Ruprecht-Karls-Universitšt Heidelberg
Abteilungsfoto

Abgeschlossene Projekte

Self-Regulatory Processes in Danger Perception and Risky Decision Making

Laufzeit: 2013-2014 (gefördert aus Mitteln der Exzellenzinitiative der DFG)

The fast detection of signals for impending dangers and the avoidance of risky situations are of special importance for human information processing because these strategies might help preventing possible negative events, losses, injuries, or death. In the last decades numerous psychological studies provided evidence for a fast and efficient system of danger detection, which promotes an automatic allocation of attention on possible danger cues (e.g., Öhman, Lundqvist, && Esteves, 2001; Pratto && John, 1991). Many authors argue that such a system might be a product of evolution because it helped in the past to ensure survival. However, this argument is somewhat flawed because also the rapid detection of positive signals can bring survival benefits; for example, the immediate detection of a prey animal or - in the case of danger - of a hiding place or an escape route can be crucial to survive. This position is supported by recent findings that demonstrate positive biases in perception and decision making (e.g., Balcetis && Dunning, 2006; Becker, Anderson, Mortensen, Neufeld, && Neel, 2011).

On a broader perspective, the assumption of a general stable bias that promotes the allocation of attention either always on negative or always on positive stimuli seems to be too inflexible and thus of limited adaptive value. A flexible system, however, directing the attention to stimuli that are specifically relevant in a given situation will always be superior. In line with this argumentation, we assume that self-regulatory processes promote such a situation-specific adaption of attentional processes. The aim of the present project is to analyze how the perception of danger signals and risky decision making depend on characteristics of the present situation.

One important variable that is analyzed in this context is the amount of control over potential dangers. We argue that it is only important to focus on danger cues if the perceived information can help to prevent any negative consequences. The early perception of signals for uncontrollable dangers -on the contrary - would be maladaptive because cognitive resources are wasted, anxiety or other negative emotions are triggered and psychological wellbeing is reduced, without helping to avoid the impending dangers. Therefore we expect that perceived control triggers self-regulatory processes that in turn direct attention to danger cues. The lack of control and the experience of helplessness should reduce sensitivity for danger signals.

A second process that is addressed with the current project regards the relevance of outcomes for the actor. We expect that negative outcomes are perceived to be more likely when this risk applies to the own person, and less likely, when other persons are affected. Thus, if risks are relevant for the own person, risk aversion is predicted, while more risk seeking behavior might be found whenever others money is at stake.

In the present project, the influence of perceived control and of self-relevance of decisions on the perception of danger signals and on risky decision making is analyzed with four behavioral experiments using visual search tasks, eye-movement recordings, and behavior-economical paradigms.

Neural circuitry of impulse control: An integrative approach towards the understanding of normal and disturbed impulse control in humans.
Project 1: Cognitive components of impulse control

Laufzeit: 2008-2010 (gefördert vom BMBF)

In diesem Projekt wurde die kognitive Struktur der Impulskontrolle analysiert. Insbesondere wurden verschiedene Komponenten der Impulskontrolle identifiziert und ihre Kovariationen analysiert.

Influence of goal and action contexts on processes of automatic attention allocation

Laufzeit: 2007-2011 (gefölrdert von der DFG: Ro1272/2-1,2-3)

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Seitenbearbeiter: Andreas Voß