Conceptualization, assessment, and development of social skills
Social skills (i.e., the entire range of skills that promote effective functioning in interpersonal situations) are of key importance in work and educational settings, as they predict relevant outcome criteria such as job performance and academic success. Thus, many organizations aim to identify and select individuals who excel in desired social skills (e.g., persuading others, showing compassion, staying calm). The prime methods for this are high-fidelity simulations such as assessment centers (ACs) as they can be used to evoke, observe, and evaluate individuals’ actual social behavior. This is based on the general idea that by observing behavioral expressions in several relevant situations (i.e., situations that call for specific behavioral responses), one can draw conclusions about individuals’ social skills. As there are uncountable labels used for different social skills our research foremost focuses on identifying overarching dimensions of social skills that can be differentiated and distinctively assessed. For this, we combine top-down approaches (“What are desirable social skills?”) with bottom-up analyses (“Which social skill manifest at the behavioral level?”). Our behavioral research shows that there are three core dimensions of social skills that can be differentiated: Social skills related to Agency, Communion, and Interpesonal resilience. Within our studies we focus on (a) different methods of assessing these social skills (e.g., via classic behavioral observation, via situational judgment tests), (b) identifying situations that are suited to evoke individual differences in these social skills, and (c) ways to train and develop these social skills.
Consequences of Self-Knowledge, and Self-Enhancement
Do individuals differ in the degree to which they know their own personality and in how much they enhance their own positive qualities and skills? And do these individual differences matter? Although the question of self-knowledge and self-enhancement has always fascinated the human mind and despite the great value that is placed on correct self-views (“know thyself”), there is still limited insight regarding the reliability, moderators, and consequences of individual differences in personality self-knowledge and self-enhancement. Our team is developing new process models that specify the common social processes underlying different domains of PSK and SE (different “truth” criteria such as behavioral, reputational, or implicit measures; different content domains including intellectual and social personality aspects). These models are used to systematically analyze the moderators (e.g., Who knows oneself? Who is self-enhancing?) and consequences (Are people who know themselves or who self-enhance happier, more successful, or more socially accepted?) of PSK and SE in a variety of longitudinal data-sets and applied contexts. In doing so, we derive and apply extensions of Response Surface Analysis (RSA) that control for common methodological artifacts, provide a straightforward mathematical distinction of relevant concepts, and allow for simultaneous tests of competing hypotheses (e.g., positive self-view vs. self-enhancement vs. optimal margin of illusion vs. self-insight hypotheses).
Judging other’s personalities is a ubiquitous and highly consequential phenomenon. Even if we encounter a complete stranger we are immediately left with an impression of his/her personality. Such impressions tend to be relatively stable and influence our everyday social decisions. But how valid are these spontaneous social snapshots? In a first stream of research, we investigate the accuracy of personality judgments in a wide range of social contexts including photographs, video- and audio-taped as well as written self-introductions, dyadic and group interactions, creative linguistic expressions, computer-mediated communications, and game paradigms. We focus on explaining why and when personality impressions are accurate and typically apply Brunswikian lens model analyses that explain accuracy patterns by individual differences in the validity and utilization of observable cues. We also investigate the social consequences of accuracy ways to potentially improve accuracy in important applied contexts such as impressions of refugees, judgments in psychotherapy, during personnel selection, and in the classroom. In a second stream of research, we focus on differences in the way individuals generally see others when getting to know them for the first time. We investigate whether these so-called perceiver effects can be seen as stable idiosyncratic stereotypes about the "generalized other", their underlying structure, and whether they can be used to predict important outcomes.
Personality and the development of social relationships
Personality has a sustainable influence on the emergence, maintenance and quality of social relationships as well as on success in social contexts. We examine this influence with a focus on nonromantic peer relationships (e.g., the development of friendships and of social status) and romantic relationships (i.e. from dating to mating to relating) in young adulthood. We are particularly interested in understanding the mechanisms underlying these social consequences of personality. That is, we analyze the motivational, behavioral, affective, cognitive and perceptual state processes that (a) lead to more or less positive first impressions (i.e. liking, respect, attraction) and subsequently to the selection of social partners and the provision of social resources, respectively, (b) drive relationship transitions such as the development of first encounters into committed relationships or the emergence of status hierarchies, and (c) that determine the quality and stability of close social relationships and peer networks. Theoretically, this work is based on the PERSOC framework, a generic model that can be applied to all kinds of personality and relationship domains and that differentiates between actor, partner, and relationship components of relationship outcomes and social state processes. PERSOC conceptualizes repeated sequences of mental and behavioral state processes taking place within circumscribed social interaction units as driving forces behind the longitudinal interplay of personality and social relationship dispositions. Methodologically, we aim at a most representative capturing of the short- and long-term interaction and relationship phenomena both in laboratory contexts (e.g., group interactions, speed dates) and field contexts (e.g., self- and interaction partner-based experience-sampling reports).
Personality is relatively stable over time, but it is also subject to change across the entire lifespan. On a macro-analytical level, empirical research has identified patterns of normative and differential development that are affected by biological and environmental factors, specific life events and social role investments. On a micro-analytical level, however, little is known about the underlying processes driving personality development. Our research focuses on unraveling these specific mechanisms of personality development. It is based on integrative state process models that understand personality trait stabilization and change as the result of repeated changes in state levels and state configurations within motivational, behavioral-perceptual and self-reflective state domains. We are particularly interested in effects of social experiences on the development of personality traits (e.g. extraversion, self-esteem) and the behavioral, perceptual, social feedback, and network processes driving these effects. While our approach can be applied across the lifespan, our current work focuses on critical transitions during young adulthood (e.g., year abroad, start of studies, start of a first regular job).
From a dynamic perspective on personality that moves beyond a static trait perspective, personality differences regard both individual differences in the typical level of behaviors and experiences (e.g., how extraverted individual’s typically behave; how satisfied they typically are with themselves) and individual differences in the variability of behaviors and experiences across situations (e.g., how much individuals differ in their extraverted behavior and their self-satisfaction). We are interested in further refining conceptualizations of individual differences in state dynamics and analyzing the determinants and consequences of these dynamic personality aspects in representative laboratory and field contexts. We have proposed a conceptual and statistical model that differentiates not only between individual differences in the level of states, systematic developments of states over time, and state variability but also between within- and cross-context state variability. Empirical applications with affective, cognitive and behavioral states during laboratory- and field-based social interactions indicate that within- and cross-context variabilities have markedly different trait predictors and intra- as well as interpersonal consequences. Based on this, we want to better understand the concrete dynamics underlying these variabilities. Specifically, we are interested in more firmly integrating insights from density distribution and variability research with principles of interactionism and trait activation research (e.g., if-then contingencies; stability and strength of situation profiles; situational strength; trait relevance). As a case in point, we aim at disentangling individual differences in specific if-then contingencies that underlie differences in cross-context state variabilities.
Narcissism is one of the most paradoxical constructs both in lay and academic psychology: Narcissists’ charisma and self-assuredness can give them tremendous energy that fascinates others, yet their aggressiveness and selfishness hinder their progress and turn many people off. We developed the Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Concept (NARC) that disentangles two separate social strategies: the tendency to approach social admiration by means of self-promotion (assertive self-enhancement) and the tendency to prevent social failure by means of self-defense (antagonistic self-protection). In a large set of studies including online samples, representative longitudinal surveys, acquaintance reports, group interactions, directly observed behaviors, dyadic partner reports, experience-sampling reports in real-life interactions, we are validating this two-dimensional model using the newly developed Narcissistic Admiration and Rivalry Questionnaire (NARQ). Our results show that admiration is related to a higher level of self-esteem, peer and dating popularity at zero acquaintance, while rivalry is related to higher self-esteem fluctuations, peer- and romantic relationship conflict at long-term acquaintance. We are investigating both the cognitive-affective reactivities that underlie narcissists’ everyday experiences (e.g., reactions to perceived status opportunities and threats) and the behavioral expression, interpersonal perception, and evaluation processes that explain their effects on others over time (e.g. assertive and antagonistic behaviors that affect their popularity, and social status achievement). We have included the NARQ in large panel surveys such as the SOEP as well as more fine-grained and process-oriented longitudinal studies. This data is used to investigate environmental context factors, private and occupational life events as well as peer network and social interaction processes potentially affecting the development of narcissism.
Personality pertains to all sorts of individual differences in people’s experiential and behavioral regularities. This encompasses, for example, individual differences in people’s self-concept, in typical and maximal behaviors expressed in real-life contexts, in automatic associations between cognitive concepts, in affective reactions towards circumscribed environmental cues, and in the way other people react towards and perceive other individuals. Accordingly, in our research, we follow a multisource approach and aim at a comprehensive coverage of personality differences both conceptually and methodologically. Our research includes self-report questionnaires (for the assessment of the explicit self-concept), indirect tests (for the assessment of the implicit self-concept), informant-reports (for the assessment of personality reputations), direct behavioral observations (for the assessment of behavioral regularities) as well as associations between specific experiential and behavioral states (for the assessment of between-person differences in within-person if-then contingencies). We develop and apply assessment tools both in online survey contexts (self- and informant questionnaires), laboratory contexts (e.g., round-robin self- and other-ratings during group interactions, video- and audio-based behavioral codings; reaction-time based indirect personality tests, economic game paradigms) and real-life contexts (smartphone-based experience-sampling- and interpersonal perception assessments; online diaries, mobile sensing). We are also adopting our developed assessment tools for the use in different applied contexts including therapy, personnel selection and development, and forensic settings.
Societal Conflict and Cohesion
Western liberal societies are under pressure. Recent years came along with an increasing approval of anti-democratic and nationalist ideas among the population (e.g., the rise of the AfD in Germany, the Fidesz in Hungary, and Trumpism in the United States), with societal conflicts sparked by discussions about immigration, climate change, or COVID-19, and with a higher prevalence of threat towards ethnic-religious minorities, conspiracy beliefs, perceptions of marginalization, and distrust in democratic institutions. These developments might be indicators of a more fundamental societal cleavage that evolved during globalization and modernization: Societal camps who are open to and embrace economic, political, social, and cultural changes versus societal camps who are opposed to these changes and want to defend a narrower and stable status quo. This societal cleavage and an increasing lack of cross-talk between the involved camps poses a major threat to social peace and liberal democracies around the world. It is, thus, crucial to understand the nature of current social discontent, the social groups who perceive it, and its societal consequences.
In a number of connected projects, we aim to contribute to a better understanding of the involved psychological factors and processes. This includes research projects on identity-based societal cleavages, on the association between religiosity and threat towards ethnic-religious minorities, on the determinants and consequences of conspiracy beliefs across countries, on psychological aspects of refugee integration, and on first impressions of refugees.