On this page you will find all important information about current and past research projects, as well as our most important research collaborations.

Main Reserach Topics of the Department of Social Psychology
Research at the Department of Social Psychology, Design: Johannes Lautenbacher

Research Areas

  • Group Processes
    e.g., social identity, social influence, collective action, conflict and cooperation between groups, and social inequality
  • Motivated Social Cognition
    e.g., basic psychological needs and effects of threat
  • Social Psychology of Environmental Crisis
    e.g., pro-environmental action, acceptance of pro-environmental innovations, and nature protection

Publications of the Department of Social Psychology

Current Research Projects

Collective Spirit or False Consciousness under Conditions of Economic Threat?

  • Testing an Integrated Stage Model of Extended and Secondary Control
    Immo Fritsche & Johannes Lautenbacher

People need to feel autonomous and in control over important aspects of their life. Strong economic inequality can threaten control for those at the bottom end of the scale or who fear personal economic descent. This project investigates psychological coping strategies people use to maintain a sense of control in response to appraisals of personal economic threat. Which responses people employ has strong implications for whether existing economic hierarchies are preserved or changed. Specifically, two yet divergent lines of theorizing have proposed very different reactions to threatened control. The compensatory control approach suggests that personal helplessness shakes people’s belief in a structured and predictable world which induces them to support existing systems of order and strong external agents. Marxian thinkers have called this “false consciousness” as the disadvantaged seem to support systems or powerful outgroups that create their disadvantage. On the contrary, the model of group-based control has proposed a mechanism that may turn personal misery into collective affiliation and empowerment: When people lack personal control, they may re-define the self in terms of “We” instead of “I”, to join in collective agency and control, leading to ingroup identification and action (e.g., against illegitimate inequalities).

The project for the first time integrates these divergent perspectives. We propose that when people experience personal helplessness, they first try to restore control on a collective level of the self ("extended primary control"). Only when this seems futile they resort to comepnsatory, or "secondary", control, thus supporting existing socio-economic systems and powerful outgroups (e.g., elites). In this three-years project, we empirically test this model. The project helps to better understand how coping with adverse effects of economic inequality affects people's social responses to, and appraisals of, inequality.

ExpoAware - Environmental volunteered geographic information for personal exposure awareness and healthy mobility behaviour

  • DFG 424979005
    Torsten Masson & Anna Becker

Urban spaces are hotspots of environmental stressors such as noise, air pollution, and heat. These stressors have an impact on our health and are highly context-specific across space and time. Wearable sensors have advanced the measurement of these stressors and enable mobile exposure measurements. Smartphones provide additional measurement techniques to capture user perceptions and opinions about exposure (Volunteered Geographic Information, VGI). The combination of subjective and objective VGI provides a rich data pool that allows us to evaluate not only exposure, but also the behavior and decision motives of individuals during everyday mobility. In this project, we are therefore working on three main objectives: 1) How can environmental VGI generated with smartphones be used to extract spatio-temporal movement patterns and exposures? 2) How can we collect subjective data and analyze behavioural changes when individuals are informed about exposure data? 3) How can environmental VGI be used to improve mobility and exposure models?



Member of the scientific DFG network "Social Identity in Agent-based Models; SIAM"

  • Immo Fritsche & Torsten Masson

The maturing social simulation community is facing the challenge of developing standards and methods for model development, including how to pick and implement behavioural theories when modelling human behaviour. One particular need and challenge is formalising human behaviour and decision making in its social context – representing how people might decide what to do within a specific context and social-physical situation. Part of the reason for the difficulty here is that this depends upon the complex relationship between the individual’s identity and the social situation they inhabit. The purpose of SIAM is to contribute towards formalising a widely-applicable social-psychological theory incorporating social context – the social identity approach – for the use in agent-based models (ABMs).

Perceived collective agency as a driver of populist movements in threatening times?

  • Project at the Research Institute of Societal Cohesion, FGZ
    Federal Ministery for Education and Science
    Immo Fritsche & Anne Hoppe

What makes populist movements on the political fringe attractive? And can democratic majority groups learn from these processes? The project addresses these questions from the perspective of social psychological research on motivated social cognition and group-based / social identity processes. We hypothesize that people can restore feelings of control and agency in situations of perceived personal helplessness by identifying with groups that are capable of acting and by acting as members of these groups (not as individuals). Populist-extremist groups focus on a collective "we" (for example, the ethnically defined "people") and social change through collective action (for example, "asserting the will of the people against the elites"), which communicates collective agency. Membership in such a movement (or even just in the addressed category) should therefore become attractive to people especially when they themselves experience personal loss of control (for example, in social crisis situations). These and other assumptions (e.g., about the promotion of the perceived agency of democratic majority groups) are investigated in mainly experimental studies over a period of four years.


Project description will follow shortly...

SPARCS: Sustainable energy Positive & zero cARbon CommunitieS

  • Grant agreement ID: 864242
    Immo Fritsche & Torsten Masson

Renewable technologies designed to transform cities into sustainable "smart cities" already exist. However, the success of such technologies also depends on their general acceptance by citizens, local communities, industries and authorities. The EU-funded SPARCs project encourages participation of blocks of houses and districts in the energy market to transform urban areas into energy prosumers. In SPARCS, we investigate the role of social identity (identification with collectives, perceived norms, and the efficacy of one's group; Fritsche, Barth, Jugert, Masson & Reese, 2018) in the acceptance and use of renewable technologies.


Past Research Projects

Threat to Control and Social Norms: Conformity, Change, or Formation - TCSN

  • DFG, FR 2067 8-1 & JU 2902 4-1
    Philipp Jugert, Immo Fritsche & Felix Czepluch

When people experience a threat to personal control, they often seek control on the level of collective identity (i.e., groups; Fritsche et al., 2013; Stollberg, Fritsche & Jonas, 2017). In collaboration with Jagiellonian University (Krakow, Poland), we investigate unconscious processes of norm vigilance and motivated norm formation that prepare the restoration of control as a group member.  

Motivated History: Representations of Groups' History as a Function of Current Motivations - MoHi

  • DFG, BA 5572 1-1 & FR 2067 7-1
    Markus Barth & Immo Fritsche

We investigate how current personal motivations, such as the needs for control and moral acceptance, determine how people subjectively construct and accept their nation’s history (e.g., as collective perpetrator, victim or by-stander). In collaboration with the University of Warsaw we study this issue in both the German and the Polish cultural context.

ECHOES: Energy Choices Supporting the Energy Union and the Set-Plan

  • European Commission, Horizon 2020, # 727470
    Immo Fritsche & Torsten Masson

Collective factors determine people's and institutions' sustainable energy behavior and their acceptance of a European energy transition. In collaboration with other European partners (e.g., U Trondheim, U Roma Tre) our project team focuses on how people's social identity (identification with collectives, perceived ingroup norms and collective efficacy; Fritsche, Barth, Jugert, Masson & Reese, 2018) affects people's pro-environmental energy attitudes and behavior.


Constructing Active Citizenship with European Youth: Policies, Practices, Challenges and Solutions

  • European Commission, Horizon 2020, #649538
    Philipp Jugert

The project aims to identify the factors, located at different levels (psychological, developmental, macro social, and contextual), influencing the different forms of youth active engagement in Europe. Our team concentrates on the analysis of existing datasets to understand the interplay between individual and context in influencing active citizenship; Šerek & Jugert, 2017.


Member of the DFG Research Network “Within and Between Group Processes in the Context of Social Inequality”

  • DFG RO 4826/1
    Philipp Jugert, Immo Fritsche & Markus Barth

Economic inequality and economic threat have adverse effects on people's and societies' functioning (e.g., reduced health or social cohesion; Fritsche & Jugert, 2017; Wilkinson & Pickett, 2009). Within the DFG Network, researchers from ten different universities collaborate in investigating the social psychological processes that determine people's perceptions of and responses to economic inequality.


This might also be of interest...

Teaching & Studying at the Department

Read more

Staff of the Department

Read more

The SoDoc-Workshop 2021

Read more

Back to the Main Page

Read more