Currently we pursue three research goals.

Understanding the motives that drive social behaviors.

Motives are the driving forces behind human behaviors. If we understand a person’s motives, we understand why this person behaves in a certain way, and how this person will behave in the future. Thus, revealing motives and the factors that shape them is essential for developing efficient and long-lasting clinical and societal interventions. The problem is that motives are well-hidden, because they are not observable in behavior. For example, the same prosocial behavior can be driven by an expectation of reward (egoistic motive) or by empathy for the other person (empathy motive). In our previous work we have shown that different social motives can be uncovered based on patterns of brain connectivity, even if they lead to the identical behavior. These approaches are now extended to more complex motivational scenarios with higher ecological validity in which several motives are activated at the same time. We investigate how multiple motives are integrated, and aim to specify the motive or combinations of motives that are most likely to enhance or inhibit relevant social behaviors.

Understanding the interplay between social motivation and learning.

Learning experiences have an impact on why and how we interact with others. Vice versa, our current social motives and interactions have an impact on what and how we learn. We combine classical learning paradigms and social interaction paradigms to A) investigate how learning changes social motives, and the resulting social behaviors, and to B) examine how different social motives (induced by different social contexts) affect learning mechanisms and the resulting learning outcomes. Ultimately, we hope A) to specify the learning conditions that foster positive social motivation (that for example results in prosocial behaviors), and B) to specify the social contexts and types of social interactions that facilitate beneficial learning processes.

Understanding the interplay between social motivation/interactions and psychopathology.

Social interactions affect psychological disorders, for example in therapeutic settings. Vice versa, psychological disorders affect social motivation and resulting social interactions. Currently, we focus on anxiety disorders, and investigate A) which type of social motivation and interactions are most likely to counteract specific subtypes of anxiety and increase the resilience against anxiety symptoms, and B) whether differences in the neural circuits involved in social motive processing can be used as markers for the diagnosis of anxiety subtypes. Ultimately, we aim at developing tailored social interactions that can be used as a tool for the diagnosis and therapy of different psychological disorders.