How do people define and maintain their position in a fundamentally social environment, in a world they almost always have to share with others? My general research interest goes out to human cooperation, prosociality, and social decision making in the broadest sense. In the wake of my studies on the novel construct of social mindfulness, exciting new work is coming up, like the cross-cultural differences and/or universalities in social preferences. My scientific curiosity further extends to obedience to authority and social influence in general.
The topic of the dissertation I recently successfully defended was social mindfulness: The ability to contemplate the effect of one’s actions on the options of another person (or persons) in the social environment, in concert with the willingness to adjust those actions accordingly. Social mindfulness therefore requires both ability (e.g., Theory of Mind, perspective taking, mentalizing) and motivation (e.g., empathy, prosocial social value orientation). It is a rather subtle but pervasive tool that helps people better navigate the social world by signaling prosocial intentions – or the lack thereof.
One of the ways to assess levels of social mindfulness is by a newly developed paradigm, that for ease of reference we call the SoMi paradigm. The SoMi paradigm is a computer-generated social decision-making task that lets participants choose one among three objects in a series of different categories, for example pens, baseball caps, water bottles, or wrapped gifts. Per category, two of the objects are entirely identical, and the third only differs in a single aspect (e.g., one yellow and two green baseball caps).