Navigation und Suche der Universität Osnabrück



Research Focus & Projects 

Our research concerns three interrelated themes: Intergroup relations, personality, and (anti-)social behavior. We use interdisciplinary approaches throughout our studies, examining short- and long-term changes and stability in social, personality, hormonal, and behavioral processes. 

In our work on intergroup relations and personality, we focus on the question: Who is at risk for developing high levels of negative intergroup attitudes and behaviors, such as prejudice, and why? Prior empirical work on prejudice has typically either focused (a) on the malleability of prejudice through social influences (i.e., the social psychology approach), or (b) on the relative stability of prejudice (i.e., the personality approach). We combine these two approaches by studying how social influences on intra-individual processes (e.g., having a prejudiced friend may increase my prejudice) interact with inter-individual processes explained by personality traits (e.g., my susceptibility to develop higher levels of prejudice compared to others). To integrate these two approaches, we develop multilevel social network approaches that can study two intertwined processes: How do individual differences affect social choices (social selection), and how do these social choices, in turn, influence individual differences (social influence)?

Relating to these social choices, another of our research interests in the area of intergroup relations lies on intergroup contact. Previous research reliably established the relation between (positive) contact with outgroup members and improved attitudes towards the same outgroup. It is also known that an individual’s attitudes towards an outgroup affect the willingness of people to engage in intergroup contact, and that these attitudes can be shaped by influences of other ingroup members. Using social network and large survey approaches, we try to longitudinally investigate the interplay of ingroup attitudes, intergroup contact, and outgroup attitudes, and how it is affected by various personality aspects.

Concerning (anti-)social behavior, we use a biosocial approach to examine how endocrinological development interacts with personality and social processes to influence criminal and aggressive behavior. A well-established, yet puzzling finding is that a surprisingly small group of adolescents is, and stays, responsible for engaging in the vast majority of severe antisocial acts throughout their entire lives. Moreover, our own research shows that, contrary to what one might expect, these antisocial adolescents also show high popularity among peers, a range of prosocial behavior, and a capability to become leaders of (antisocial) peer networks, often targeting ethnic minorities and other vulnerable groups. We aim to examine which mechanisms explain how group processes influence antisocial behavior development across the lifespan.

Selection of externally funded projects at the department

INCLUSVITY: Inclusivity Norms to Counter Polarization in European Societies: Collaboration between Prof. Eva Jaspers (Utrecht University), Prof. Marcin Bukowski (Jagiellonian University), Prof. Miranda Lubbers (Autonomous University of Barcelona), Oliver Christ (Fernuni Hagen) and Maarten van Zalk (University of Osnabrück). Sponsored by the VW Foundation. Further information can be found here or in this PDF.

Together for Tolerance - miteinander füreinander. The core idea of the prevention is to achieve long-term behavioral change towards more prosocial behavior and prevention of (cyber) bullying and group conflicts throughout the school through a peer-to-peer approach in which students positively influence each other. Collaboration between the Association of Lower Saxony Educational Initiatives and Maarten van Zalk (University of Osnabrück). Funded by the State Prevention Council of Lower Saxony. Further information can be found here.

Coping with Corona: Analysis of individual differences in well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Collaboration between Prof. Maarten van Zalk (University of Osnabrück), Prof. Mitja Back (WWU Münster) and Prof. Markus Bühner (LMU Munich). Further information can be found here.

Friends and Norms: Group dynamics, social influence, bullying, prejudice, discrimination, intergroup conflicts, aggression, norms and attitudes towards the development of a prevention concept. In cooperation with the Lower Saxony State Prevention Council (Landespräventionsrat Niedersachsen) and the Association of Lower Saxony Educational Initiatives (Verein Niedersächsischer Bildungsinitiativen).

• Current topics: Fear of Crime, Migration and the COVID-19 Pandemic. In collaboration with Münster University, University of Oxford, Utrecht University and Stanford University

• Positive and negative effects of intergroup contacts, e.g., the Open Research Area project "Positive-Negative Asymmetry of Intergroup Contact (PNAC): A Dynamic Approach" (project number: 265), in collaboration with the University of Oxford, Utrecht University and the FernUniversity of Hagen.

• Diversity and prejudice, e.g., the project "Diversity and Social Cohesion in Mixed and Segregated Secondary Schools in Oldham" concerning a series of experimental interventions, commissioned by the UK Department for Education.