Social Cognition and Motivation
- Why do people often distort realities?
- Why do people sometimes defend their positions and interests so rigorously?
- When do people ignore sensible suggestions for improvement?
- How can we make people more open for prosocial solutions to conflict?
Influence of motivational processes on social cognition and interaction
We try to understand information-processing and information-seeking processes that are influenced by the activation of desires, needs and concerns (= motivated social cognition) and shape behavior in social interactions.
Framework model of social interaction – the loop2loop model
In social interactions, two or more people enter into a social exchange which is shaped by the needs, motives, cognitions and actions of the involved social partners. The interplay of these factors was summarized by us in the Loop2Loop model (see Jonas, 2015, Jonas and Bierhoff, 2017, Jonas and Steindl, 2015, Jonas and Mühlberger, 2017), which describes how the correlation of personal and situational characteristics ( Motifs, salient memory structures or cognitive focus, perception of the situation), motivational-affective states and motivated cognitions arise, which lead to corresponding motivated behavior. For the other person, this behavior becomes visible in the social interaction and, in turn, triggers a sequence of motivated cognitions and actions according to one’s own person and situation variables.
The Loop2Loop model describes that people in social interactions not only react to each other, but that these processes are mediated through motivational-affective and motivated cognitive processes (see image below, illustration by Vicky König).
If you feel threatend…
Motivated social cognition often develops in threatening situations. Accordingly, research on the impact of threats on social cognition and interaction is at the center of many of our research projects.
Threats which are experienced as ambivalent or connected with internal conflicts are of great interest to us. In those kinds of situations people are confronted with an experience of discrepancies which can not always be resolved immediately. While clear threats (such as those of physical integrity) usually trigger fear, panic, and flight behavior (active avoidance), we are more interested in ambiguous threats that trigger insecurity and irritation and put people in a state of anxious inhibition and passive avoidance. Usually these situations are experienced as particularly threatening if fundamental needs or motives are concerned such as identity (the need to know who you are), transcendence (leaving something behind when you die), social inclusion (belonging to other people / groups), control and meaning (to understand the world around us and to be an effective person). While these threats are mostly considered individually in different psychological research traditions, we seek an integrative and comparative perspective.
When people feel threatened, certain cognitive, motivational and neuronal processes are triggered. These affect how we think about our environment and how we interact with others. The Social Psychology research team at the University of Salzburg tries to specify these processes and to understand the consequences of threats to social interactions. Another focus of our research is the search for new information, its evaluation and its passing on to interaction partners.
Because many of the psychological processes triggered by threats are implicit, they are often not accessible to our active knowledge. Therefore, an understanding of unconscious processes is highly interesting an relevant. In particular, the use of neuropsychological measurement methods has helped us to develop an integrative threat theory (General Process Model of Threat and Defense, Jonas et al., 2014), which has allowed us to further understand the reactions of people in threatening situations (also see: Research Area Social Neuroscience and Threat Management). In addition we were able to gain a deeper understanding of the causes that underlie states of inhibition (a so-called “fear-rigidity”, Behavioral Inhibition System, BIS) which people oftentimes ar only able to exit by actions that are violent and of overshooting nature (Behavioral Approach System, BAS). These behaviours can be helpful as well as obstructive and influence the further course of social interactions in a functional or dysfunctional manner.