Welcome to my website. The content is mostly in German language, but here is a translation of the essential information. For a list of my publications, click here.
I am a social and cognitive scientist. Currently, I am a Research Professor at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences in Germany, at the interdisciplinary Institute for Urban Futures, where I helped to create the Master’s program Urban Futures. By using an inquiry-based learning approach, the program trains future leaders of urban change in methods for inter- and transdisciplinary knowledge integration in the context of current societal challenges such as digitalisation and sustainability.
Basic Research: Dynamics of Social Interaction and Emotion
My research focuses on trying to understand the dynamics of social interaction and emotional experience, bridging multiple levels of explanation from the neural to the cognitive-affective to the social and cultural. Accordingly, I have an interdisciplinary perspective on social phenomena, incorporating theories and methods from disciplines such as sociology, social psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and computer science. I often use computational models and simulation techniques such as neural networks or agent-based models to try and handle the complexities inherent in a dynamical, multilevel approach to social interaction. However, I usually complement these methodological tools with the more classical empirical strategies of a social scientist, by rigorously grounding models in empirical data and testing model outcomes and predictions with surveys, experiments and behavioural observation.
Applying Computational Social Science to Promoting Sustainable Urban Futures
I think that social science has lots to offer to help better understand and address some of the current enormous challenges to societies in general and cities in particular. Therefore, I strive to apply the basic insights about emotional processes, social behaviour, and communication to problems related to sustainable urban development (e.g., climate change mitigation and adaptation, demographic change, growing inequality). I believe that changing people’s minds and behaviours is as much of a challenge as the development of new technologies if we want to achieve a better life in our cities and a sustainable future for humanity.
Current Research Projects
My research program is currently structured along three themes.
Computational Models of Affective Processes in Social Interaction
My collaborators and I have developed computer models of social psychological phenomena like automatic social behaviour versus intentional action, emotions, and identity verification as multilevel processes that involve biological, cognitive, and cultural constraints. Ongoing projects include POEM (for “semantic POinter theory of EMotions”), a computational model of human emotions (with Paul Thagard, Ivana Kajić, and Terry Stewart), and BayesACT (“for Bayesian Affect Control Theory”), a model of identity dynamics and uncertainty in social interaction (with Jesse Hoey, Kim Rogers, and others). In a current research project funded by the TAP Digging Into Data Initiative, we use BayesACT to study group dynamics on digital collaboration platforms such as Github.
Understanding Innovation Diffusion and Technology Adoption
My collaborators (especially Ingo Wolf) and I have looked at people’s cognitive and emotional representations of sustainability innovations in transportation, using qualitative and quantitative methods (focus groups, surveys). Based on these data, we have developed individual-level models of people’s transportation decisions and city-level or even Germany-wide agent-based models of innovation diffusion. We have used the models to simulate different possible scenarios of the adoption of electric vehicles and carsharing by future consumers, in order to assist policymakers in developing better strategies for sustainable development.
Social Simulation and Data Visualisation as Decision Support Tools
More recently, my collaborators and I have started to combine the computational modelling work with novel approaches to data visualisation and digital interface design, in order to develop decision-support tools that enable stakeholders in urban transformations to better grasp the complexity of social systems. For example, we have developed a web-dashboard implementation of an innovation-diffusion model, which can be used to run live simulations during workshops. In the PaSyMo project (participatory systems modelling), we have built and tested a mobile city-simulation lab that can be used to support citizen participation in urban development projects.