administered in patients with psychosis (the profound disconnection from reality characterized by hallucinations and delusions – percepts without stimulus and beliefs without merit). Psychotic patients are frequently paranoid. The most paranoid patients trust less on the economic game. However, proxemic measures have never been taken in patients with psychosis. Furthermore, psychotic individuals may have fewer assets and issues with risk processing and incentive processing dysfunction. Thus, apparent distrust in these prior studies was conflated with these other clinical issues. By making proxemic measures in patients with psychosis and BPD and then asking them to play the trust game with the confederate, we will establish whether and how interpersonal proxemics relate to trust in serious mental illnesses.


Toward first-in-man neuroimaging of oxytocin receptors

  • Michael Winterdahl, Department of Clinical Medicine - Positron Emission Tomography Center
  • Seednumber: 26216
  • Collaborators: Steen Jakobsen (Aarhus University); David Yeomans (Stanford University, USA); Paul Zak (Claremont Graduate University, USA); Andreas Roepstorff (IMC); Joshua Skewes (IMC).

Project description:

Oxytocin plays a crucial role in human experiences and behaviors such as empathy, altruism, and morality. Furthermore, nasal oxytocin has been under study for a variety of human clinical indications, including autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, social anxiety, and depression. All of these putative treatments depend on the concept that nasally delivered polypeptide would concentrate in nervous system sites critical to these disorders and act at oxytocin receptors. However, there has never been a study showing this pathway in humans, nor the distribution of oxytocin receptors in vivo.

The specific aims of the study are to:

  • Examine the transport of radiolabelled oxytocin along the nasal-cerebral pathway
  • Determine the distribution of oxytocin receptors in the CNS through PET-imaging

The work described here proposes to use positron emission tomography (PET) technology to determine the distribution of a nasally-applied oxytocin PET ligand in the trigeminal nerve as a way to explore the pharmacokinetics of this process and to study the distribution of receptors throughout the central nervous system. Authentic Oxytocin labelled with nitrogen-13 for PET brain imaging will be produced by a novel two-step synthesis. Initial studies will be conducted in rats as a means of providing preliminary data as a prelude to the human study. PET studies will then be performed in healthy adults before and after a social stimulus.

These studies will provide a unique window to investigate the mechanism by which nasally applied oxytocin, and polypeptides in general, can access CNS sites for potential therapeutic use. In addition, this work will provide a way to detect oxytocin dysfunction and alterations in social behaviors. Future work will assess this in a variety of psychiatric and medical disorders. 

God vs. Thor: Are Danes really more ‘Kulturkristne’ than ‘kulturasetroende’?

  • Uffe Schjødt, Dept. of the Study of Religion
  • Seednumber: 26217
  • Collaborators: Sophie Bønding, Grundtvig Centeret

Project description: 

Many Danes self-identify as ‘kulturkristne’. Few Danes self-identify as ‘kulturasetroende’. Yet, Holiday seasons, traditions, week days, person names and place names testify to a strong pre-Christian influence on contemporary Danish culture. In this project, we investigate to which extent Danes self-identify with pre-Christian culture at the implicit level. The project uses standard Implicit Association Tests (IAT) to study the strength of association between self and central concepts in Christianity vs. Asetro. Study one tests the usefulness of the paradigm by probing the IAT scores of participants belonging to Forn Sidr and Indre Mission (two extreme ends). Study two examines a larger representative sample of the Danish population. The project investigates the many uses of the concept ‘kulturkristen’, asking how a corresponding concept referring to pre-Christian culture should be defined. 

Perception and experience of embarrassment

  • Hanna Thaler, IMC
  • Seednumber: 26218
  • Collaborators: Joshua Skewes (IMC), Peter Enticott (Deakin University), Jakob Hohwy (Monash University)

Project desription:

This study focuses on the experience of embarrassment during the evaluation of potentially embarrassing photos and videos of oneself and others. We investigate how this emotional experienced gets regulated by different cognitive processes executed by the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and how the experience of embarrassment could in turn influence cognitive processes, potentially strengthening biases in emotion perception. As embarrassment links the self to social norms, we think that autistic traits might play a potential role in these processes.

Participants are assigned to one of three groups receiving different types of non-invasive brain stimulation (1: continuous theta-burst stimulation – cTBS – to the targeted brain region, 2: sham-stimulation to the targeted brain region, or 3: cTBS to the vertex), and are matched on average susceptibility to embarrassment. In the first part of the study videos of participants are recorded while they are asked to talk about themselves, brag about their abilities, perform calculus problems, and sing songs. From this video material we select snapshots and 5-second videos of expressions that should be uncomfortable to observe and catch participants off-guard. We also edit a video of another participant of the opposite sex, creating videos and photos that deliberately show more “standard” (potentially less embarrassing) moments. On the second day, participants are presented with these edited stimuli after receiving theta-burst stimulation. They evaluate how attractive, likeable and competent they and the other participant appear, and rate their embarrassment. They also complete several tasks that assess potential stimulation-induced changes in attention and arousal, plus an emotion perception task. Participants undergo EEG and eyetracking during tasks, and a resting state EEG before and after stimulation. They fill in questionnaires measuring autistic traits, susceptibility to embarrassment and alexithymia.

The findings of this study can contribute to our understanding of embarrassment, looking at a potential modulatory role of the DLPFC and pinpointing specific processes through which this brain region can influence embarrassment. It could also point to new hypotheses on how the perception and experience of this emotion might be altered in autism.

Sense of agency and eye tracking: A Ouija Board study

  • Marc Andersen, Dept. of the Study of Religion
  • Seednumber: 26219
  • Collaborators: Uffe Schjødt, Kristoffer Nielbo, Jesper Sørensen, Thies Pfeiffer, Andreas Roepstorff

Project description:

Trough previous SEED-funding we successfully constructed four sets of low-cost eye trackers and bought four computers to handle open source eye tracking software.We have now conducted a study on prediction, perception and agency in closely coordinated action by studying 40 volunteer participants playing on a Ouija Board at OuijaCon in Baltimore, USA. At OuijaCon we successfully collected eye tracking data comprising of 120 videos (40x2min, 40x5min, and 40x10min). Through SEED-funding we have hired two independent blind coders to manually annotate this video material. By December 2015, the coders will have manually annotated all 2min and 10min videos. Manually annotating eye tracking data has turned out to be an incredibly time consuming process, however, as it takes approximately 45 min to manually annotate 1 minute of video material. This unfortunately means, that the previous SEED-funding has not been able to cover the cost of coding the entire video material.


The role of culture in experiencing social emotions in film

  • Ronald Fischer, Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies
  • Seednumber: 26220

Project description:

To what extent does cultural knowledge influence the experience of emotional material in film

A universal appeal of movies –fictional as well as documentary one - lies in their strongly immersive power enabling us to almost directly experience worlds, times and experiences normally not open to us. It is likely that this immersion is co-driven by strong empathetic emotional reactions to actors, their deads and experiences. Ekman’s (1992) universal theory of emotion predicts that emotions are recognizable irrespective of cultural background. Supporting this strong universal and pointing to shared evolutionary origins related to pair-bonding and cooperation with non-kin, recent research has identified common physiological (and neural) reactions of both empathy (Decety & Jackson, 2006) and compassion (Goetz et al., 2010, Weng et al., 2013). Yet, a series of studies (Fehse et al., 2015; Goetz et al., 2010; Rudolph et al., 2004; Welp & Brown, 2014) also point to the importance of a) the identification with the target individual and b) the salience of appraisal that may open the door for cultural modulation of these experiences (see also Koopmann-Holm & Tsai, 2014; Immordino-Yang et al., 2014).

In this project we aim to extend this intriguing line of research by focusing on how cultural and spiritual knowledge modulates the experience of empathy and compassion elicited by movies. In particular we are aiming to understand how human suffering is experienced when it forms part of part of a religious or cultural ritual, deeply embedded in cultural and religious beliefs. Recent field data from high ordeal rituals in Mauritius and Thailand (Fischer et al., 2014; in preparation) suggest that not only participants but also observers often report reduced or even no suffering during objectively high ordeal rituals, suggesting a cognitive re-appraisal of body states that leads to empathetic and compassionate decoupling. This raises larger questions about the experience of supposedly salient and universal evolutionary emotions like compassion and empathy, that will be addressed by our study.

  1. Do we experience pain, empathy and compassion differently, when the suffering is embedded in ritual context?
  2. Is this response depending on own experience of the (precise) ritual context?    

We are planning to run a number of experimental studies to investigate the role of cultural knowledge in the appraisal and physiological reactivity when viewing footage of high ordeal rituals.

First, we aim to and extend existing research by measuring behavioral and physiological responses of Danish participants to film clips showing individuals in different states of pain/suffering, either a) no suffering b) suffering caused by (aggressive) others, c) suffering self-inflicted (due to self-aggression) or d) suffering as part of a ritual. In a second study, we are planning to test participants from cultures familiar with high ordeal rituals to explicit test the role of cultural knowledge.


Networked Architecture for Interacting Minds Experiments (NAIME)

  • Dan Mønster, Dept. of Economics and Business Economics
  • Seednumber: 26221

Project description:

The NAIME project will develop a general purpose platform for real-time interaction between multiple participants in laboratory and on-line experiments. 

Several software solutions exist for psychology and behavior experiments, but most are for single-subject studies only (e.g., E-prime, PsychoPy, Presentation) or locks the researcher into a fixed paradigm (e.g., z-Tree). NAIME will be a flexible solution for programming more customised tasks based on a message passing interface. NAIME is developed in Python and can be used in conjunction with, e.g., PsychoPy.

Preference Falsification, Coalitional Psychology, and the Persistence of Norms

  • David Hendry, Dept. of Political Science
  • Seednumber: 26222

Project description:

Can norms persist in populations even when most individuals would benefit from a norm transition? Specifically, can norms of public expression persist even when the individuals making the pronouncements do not themselves agree with or believe in them? Further, how do people weigh preferences for consistency between public and private beliefs vs. preferences for complying with their social groups? Do particular community structures facilitate or inhibit the perpetuation of norms, once they are established?

A survey firm will be used to empanel subjects to participate in an online study. A screening survey asks subjects for their political affiliations, policy positions, and attitudes on sensitive social issues about race and ethnicity. Participants in the screening survey are then invited to participate in a follow-up involving social interaction. In the second wave, participants are randomly linked to other participants via a hidden network structure, and they engage in a series of trial tasks in randomly formed pairs. In each trial, subjects are shown their partner’s political affiliation and they engage in a two-step process. In the first step, the pair is asked a question that they previously answered in the screening survey. They are told that after providing a response, they will play a public goods game with this partner. Participants receive a bonus for providing the same response that they provided in the first round, an equal bonus for providing the same response as their partner in the current round, and a penalty for providing a different response than their partner. The responses of both are made public, and they then play a public goods game. The prediction is that the political affiliation of the partner offers a means of inferring her responses, while the public nature of the setting, in combination with the knowledge of the future public goods game, provides an incentive to attempt to match responses, even under risk. To the extent that subjects change their original responses to try to match their partners, there is evidence of preference falsification.    

Deep Roots of Democracy? Genes, Childhood Environments and Electoral Participation

  • Michael Bang Petersen and Lene Aarøe, Dept. of Political Science
  • Seednumber: 26223
  • Collaborators: Esben Agerbo (Department of Economics, AU) and Kasper M. Hansen (Department of Political Science, KU). 

Project description:

Research shows that individuals vary systematically in their level of political participation and some do not participate in politics at all. As Prior (2010: 756) concludes, when it comes to political participation, “you either have it or you don’t”. The question we seek to address is: Why do some people participate in politics with high engagement while others opt out? Classical studies sought the origins of stable individual differences in political participation in processes of childhood socialization whereby values and socio-economic resources are transmitted from parents to children (e.g., Verba et al., 1995). Recently, however, these studies have been challenged by a surge of research suggesting that shared genes – rather than socialization – is the major reason for overlaps between parents' and adult children’s political engagement (e.g., Cesarini et al., 2014). Yet, the debate about the relative importance of childhood and genetic factors is ongoing (e.g., Charney & English, 2012) - in part because the disciplines lack samples with sufficient statistical power and measures of both genetics and childhood environments. 

We apply for funding to conduct the most well-powered test to date of the relative importance of genetic and environmental factors on political participation as measured by electoral turnout: Integrating population-based records of whether Danish citizens have voted or not with genetic registries contained at AU's iPsych Center will provide an unrivalled dataset with genetic data and socio-economic data from the CPR-registry for up to 80,000 nationally representative individuals (see Point 8). This is not just unrivaled in terms of sample size but also in terms of measurement validity as both participation and socio-economic measures are objective rather than self-reported. 

Altruism and gender equality

  • Emma von Essen, Dept. of Economics and Business Economics
  • Seednumber: 26224
  • Collaborators: Gustaf Bruze, Karolinska Institute, Sweden

Project description:

We will investigate the degree of altruism between parents and children by studying how inheritance legislation affects the distribution of resources within families. In 1988, Sweden implemented a reform that shifted the right to inherit a deceased from children to the spouse. The reform was intended to promote economic equality between men and women, and protect widows with limited economic resources who survived their husbands. If children are perfectly altruistic towards their parents, the inheritance reform should have only a limited effect on the standard of living of widows. If children are selfish and use their inheritance for private benefit, the reform should lead to a large increase in the standard of living of widows (who could now keep their husband’s wealth after he passed away). We will test which model fits the data best (altruistic or selfish children) by comparing families in which the deceased passed away before the reform with families in which the deceased passed away after the reform. The project will thus shed light on whether it is appropriate to model members of an extended family (parents and children) as altruists or as selfish agents acting in their own interest. In a unique way the project can thus explain how large transfers of wealth from children to parents affect economic equality within the family. It will also be the first quantitative research analysis of a large inheritance reform using microdata. It can thus provide valuable insight into the design of future legal reforms affecting the distribution of resources within families.

Other remarks: To conduct the analysis we will combine estate records with Swedish register data.


Culture and social cognition – Pilot study

  • Vibeke Bliksted, Dept. of General Psychiatry
  • Seednumber: 26225
  • Collaborators: Katja Koelkebeck (University of Muenster, Germany), Yuan Zhou (Chinese Academy of Sciences, China) and Shio Ubukata (Kyoto University, Japan)

Project description:

Are social cognitive functions influenced by cultural factors? We want to test the international and transcultural validity and reliability of psychological social cognitive tests recently recommended by the RDoC project of NIMH and the SCOPE project of NIMH. We want to compare these results with the degree of individualism versus collectivism in our four different nationalities: Chineese, Japanese, German and Danish adults (N= 50 matched healthy participants from each country matched on age, gender, years of education and social economic status).

Step one is a pilot study (applied for in this application) where we translate the recommended tests and pilot these on 10 Danish patients with schizophrenia and 10 matched healthy controls.

In schizophrenia research it is assumed that social cognitive deficits are universal and can be measured and results directly compared by using the same social cognitive tests in all countries. We doubt if this is really so?

Tests recommended for schizophrenia research is not necessarily clinically relevant due to huge ceiling effects of some social cognitive tests. We hope to be able to recommend a clinical social cognitive test battery based on our transcultural study.

The Role of Heuristics in Enhancing Political Interest

  • Seonghui Lee, Dept. of Political Science
  • Seednumber: 26226

Project description:

This project examines emotional and cognitive process of political interest. What is the cognitive process that leads individuals to being interested in political messages and events? How do information contexts influence the process? Despite the importance of political interest as the primary motivation for various political behaviors, little is known about these questions. Drawing upon the literature from cognitive appraisal theories of interest in psychology and research on political information processing, I propose a theory of political interest that suggests the availability of heuristics will enhance appraisal of comprehensibility, a necessary condition for the feeling of interest in general, thus will enhance interest in politics (political events and messages). Appraisal theorists suggest that appraising an object as comprehensible is a necessary condition for feeling of interest (appraisal of “coping potential” or “comprehensibility”). In this regard, I argue that what is critical for “political” interest -- beyond knowledge and personal experience as the source of the comprehensibility -- is the role of the availability of heuristics. Although the critical role of heuristics in helping individuals comprehend politics is well documented in political science literature (for example, simple political heuristics such as partisan and ideological labels help people cope with political information, even when they lack detailed knowledge and intellectual ability), this mechanism where heuristics contributes to enhancing (political) interest by substituting for knowledge and experiences in politics has been largely ignored and not empirically tested yet. This project tests this core mechanism of the proposed theory of political interest with a unique experimental design (a “guessing experiment”) that allows us to effectively isolate the effects of knowledge and prior experience of individuals to identify the treatment effect of the availability of heuristics on comprehending experimental task (and interest in the task). The experiment will be carried out both online and at the COBE lab. 


How our evolutionary predilection for stories might cure individual paralysis on climate change mitigation

  • Brandi Morris, Dept. of Management
  • Seednumber: 26227
  • Collaborators: Panos Mitkidis (ICOA) and Polymerous Chrysochou (Dept. of Management)

Project description:

Although 90% of Europeans say climate change is a ‘serious’ or ‘very serious’ problem, only one in four believe they bear personal responsibility for tackling anthropogenic effects (European Commission, 2014). Given high levels of concern and widespread acceptance of the scientific evidence confirming human impact on rising global temperature, why aren’t we reacting with greater urgency? Could it be, that the very cognitive features which have been a source of evolutionary advantage, are becoming our undoing?

This research seeks to contribute to the literature by identifying ways of overcoming the predictable psychological effects, which prevent us from behaving in our own best collective interest and possibly even survival.

Currently, climate-change focused messaging primarily uses statistics, tables, graphs and informational prose for communicating the urgent findings of scientific research. Despite their intellectual credibility within the scientific community, these communication frames have proved mostly ineffectual in motivating costly pro-social behaviour in a realistic context of uncertainty and cognitive complexity. This study aims to find different and more effective ways to overcome the many barriers to pro-environmental behaviour, which render climate change a ‘perfect storm’ for our evolutionary vulnerabilities. The suggested approach leverages another human evolutionary vulnerability: our undeniable predilection for stories.

Through a series of empirical studies, we investigate the persuasive effect of stories vis a vis ‘information’ on pro-environmental behaviour.

Behavioural COBE-lab projects with bioscience students

  • Lars Bach, IMC
  • Seednumber: 26228
  • Collaborators: Professor Trine Bilde, Social spider group, Bioscience AU.  

Project description:

Student-driven projects spanning the interface between bioscience, experimental psychology, organization theory and behavioural economy. Through access to human subjects we provide opportunity for behavioural experiments along with supervision, an academic environment and infra-structure to recruit new talents. (previous examples include human mate choice copying and various behavioural game experiments).

This activity will be structured as project work embedded in e.g. the course ‘behavioural ecology’ or as stand-alone projects giving ECTS points. The experimental studies will take place in connection to the COBE lab facilities.

The bioscience students should offer, all other things being equal, a good recruitment pool to complement already existing competences at the IMC and ICOA. They have a good basic training in and understanding of experimental designs, quantitative methods and statistically analyses.

As a result the projects should generate publishable results or at least precursors for publications, e.g. projects growing into publishable M.Sc. project. As a minimum the projects would work as pilots for larger projects. More extensive projects such as ph.d projects would also be expected on the longer run. Finally, sustained collaboration with the bioscience department could be advantageous.

Reference points in solution generation

  • Anne Odile Peschel, Dept. of Management
  • Seednumber: 26229
  • Collaborators: Oana Vuculescu (Department of Management); Carsten Bergenholtz (Department of Management); Jacob Sherson (Department of Physics and Astronom)y; Ali Amidi (Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences).

Project description:

In this research project we are interested in what type of evidence and feedback individuals pay attention to when generating new options in a sequential decision-making task. E.g., when software engineers continuously develop new code, do they pay most attention to the (so far) best solution to a specific problem at hand, or the most recent solution? Experimental studies have usually assumed that individuals refer to their former best solution, when generating a new solution to their problem (Kahneman and Tversky 1979, Billinger et al. 2013). This assumption is fairly untested as previous work on evidence integration in sequential tasks focuses predominantly on selecting between relatively few pre-given options, rather than introducing new options (Kaiser, Simon et al. 2013). Case in point, a typical experimental frame is the multi-armed bandit, where the solver has four options to select between. In contrast, our experimental set-up presents solvers with a game involving a large number of options (256) each followed by feedback scoring the submitted solutions. Based on qualitative studies of individuals' solution generating processes we hypothesize that other types of former solutions (e.g. the last solution, or a mixture of different types of former solution) are at least as salient, when generating new solutions.

By using eye-trackers we will be able to track what type of evidence (best, last or mixture) different type of individuals (cf. cognitive tests) are looking at, and thus thinking about when generating a new solution and make a decision. This research design allows a fundamentally new type of insight into the sequential decision making process and can thus shed new light on how human optimization processes in general take place.     

Are Interacting Minds more Altruistic?

  • Anthon Patrick Søgaard
  • Seednumber: 26230
  • Collaborators: Panos Mitkidis

Project description:

This project will investigate the effect of interaction on altruism. Participants will solve a problem set (which acts as a primer), prior to a donation prompt. Participants will solve the problem sets in dyads or individually. Our hypothesis is that participants, who solved the problem set together, will be more willing to donate, than those who solved it alone. In other words, we expect that Interacting Minds will behave more altruistically, due to “rationalization processes.”

The experimental procedure will consist of a 2x2 setup. Participants will be split into two groups (calculative; emotional). Each group will get a problem set corresponding to their condition. The problem sets will act as primers, getting the participants into either a calculative or emotional mindset. The experimental manipulation will consist of whether the participants solve the problem set individually or in dyads. After completing the problem set participants are compensated for their participation in cash. Upon receiving the cash, they are also given the opportunity to donate any of their earnings towards a charitable cause. We will use their willingness to donate as a measure for altruism. The results will be analysed, to see whether a correlation between interaction and altruism can be established.

Prior research has found that people who are primed emotionally, before being asked to make a donation, behave more altruistically (Small et al. 2006; Slovic, 2007). However, the effect of having another person present, while the priming takes place, has not yet been investigated. Understanding the mechanisms that guide altruistic behaviour could have significant normative implications. Every year a tragic number of people die of causes that could have possibly been prevented. In the face of this tragedy many of us fail to act, even when the costs are dismal, relatively to the suffering endured by those we neglect to help. Much could be learned and done about this failure of intervention, if we had a better framework for understanding prosocial behaviour. Our research would provide insight into one of the many aspects of pro-sociality that still remains unclear. 



Identification of sensory and cognitive characteristics from brain imaging data

  • Karsten Olesen, IMC
  • Seednumber: 
  • Collaborators: Kristian Sandberg, (CFIN/CNRU), Francesca Fardo (DPRC/IMC), Daniel Gramm (CFIN/CNRU), Justyna Hobot, Peter Vuust (MiB), Andreas Roepstorff

Project description:

Can we identify patterns of individual differences in brain structure related to the phenomenon we are studying? And can we make this question readily available with an open database? We aim to collect neuroimaging and behavioural data from a sufficiently large sample of participants for the purpose of establishing such a database. This would facilitate large-size, statistically well-powered studies, in which one can relate the behaviour (experimental task) or personality trait (questionnaire) that one is studying to differences in brain structure. Moreover, the database would make the addition of such studies to one’s existing research relatively easy and low-cost. Finally, In the past, the vast majority of basic cognitive neuroscience studies have been conducted in isolation, examining the relationship between a single given neuroscientific measure and a single given cognitive phenomenon. This is problematic as single features rarely explain (in the statistical sense) more than 20% of the inter-individual variability (Yarkoni, 2009). This is disappointingly low and the key to success is to increase the variance explained by models from around 20% to 80% or more, and this can only be done by including multiple factors.