Research

Ongoing projects

Feelings of Religious Belonging and the Rhetorics of Injury in Public and in Art

Project C04 within the Collaborative Reserach Center "Affective Societies - Dynamics of Social Coexistence in Mobile Worlds"

The project investigates from a sociological and literary-critical perspective, the discursive structures, rhetorics, and the experience of feelings of religious belonging and their importance in conflicts for recognition in Germany’s multi-religious society. Basic questions are how such feelings of religious belonging are constructed and interpreted in public discourse, which role do rhetorics of indignation, contempt, and hatred play, and how feelings of religious belonging are affectively experienced in lifeworld contexts by actors.

Risk practices in politics and the financial sector: A comparative analysis of their characteristics and of translational dynamics across social fields 

The handling of complex risk has become one of the key challenges of contemporary societies. Economic, political, and civil actors converge on the assumption that risks can in principle be managed and controlled. However, at the same time, following the conjecture that risks are inherently socially constructed, there are concurrent understandings of what risks are, how they should be evaluated and dealt with in different social fields. This is particularly evident in the financial sector and in politics, where risk often carries very different meanings. Whereas in the financial sector, risk and accompanying chances are positively associated, political actors, at least in many western democracies, try to avoid or minimize risk wherever possible. These differences in construals of the very meaning of risk can become societal challenges, for example regarding the interactions between and the coordination of different social fields, the hegemonic understandings of risk, and adequate strategies of managing and controlling risk. Until now, only very little is known about these different understandings and their consequences for interaction and coordination between social fields. Taking the financial- and Euro- crises as a starting point, the objectives of the project are (a) to analyze specific meanings and understandings of risk in the financial sector and the field of professional politics, (b) to investigate how the meanings of risk shift as a consequence of interactions between fields. In particular, we aim at reconstructing the diverse and multi- facetted translation processes underlying these shifts. The project is based on the thesis of increasing interactions and interweavings between the two fields, which are consequential regarding the very meaning of risk as a point of reference in political and economic action, at least requiring some effort at dialogue over different understandings of risk. Hence, we seek to understand the social consequences of the specific understandings of risk in the financial sector becoming a reference point of political action, and of political decisions becoming a datum of the decisions of financial market actors. Overall, we seek to develop an empirically substantiated theoretical conception of the different meanings and understandings of risk and their consequences for action in the financial sector and the field of professional politics. 

Completed projects

The emotion paradox: Genetic and Social-Structural Factors that modulate Emotional Well-being across the Lifespan 

Across the lifespan, individuals show pronounced inter-individual differences in emotional and cognitive development. While cognitive capabilities generally tend to decline during aging, emotional well-being has been shown to improve in old age. Individual differences during emotional aging have been related to a host of genetic, psychological, and social factors. This project seeks to identify individually inherent and social-environmental factors that promote emotional well-being in old age and investigates possible interactions between both factors. Furthermore, we seek to assess whether emotional well-being in old age is associated with a delayed onset of age-related cognitive decline. The project uses a sample (n=541, 274f, age: 18-90) that has been extensively characterized regarding emotional and cognitive capabilities as well as socio-demographics and egocentric networks in a previous project. Additionally, the sample has been genotyped for 330 polymorphisms on candidate genes involved in emotional processing and stress-related affective disorders. In sum, the project addresses the question of how genetic, epigenetic, and social factors interact to promote emotional well-being across the lifespan, especially in old age. 

The emotion paradox: Depression and emotional well-being across the lifespan

The Project „The Emotion Paradox“ seeks to understand why depression is less prevalent in older adults than in younger adults and adolescents and why older adults enjoy better emotional well-being – despite the fact that old age is commonly associated with factors detrimental to well-being, such as illness or loss of companions. Likely candidates explaining this paradox are age related changes in the processing of emotions and in emotion regulation capabilities. Although the individual factors implicated in emotion processing and regulation are comparably well understood, little is known about how they interact with broader social and societal circumstances, such as socio-economic status, education, or embeddedness into social networks. The project aims at investigating these interactions and their associations with age to better understand depression over the life course. The project pursues three main objectives: (1) investigate the links between emotion processing and regulation capacities, age, and depression in a cross-sectional design using various socio-demographic, psychometric, and genetic traits; (2) establish how various socio-demographic and social network indicators are associated with mental health and emotional well-being over the life span using data from a representative longitudinal household survey, the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP); (3) develop a dedicated sample for longitudinal observation that includes individual and social contextual factors in the interaction of emotion, aging, and depression over the life span.

Are Germans really Green-Eyed Monsters? Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Benign and Malicious Envy among Germans, Indonesians, and Japanese

Envy is an intriguing social emotion because it is exclusively generated by a core feature of human sociality: relative social standing. There is but one process that generates envy: upward social comparison. Envy is a human universal found in almost any known culture and at the same time closely linked to culture-specific appraisals of social comparison. The behavioral consequences of envy can be quite opposite: either destructive and conflictual or emulative and competitive, with profoundly different consequences for social relationships and societies. This provokes the question whether culture and socio-economic factors systematically promote one or the other form of envy in response to upward social comparison. The project investigates this question by examining envy in response to identical comparison situations with participants from different cultures. In a multi-method approach using in-depth interviews in combination with an experimental design and brain imaging methods, we assess cross-cultural differences in the experience of both kinds of envy. The study sheds light on cross-cultural differences in experiencing envy on both, a bodily level and on the level of cultural meaning. It holds policy-implications with respect to potentially detrimental behavioral effects of perceived social inequality.

Embodying the Nation: Collective Emotions and National Identification

Sociological and social psychological theory suggests that collective emotions update and reinforce national identification and feelings of group-belonging while simultaneously reducing the evaluation of in-group minorities or out-groups. To verify these claims, we take the Football World Cup as a naturally occurring experimental setting that reliably elicits collective emotions within participating country’s nationals. We use questionnaires to assess national identification and out-group attitudes before and after the World Cup and measure collective emotions experienced during the event. In addition, we use neuroimaging (fMRI) and psychophysiological (EDA) measures before and after the World Cup to investigate the impact of collective emotions on the affective salience of nation-related symbols (e.g., national flags). Finally, we examine the behavioural implications of these effects using an experimental trust game before and after the World Cup with an in-group/out-group manipulation to probe the generalization of in-group favouritism from nation-related groups towards arbitrary groups.

The Affective Foundations of Sociality: Language, Physiology, and Social Differences.

The project investigates variations in the affective foundations of sociality between individuals with different socio-economic backgrounds. In a representative survey, we measure the affective meanings of words from two semantic fields representing basic dimensions of sociality: authority and community. To examine the relationship between affective meanings and social interactions, we run computer simulations based on Affect Control Theory to assess the affective consequences of prototypical sequences of social interaction. Moreover, we investigate the neural and physiological correlates of the affective experience of linguistic representations of social interactions. We measure electroencephalographic (EEG) activity and electrodermal responses (EDR) of subjects from different socio-economic backgrounds while reading words and descriptions of social interactions. We hypothesize systematic co-variations of social status indicators with affective connotations, emotional outcomes of social interaction, and neurophysiological measures.

Anger and Anxiety: Dimensions of Social Inequality

What are the relationships between the experience of specific emotions and people's socioeconomic status? Do people from different social strata experience some emotions more often than others? Which emotions are "typical" for a given social class and which are rarely experienced? How does gender correlate with the frequency of experiencing specific emotions? Is there a marked influence of major life events (e.g., marriage, loss of job, divorce) on the prolonged experience of some emotions and, if so, does this differ across social strata? In short: the project investigates whether the experience of certain emotions - in particular anger and anxiety - is a dimension of social inequality. The sociology of emotions has addressed these questions for quite some time, assuming that the experience of emotion is tightly connected to the distribution of social and economic resources on the one hand, and cultural norms and values on the other hand. This project examines these assumptions using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP), a representative longitudinal study of private households in Germany with more than 20,000 respondents.

Emotional Cues in American Popular Music: Five Decades of the Top 40

Some musical characteristics are cues to happiness (fast tempo, major mode) whereas others are cues to sadness (slow tempo, minor mode). Listening to music with inconsistent cues (fast/minor, slow/major) leads to mixed feelings and perceptions, or to simultaneous happy and sad responding. Mixed responding is also evident when listeners feel positive about a piece that expresses negative affect, such as when they enjoy sad-sounding music. Our goal is to examine Americans’ consumption of popular music over the past 50 years in order to identify: (1) emotional cues that music listeners prefer, (2) how these preferences have changed over time, and (3) ways in which preferences associated with emotions co-vary with other socio-cultural phenomena. The sample will comprise the “Top 40” songs from 25 different years spanning five consecutive decades. Each of 1000 songs will be analyzed according to its tempo (in beats per minute) and mode (major or minor). Subsequent analyses will examine if the use of minor mode in popular music has increased over time, if musical tempo has changed over time, and if increases in the use of minor mode have been particularly notable for fast-tempo music (e.g., dance music).

Forgiveness: Conceptual and Empirical Analyses

How do emotions influence the tendency, ability, and willingness to forgive and how does forgiving influence one’s feelings? How does forgiveness differ from pardoning, excusing, or condoning? What are the reasons to forgive rather than to opt for revenge, retaliation, or punishment? What is the role of social relations in granting and receiving forgiveness and which kinds of transgressions can be forgiven? Current research suggests that forgiveness entails a decision to forgive based on moral reasons and the transformation of negative into positive emotions towards a transgressor. Because forgiveness is valued as morally good and considered virtuous in any society, the project aims at identifying both, basic mechanisms and the social practices and meanings of forgiveness. This is done in a multi-method study using representative survey data, in-depth interviews, and an experimental design.

Emotions in Economic Crisis

What is the role of emotions in the discourse surrounding the current financial crisis: in mass media coverage and in statements of leading political figures? How are economic crises constructed in affective terms? What specific emotions are addressed? Do these follow a specific sequence over time (fear merging into anger, for example)? How are emotions expressed directly, and how are they communicated indirectly through metaphors? What interpretations of the crisis do these metaphors suggest (for example "meltdown", "collapse", and "bubble")? How do they ascribe responsibility and stipulate action? Using rhetorical textual analysis and sociological methods of content analysis, we aim to decode semantics, reconstruct affective patterns, and develop models for the economic crises of 2008/09, 2000/01 and 1929/30.