A Comparative Study of Stress Experiences Amongst Undergraduate and Graduate Students

Anielle Egekwu, a Master of Arts in Psychology with an Emphasis in Counseling student at Webster Vienna Private University, has completed her master's thesis exploring the comparative stress experiences between undergraduate and graduate students. Her study utilized one-on-one interviews to gather data, which was then analyzed through thematic analysis.

The research uncovered seven major themes including academic stressors, coping mechanisms, and the influence of environmental and cultural factors on stress perception. Egekwu's findings reveal (as hypothesized) that graduate students experience a higher workload and more intense academic pressures compared to undergraduates. An interesting finding was that the nature of stress experienced differed between undergraduates and graduates. For undergraduates, the primary source of stress stemmed more from adapting to university life and university-level coursework, rather than from academic stress directly. Despite these differences, both student groups commonly employed coping strategies such as engaging in leisure activities, seeking social support, and physical exercise.

Egekwu's study provides insights for university administrators and counselors, particularly with regards to the understanding of stress dynamics in academic settings. The research underscores the importance of providing supportive interventions tailored to different student levels, highlighting the need for support systems that address the distinct stressors impacting student well-being and academic success.



VR Technology Applications in Psychology: A Study on the Effects of Induced Stress on Attention Focus and Heart Rate Variability

Dzmitryi Yatsenka, an undergraduate student of psychology at Webster Vienna Private University, has completed a compelling bachelor's thesis on the effects of induced stress on heart rate variability (HRV) and attention focus capabilities among students, utilizing VR technology. This study investigated how stress impacts students' ability to concentrate and regulate their physiological responses during cognitive tasks.

Yatsenka's research employed a quantitative approach, where VR was used to simulate stressful conditions to study changes in HRV and attentional performance. The thesis hypothesized that induced stress would increase the time students spent on attention focus exercises and decrease HRV indices like SDNN (Standard Deviation of Normal-to-Normal intervals) and RMSSD (Root Mean Square of Successive Differences).

The findings indicated significant changes in attention focus and HRV in response to stress, confirming the hypotheses. Specifically, under stress, participants took longer to complete attention tasks, and their HRV measures decreased, suggesting reduced autonomic nervous system flexibility.

This study offers interesting insights into the physiological impacts of stress on cognitive functions and suggests the potential of VR as a tool for creating controlled, immersive environments for psychological research. The implications of this study could help guide interventions aimed at improving stress resilience and cognitive function in educational settings.



Prof. Dr. Didem Kepir Savoly Joins Webster Vienna   Webster Vienna Private University's Psychology Department warmly welcomes Prof. Dr. Didem Kepir Savoly, the latest addition to its academic faculty. Specializing in Counseling Psychology, Dr. Kepir Savoly's scholarly pursuits have primarily focused on the aspects of career development and emotional well-being. Her work on career adaptability examines the transition from educational environments to professional settings, emphasizing the significance of resilience and flexibility in career choices.   Former studies of Dr. Kepir Savoly explored the relationship between career optimism and the well-being of university students, highlighting how personal relationships impact psychological outcomes. Dr. Kepir Savoly's research also extends to the realm of emotion regulation, investigating therapeutic interventions like art therapy for emotional resilience and self-regulation skills training for international students facing cultural transitions. These studies highlight the therapeutic value of creative expression and the critical need for adaptive coping mechanisms in diverse settings. Moreover, Dr. Kepir Savoly's collaborative projects with former master's supervisees have produced insightful analyses of movie and TV-show characters through Transactional Analysis, demonstrating the practical application of psychological theories in understanding complex character dynamics.    Prof. Dr. Didem Kepir Savoly's arrival at Webster Vienna Private University's Psychology Department heralds an exciting new chapter in our pursuit of academic and research excellence. Her research background and innovative approaches to understanding the complexities of human psychology promise to significantly enhance our academic and research endeavors. We look forward with great enthusiasm to the contributions she will make to our academic community, confident that her presence will inspire both our faculty and students to reach new heights in their research and studies.

Prof. Dr. Didem Kepir Savoly Joins Webster Vienna

Webster Vienna Private University's Psychology Department warmly welcomes Prof. Dr. Didem Kepir Savoly, the latest addition to its academic faculty. Specializing in Counseling Psychology, Dr. Kepir Savoly's scholarly pursuits have primarily focused on the aspects of career development and emotional well-being. Her work on career adaptability examines the transition from educational environments to professional settings, emphasizing the significance of resilience and flexibility in career choices.

Former studies of Dr. Kepir Savoly explored the relationship between career optimism and the well-being of university students, highlighting how personal relationships impact psychological outcomes. Dr. Kepir Savoly's research also extends to the realm of emotion regulation, investigating therapeutic interventions like art therapy for emotional resilience and self-regulation skills training for international students facing cultural transitions. These studies highlight the therapeutic value of creative expression and the critical need for adaptive coping mechanisms in diverse settings. Moreover, Dr. Kepir Savoly's collaborative projects with former master's supervisees have produced insightful analyses of movie and TV-show characters through Transactional Analysis, demonstrating the practical application of psychological theories in understanding complex character dynamics. 

Prof. Dr. Didem Kepir Savoly's arrival at Webster Vienna Private University's Psychology Department heralds an exciting new chapter in our pursuit of academic and research excellence. Her research background and innovative approaches to understanding the complexities of human psychology promise to significantly enhance our academic and research endeavors. We look forward with great enthusiasm to the contributions she will make to our academic community, confident that her presence will inspire both our faculty and students to reach new heights in their research and studies.



Unveiling the Influence of Human and Robotic Actions on Object Preference and Memory

In a groundbreaking study led by Dr Luca Ticini and Dr Alex Kafkas of the University of Manchester, researchers have unveiled fascinating insights into how human and robotic actions influence our preferences and memory. The study, titled "Grasp and Remember: The Impact of Human and Robotic Actions on Object Preference and Memory," delves into the cognitive phenomena of goal contagion and its implications in the rapidly evolving landscape of human-robot interactions.

The research team, including Prof Paolo Gallina from the University ofTrieste, embarked on an exploration to understand how observing different types of actions—human vs. robotic—alters our perception and recollection of objects. Participants were presented with a series of objects that were either grasped by a human, a robot, or not acted upon at all (static objects). They were then asked to indicate their preference for each object. To assess the impact of these actions on memory, participants' recollection of the objects was tested after a short delay, including their ability to recognize previously seen objects and distinguish them from new ones.

The findings are striking. Human actions not only heightened the preference for objects but also significantly enhanced the subsequent memory of them, more so than robotic actions. Interestingly, static objects, when presented in the context of human action, were also perceived as more familiar during the recognition task. This suggests that the mere observation of human actions has a profound effect on our cognitive evaluations and memory engagement, fostering the creation of detailed associative memories.

This study's results underscore the critical role of human interaction in cognitive processes, particularly in the context of goal contagion—a concept that describes the tendency to adopt others' goals. The differential effects observed between human and robotic actions highlight the nuanced complexities of our cognitive systems and their interaction with the world.

According to Luca Ticini and his team, these insights have profound implications for the design and implementation of robotic technologies in everyday life. “Understanding the cognitive effects of human versus robotic actions can guide the development of robots that better align with human cognitive processes, potentially enhancing learning, memory, and the overall human-robot interaction experience.”



Dr. Andrea Caria presents the concept of the brain-computer interface in an exclusive lecture at WVPU

In an electrifying convergence of technology and psychology, Webster Vienna Private University (WVPU) hosted a transformative event that promised to redefine students' perceptions of the human mind's potential. Dr. Luca Ticini, head of the Department of Psychology at WVPU, had organized an extraordinary opportunity for students taking the PSYC 1100 Introduction to Psychology course. WVPU eagerly awaited the arrival of Dr. Andrea Caria, a distinguished authority from the College of Trento (Italy), who delivered an insightful lecture on the groundbreaking field of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). The exclusive guest lecture, which took place on Tuesday, February 20, introduced the burgeoning field of BCIs, which has attracted worldwide attention mainly due to Elon Musk's Neuralink project.

Dr. Caria, who is known for his deep understanding of BCI, highlighted the merging of human cognition and technological innovation and how these interfaces are moving out of the realm of science fiction and becoming tangible realities that have far-reaching implications for psychology, neuroscience and beyond.

The event was a unique opportunity for WVPU students to immerse themselves in one of the most fascinating developments in psychology. Dr. Ticini's initiative to bring Dr. Caria to campus underscores WVPU's unwavering commitment to providing students with access to cutting-edge research and the leading minds in science. Participants had the privilege of exploring the potential of BCIs to improve cognitive function, revolutionize the treatment of neurological disorders, and even redefine the limits of human capabilities.

Since attendance was limited to WVPU students, specifically those enrolled in the PSYC 1100 course, this event fit seamlessly into the overarching goal of providing valuable insight into cutting-edge psychology research and technological innovation. Thanks to Dr. Caria's expertise, students undoubtedly gained a deeper understanding of the profound impact of BCIs and ushered in a new era of interdisciplinary exploration and discovery in the field of psychology.



What makes us like or dislike certain images? Is it just a matter of personal taste, or are there deeper factors at play? A new study by Bignardi and colleagues, published in Communications Biology, sheds some light on this question by investigating the genetic and environmental influences on aesthetic preferences for three visual domains: abstract images, scenes, and faces.

The researchers used a classical twin design, a method that compares the similarities between pairs of identical and fraternal twins, to estimate the heritability of aesthetic preferences. Heritability is a measure of how much of the variation in a trait is due to genetic factors, rather than environmental factors. The researchers also assessed two major dimensions of aesthetic preferences: taste-typicality, which reflects how similar one's preferences are to the average of the group, and evaluation-bias, which reflects how positive or negative one's preferences are overall.

The study found that genetic influences explained 26% to 41% of the variation in taste-typicality and evaluation-bias, with some genetic effects shared across visual domains. This means that some of the differences in how we evaluate images are related to our genetic makeup, and that some genes may affect our preferences for different types of images in a similar way. The study also found that taste-typicality for abstract images was influenced only by environmental factors, suggesting that our preferences for abstract art are more shaped by our experiences and exposure.

The study reveals that aesthetic preferences are influenced by diverse sources of genetic and environmental variation, and provides new metrics to assess inter-individual differences in aesthetic value. The study also opens up new avenues for future research on the biological and psychological mechanisms underlying aesthetic experiences, and how they relate to other aspects of human cognition and behaviour.



Investigating Affective Priming Effects on Social Motivation

We present the research conducted by our graduate student, Loc U Tseung, from the Master of Arts in Psychology with an Emphasis in Counselling Psychology program. This study, supervised by Prof. Marc Mehu, delves into the intricate relationship between affective priming and social motivation.

The study explored the impact of emotional priming on individuals' social motivation using a within-subjects design. Participants were exposed to three priming conditions: positive images, neutral images, and attachment-related images. While prior research has suggested the influence of emotions on social well-being, this study focuses on their effect on individuals' willingness to approach others. The research also examined the roles of attachment style and personality in contributing to the observed outcomes. The experiment included 42 participants and yielded significant results.

The findings indicated that both attachment security priming and positive mood priming significantly increased social motivation compared to neutral priming. Surprisingly, stable personality traits did not moderate the relationship between priming and social motivation. This study contributes to our understanding of the impact of positive affect on social behaviors and has potential implications for the application of priming techniques in clinical settings.


Exploring the Impact of Mimetic Desire in Human-Robot Interaction - Philipp Rahofer

Philipp Rahofer, undergraduate student of Psychology at Webster Vienna Private University, recently completed his bachelor’s thesis titled which dives into the realm of human-robot interaction. Rahofer's research is deeply rooted in Rene Girard's concept of "mimetic desire," which posits that our desires for objects are influenced by whether others find those objects desirable. This study investigates whether the visual representation of a robot, with human-like hand movements reaching for an object, can influence people's preference for that object and impact their ability to recall associated brands. By comparing participants' responses to human and robotic interactions, Rahofer aims to shed light on the intricacies of consumer preferences and brand memory in the context of human-robot interactions. Through data collection and statistical analysis, this research seeks to provide insights into the evolving landscape of human-robot coexistence, with potential implications for advertising and brand strategy. 

The results indicate a significant preference for objects that were interacted with, regardless of whether the interaction was executed by human or robot hands. This preference aligns with Rene Girard's theory of mimetic desire, asserting that an object's allure is influenced by its desirability to others. Furthermore, the study revealed that the mirror neuron system, which plays a role in action comprehension, is activated not only when observing human actions but also when observing robotic actions, offering intriguing insights into the dynamics of human-robot interaction.

Regarding memory recollection, the study found that participants exhibited enhanced memory performance for grasped objects compared to static ones. Notably, this effect was more pronounced in the human interaction group. This suggests that the connection between action comprehension, mirror neurons, and memory formation merits further exploration, particularly in the context of advertising and brand strategy. The findings hint at the potential for marketers to leverage characters interacting with products in advertisements to enhance consumer preference and brand recall.



Exploring Media Portrayal of Conflict: Evidence from the Syrian and Ukrainian Conflicts – Ragad Alrachid

Ragad Alrachid, a graduate student at Webster Vienna Private University, recently completed her master’s thesis, titled "Content Analysis of the News Coverage and Portrayal of the Syrian and Ukrainian Conflicts". In her paper, Alrachid presents an insightful examination of how different news sources report on significant global events. Utilizing a mixed methods approach, the thesis studies the framing of both the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts in major online news outlets like Al-Masry Al-Youm, Al Arabiya, Daily Mail, New York Times, People’s Daily, and TASS. These sources, with their diverse political orientations and cultural backgrounds, offer a unique lens to understand the portrayal of these conflicts.

Alrachid 's research delves into the impact of media on public perception and the role it plays in shaping conflicts according to specific ideologies and interests. By analyzing content from 365 news articles, the study explores how cultural distance affects intergroup bias and how different media outlets with varying political contexts report on the same global issues. The thesis raises critical questions about media coverage, such as how the portrayal of conflicts in Syria and Ukraine differs in terms of word count, tone, imagery, and framing. Alrachid's hypotheses suggest that Western media would focus more on the Ukrainian conflict, while Arab media would emphasize the Syrian conflict, and that significant differences in coverage would emerge between left-wing and right-wing news sources.

This thesis not only contributes to the academic discourse on conflict coverage but also offers an understanding of the factors influencing media narratives. As such, the paper provides important insights into the complexities of media portrayal in contemporary global conflicts.



The Interplay of Facial Muscle Activity and Cognitive Processing: fNMES as a Tool for Neuropsychological Exploration

Dr. Marc Mehu, continuing his collaboration with the same team from the University of Essex (UK), co-authored another research paper titled "Measurement of the N170 During Facial Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (fNMES).” This publication further explores the intersection of facial neuromuscular stimulation and cognitive neuroscience. The paper introduces Facial Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (fNMES) combined with Electroencephalography (EEG) as a method to study facial feedback effects with greater precision and muscle specificity. This research addresses the challenge of electrical stimulation interference in EEG recordings and demonstrates that significant facial feedback effects can be observed using this technique. The study's findings, derived from experiments involving 20 participants, reveal intriguing insights into how facial expressions, particularly sad ones, impact brain responses, offering a promising new direction in understanding the complex interplay between facial muscle activity and cognitive processing​​.


Efthimiou, T. N., Perusquia Hernandez, M., Elsenaar, A., Mehu, M., & Korb, S. (in press). Application of facial Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (fNMES) in psychophysiological research – practical recommendations based on a systematic review of the literature. Behavior Research Methods. doi: 10.3758/s13428-023-02262-7




Advancing Psychophysiological Research: Methdodological Advances in Facial Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (fNMES)

Dr. Marc Mehu has recently joined forces with researchers at the University of Essex (UK) to co-author the recently published research paper, "Application of Facial Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation (fNMES) in Psychophysiological Research: Practical Recommendations Based on a Systematic Review". This paper provides a comprehensive overview of fNMES, a technique for non-invasively activating facial muscles with implications for psychology and neuroscience. It explores the history and potential of fNMES, particularly in understanding the role of facial feedback in emotion induction and recognition, and its clinical applications, such as alleviating depression symptoms. The authors systematically review existing literature to establish standardized guidelines for fNMES application, ensuring safety, comfort, and effective cross-study comparison. This research adds to the understanding and usage of fNMES in psychological research, and the authors also introduce a free web tool for visualizing fNMES parameters and ensuring their safety​


Baker, J., Efthimiou, T., Scherer, R., Gartus, A., Elsenaar, A., Mehu, M., & Korb, S. (2023). Measurement of the N170 during facial neuromuscular electrical stimulation (fNMES). Journal of Neuroscience Methods, 393, 109877. doi:10.1016/j.jneumeth.2023.109877



Cracking the Code of Human Behavior: An Expedition with Dr. Mehu and Dr. Lindova

Embark on a captivating journey with Dr. Marc Mehu, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Webster Vienna's Psychology Department, and Dr. Jitka Lindova from Charles University Prague, as they present a series of engaging workshops in the Czech Republic!

These workshops recently unfolded at the Summer Institute of the International Society for Human Ethology, hosted by the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice. The focus of these workshops was on the meticulous observation of human behavior, delving into the intricate tapestry of social interactions. Expanding their scope, the workshops also delved into video-based conversation analysis from an ethological perspective, employing the versatile linguistic annotation software, ELAN. Attendees were guided through the art of decoding both verbal and nonverbal behaviors, ranging from facial expressions, head movements, hand gestures, to body postures. In-depth discussions explored the interplay between behavior and internal states, encompassing personality traits, motivations, attitudes, and emotions, thereby enriching the comprehension of how behavioral cues serve as indicators of these internal states.

Through their transformative discourse, Dr. Mehu and Dr. Lindova illuminate the path to understanding human behavior, fostering an enriched appreciation for the dynamics of social interactions. Their contributions extend a novel vantage point to emerging scholars, unveiling the intricate relationship between spoken and unspoken behaviors and embodying Webster Vienna's steadfast commitment to academic progress.



Unveiling Monogamy: Peering into the Tapestry of Long-Term Relationship Contentment – Camila González

We take great pleasure in showcasing the remarkable research undertaken by one of our exceptional graduate students, Camila Zamora González, from the Master of Arts in Psychology program with an emphasis on Counseling Psychology.

In a thought-provoking exploration, Camila delved into the intricate interplay between the duration of relationships and the perceived contentment within enduring heterosexual unions. Her study, which garnered insights from 155 participants spanning Europe, Latin America, and the United States, aimed to illuminate how the passage of time influences both relationship satisfaction and the concept of monogamy.

Guided by meticulous statistical analysis, the findings unveiled that the length of a relationship did not exert a significant influence on the satisfaction derived from it. However, it was intriguing to note that participants' satisfaction ratings seemed to diminish with advancing age. As relationships evolved over time, participants exhibited more affirmative perceptions of monogamy at a societal level. Furthermore, a positive correlation emerged between higher relationship quality and satisfaction and more favorable perspectives regarding romantic and sexual exclusivity. A notable gender distinction emerged, with men reporting less optimistic views on romantic and sexual exclusivity in comparison to women. Lastly, the study underscored that couples with children appeared to experience comparatively lower relationship satisfaction and quality compared to those without.

Camila's insightful inquiry adds depth to the ongoing discourse surrounding monogamy, proffering invaluable insights into the factors that mold the dynamics of enduring relationships. Her study casts a luminous spotlight on the intricate facets of human connections, thereby enriching our comprehension of the multifaceted influences shaping contemporary cultural frameworks.



Dance and The Social Psyche: A Study on Dance and The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Psychological Wellbeing – Mathhew Reyes

Thrilled to showcase the groundbreaking work of one of our stellar graduate students from the Master of Arts in Psychology with an Emphasis in Counseling Psychology program. Dive into this transformative research below!

This paper explored the relationship between dance, emotional intelligence, and psychological wellbeing. In particular, this study aimed to understand how the frequency of dance relates to an individual's socio-emotional intelligence and overall wellbeing. The research utilized a correlational design and involved participants completing a survey that included questions about dance frequency, emotional intelligence, and psychological wellbeing. The results revealed a moderate relationship between emotional intelligence and psychological wellbeing in dancers. However, there was no significant relationship between dance frequency and emotional intelligence or psychological wellbeing. The study suggests that enhancing emotional intelligence through activities like dance could potentially impact an individual's psychological wellbeing. Further research is needed to explore these connections in socio-emotional wellbeing, health, and consciousness.



We are delighted to present the exceptional achievements of two outstanding graduate students enrolled in our Master of Arts in Psychology with an Emphasis in Counseling Psychology program. Their master's theses have made significant contributions to their respective fields. Let's delve into their captivating research projects!

Unveiling the Overview Effect through Virtual Reality – by Nikol Koleva

Nikol Koleva's research revolves around recreating certain elements of the Overview Effect, a phenomenon experienced by astronauts that profoundly alters their perspective of the world. By utilizing Virtual Reality (VR), Nikol aimed to explore whether this profound cognitive shift and connection to Earth could be induced in a broader audience. The study yielded remarkable findings, demonstrating substantial changes in participants' levels of awe, connectedness, and nature-relatedness after experiencing VR. Significantly, the study identified awe as a significant predictor of nature-relatedness and connectedness. This preliminary study sets the stage for further research and presents intriguing implications for exploration.

A Proof-of-Concept Study: Mindful Self-Compassion for Bone Marrow Transplant Patients – Chloe Zhorne

Chloe Zhorne conducted a study to examine the effectiveness of a 7-week mindful self-compassion program specifically designed for patients undergoing bone marrow transplants. The objective was to enhance mental adjustment, coping strategies, and self-compassion among these individuals. Despite a limited sample size, the study yielded promising results. Patients exhibited improved mental adjustment, with self-compassion levels increasing across all participants. The findings also highlighted positive feedback from patients regarding their experiences with the mindful self-compassion program. While further replication and clinical trials are necessary, this proof-of-concept study provides valuable insights for supporting patients during challenging medical procedures.

These studies exemplify our commitment to advancing the field of counseling psychology and promoting the well-being of individuals. Stay tuned for more updates on inspiring research from WVPU, where innovation and excellence converge!


Do you want to enjoy happy romantic relationships? Then it's time to work on your self-regulation skills!

This research was conducted by Reza Noori Khoondabi as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Marc Mehu, PhD;

Individuals with higher levels of self-regulation experience a happier romantic relationships. Self-regulation is necessary for assessing a situation, assigning meaning to the experience, and regulating emotions to attain a goal, specifically in close relationships. This study aims to determine factors such as attachment style, romantic jealousy and gender differences that influence the association between self-regulation and relationship satisfaction.

To test the hypotheses:

  1. The relationship between self-regulation and relationship satisfaction will be stronger among individuals with close attachment style;
  2. The relationship between self-regulation and relationship satisfaction will be affected by romantic jealousy;
  3. Attachment style will moderate the direct and indirect relationship between self-regulation and relationship satisfaction via romantic jealousy, and
  4. Females will be more upset by emotional jealousy than males, but males will be more upset by sexual jealousy than females, an online survey was distributed on social media platforms and in person.

The results of 97 respondents revealed that the association between self-regulation and relationship satisfaction was not moderated by attachment styles, but was mediated by anxiety and close attachment styles. On the one hand, it seems that a good self-regulation capacity leads to reduced anxiety, and reduced anxiety is associated with higher relationship satisfaction. On the other hand, better self-regulation capacities are associated with closer attachment styles, which in turn increases relationship satisfaction.

Cognitive and behavioral jealousy did mediate the relationship between self-regulation and relationship satisfaction, higher self-regulation skills led to less cognitive and behavioral jealousy, which in turn increased relationship satisfaction. Contrary to our hypotheses, there was no gender differences in sexual and emotional jealousy.

The findings of the research highlighted the intricate connections between self-regulation, attachment styles, romantic jealousy, and relationship satisfaction, and also suggest that people who are better at self-regulation experience lower romantic jealousy and have a happier romantic relationship.


Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response: A new form of self-help?

This paper studies the effect Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) stimuli have on individuals’ heart rate, respiration and mood. This was accomplished by a lab experiment in a well-controlled environment that included taking physiological recordings of 30 participants while having them watch a specifically chosen ASMR video as well as a neutral control video. This paper presents two different studies, a lab experiment that was carried out in a controlled environment, as well as a second study consisting of a questionnaire, with the purpose of collecting demographic straightforward questions about ASMR and the most popular triggers. Dr. Mayer's Brief Mood Introspection Scale (BMIS) was filled out by participants after watching both videos and compared. This was done in order to measure changes in mood while watching ASMR videos. Looking at previous conducted studies and literature this paper proposes a way of measuring and evaluating the effects ASMR has on mood and heart rate. This paper looks at how ASMR affects an individual’s heart rate and promotes relaxation. In addition, the paper discusses how the sensation can be integrated as a useful tool for relaxation. The results of the study have shown that there is no significant difference in participants’ heart rate and respiration while watching ASMR videos or not. On the other hand, ASMR has proven to help with relaxation as participants scored higher in moods related to relaxation and arousal.

This research was conducted by Alicia Sheel as part of a BA thesis, supervised by Mag. Katrin Kristjansdottir.

The Importance of Psychological and Behavioral Research in the Successful Development of Vaccines

In his recent commentary, Dr. Luca Ticini, Professor and Head of the Department of Psychology at Webster Vienna Private University, shared insights from psychological and behavioral research on successful vaccine development. In this commentary, Ticini pointed out that studies examining the motivational effects of rewards and punishments at both the individual and social levels can help increase vaccination coverage through measurement and interpretation.

Dr. Luca Ticini

In the last two years, many of us have asked for a vaccine that would have enabled us to return to at least some sense of normalcy after months of fighting a deadly disease that has brought the global economy to its knees. A vaccine, however, is only useful when enough people receive it to significantly reduce the spread of the disease. Despite understanding how to stop the virus's transmission, for a solution to be most successful, we must consider how people behave, how their beliefs influence their decisions, as well as how they perceive risk and safety, both physically and psychologically. In other words, to create efficient public health treatments, we need to also rely on the science of human behavior, which has been conspicuously absent from public debates on the pandemic. Thus, if we truly want the COVID-19 vaccination (or any other vaccine) to affect the health and well-being of the general population, we need to employ the most appropriate types of psychological instruments: Campaigns must rely on the best psychological studies that provide the most effective methods for convincing people to vaccinate to be successful (this type of research was also critical to the HPV vaccination campaign).

According to research, some methods are more effective than others for nudging people to immunize themselves. For instance, rewards and incentives can motivate workers, such as paid time off for testing and vaccinations. It is equally important also to remove physical and psychological obstacles to vaccines. In other words, to make it simple for individuals to receive immunizations. According to research, suggestions for vaccinations from medical professionals are frequently taken as authoritative proof that vaccines are both effective and safe. Hence, medical professionals should use clear language and refer to vaccinations as a regular procedure rather than an option. By providing patients with that knowledge, medical providers can relieve any fears or misunderstandings they may have regarding product safety. Instead, during the pandemic, cases of not-reputable specialists being interviewed were not rare. This has significantly interfered with the public authorities' call to wear masks, wash hands and maintain a physical distance. Another study indicated that people are more willing to act if they believe it is a part of a compromise. People who have been reluctant to take these precautions to protect themselves from the virus might be persuaded, for example, by a message claiming that vaccinations can eradicate the virus completely, thereby avoiding onerous requirements such as keeping a distance from others in public places and wearing masks.

In essence, through measurement and interpretation, studies examining the motivational effects of rewards and penalties at both individual and social levels can aid in boosting vaccination uptake. There is little doubt that the science of human behavior must be used to assist in creating the instruments necessary to defeat this virus. Many of us naturally comprehend how people behave. However, how do you become an expert at analyzing it?

Students in the Psychology degree at WVPU are given this chance while discovering the advantages of looking at why we behave in particular ways. A psychologist can assist people in improving their decision-making, stress management, and behavior based on analyzing past behavior to better predict future behavior with the use of this kind of expert insight. Start your journey to improving people's lives now.


The Impact of Cooperative Activity on Positive Social Interaction

The aim of the research was to explore the changing patterns of social interaction of same-sex dyads of low-acquainted individuals, more particularly the impact of cooperative activity on positive social interaction. It was expected to find that cooperation increases the level of acquaintance, positivity in social interaction measured by nonverbal and verbal cues, and positive mood. The experiment followed The Unstructured Dyadic Interaction Paradigm starting from a low acquaintance, performed on 32 participants divided into same-sex dyads, with an equal number of dyads in experimental and control groups. The experimental group cooperated in the case study problem-solving activity and the control group competed. They were audio and videotaped to allow for a thorough analysis of verbal and nonverbal cues afterwards. The acquaintance was measured by the IOS scale, positive social interaction by duration and latency of following cues: smiling, laughing, speaking, mutual gaze, usage of the phone and mood by BMIS. Quantitative analysis was applied using paired t-test (to compare IOS, BMIS and cues before and after within a group) and independent samples t-test (to compare the results of control to the results of the experimental group) to test the hypotheses. It was concluded that cooperation did not increase the level of acquaintance, or positive social interaction. It improved the pleasant/unpleasant dimension of mood, but not the other three arousal/calm, positive/tired and negative/relaxed. It did not influence the pattern of behavior, measured by nonverbal cues as there was no significant statistical difference in the experimental group between cues before and after activity, nor was there a statistically significant difference between the control and experimental group.

This research was conducted by Nikolija Stefanovic as part of a BA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.


Trust decisions are some of the most important social choices we make in life

These decisions occur in various relationships, at work, in friendship, as well as in romance. Investigating the ingredients involved in trust decision making is therefore crucial to understanding cooperative social relationships.

The psychology department at WVPU researches the different social signals involved in trust decision making and how these signals interact to influence our decisions. The experimental paradigm uses a trust game, in which a person A has the possibility to invest some money in a transaction with a person B. The invested money is doubled by the experimenter before reaching person B, and the latter has the opportunity to return any amount to person A. What is not transferred to A remains in B's possession. For person A, investing a large amount initially augments the amount received by B and, indirectly, increase the money sent back by B. However, there is a risk that person B will not return anything, in which case A loses their initial investment. The initial investment decision is therefore based on a trust decision by A that person B will return at least something. In this experimental set up, we manipulate the message sent by B to A regarding their intention to return the investment and we measure A's response as a result.

Dr. Marc Méhu, Webste Vienna's Associate Professor, Psychology will present preliminary findings of this experiment on trust at the biennial Congress of the International Society for Human Ethology, held at the University of Würzburg, Germany (25-29 July 2022).


What impact do emoticons have on our brain?

To answer that question, Alessandra Flöck ran an EEG experiment in which she subliminally presented different types of stimuli (including emoticons) to participants and recorded their brain activity. She found out that for some brain areas, emoticons elicit similar patterns of neural activity to those elicited by faces.

Alessandra will present her results at the NeuroIS 2022 conference, held in Vienna at Schlosshotel Wilhelminenberg, June 14 to 16. This work was conducted as part of Alessandra's Senior Thesis in the CanBe Lab of the Psychology Department, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu. The paper will be appear in the Proceedings of the NeuroIS Society published by Springer. Congratulations to Alessandra for this great achievement!

The abstract of the paper is below:

The present study investigated whether the patterns of brain activity elicited by emoticons are similar to those elicited by faces. In order to test this, participants were subliminally primed using either human faces, emoticons, or non-face control stimuli. Each prime group contained three levels of valence – positive, negative, or neutral. Brain activation was recorded via electroencephalography. Subsequently, three event-related potential components of interest were identified, which are closely associated with the processing of faces, i.e., the P100, the N170, and the late positive potential. These ERPs were tested at two electrode sites. For each ERP component, peak amplitudes were calculated and used in repeated-measures ANOVAs. There were significant main effects of prime type across several ERP components, and several interaction effects prime type*prime valence on four out of six components. There was no statistically significant main effect of prime valence on any of the ERP components. While our results uncovered diverse patterns of brain reactivity to the different kinds of primes, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that, at some electrode locations, emoticons elicit similar brain reactions as faces do.


Fundamental Motives and Personality: A Replication Study


This Master’s thesis investigated the relationship between fundamental human motives and the Big Five personality traits, as well as demographic variables. It was also an attempt to replicate the findings of a research paper by Neel and colleagues published in 2016. The literature review focused on theories about motivation, the evolutionary perspective, and the Five Factor Model.

For the empirical part of this thesis, a correlational study was conducted using an online survey. The main instruments used were the Fundamental Social Motives Inventory (Neel et al., 2016) and the Big Five Inventory (John & Srivastava, 1999). The demographic variables of age, sex, income level, relationship status, and parenting status were also collected.

The final sample consisted of 63 respondents. Descriptive statistics, correlation matrices, contingency tables, linear regression models, and other statistical tools were used to explore the data in great depth. This study was able to successfully replicate many of the findings in Neel et al. (2016) and to contribute its own unique findings. Some limitations included a biased sampling strategy and a relatively small sample size for linear regression models.

This research was conducted by Evgeny Kandybko as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.


Self-Esteem and Problem-Solving Ability: How Do They Relate?

We designed a correlational study to examine, in the adult population, the relationship between self-esteem and problem-solving abilities, with personality, gender, and age as moderating variables. Indeed, the current literature only establishes a link between self-esteem and an individual’s personality, and limited data relate self-esteem to both personality and problem-solving ability. This gap in the literature prompted us to investigate further how these aspects relate to each other.

This research was conducted by Tabitha Graham as part of an MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.

Neuroesthetics in the 20th and 21st Centuries - Virtual Lecture

On 6 April, Dr Luca Ticini, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Head of the Department of Psychology at Webster Vienna Private University, gave a virtual lecture at Indiana University entitled "Neuroesthetics in the 20th & 21st centuries" for the university course "Art and the Brain." This virtual lecture was organized by Prof. Aina Puce Eleanor Cox Riggs Professor, Indiana University.

"Art and cultural participation play a central role in our psychological well-being and mental health. Thanks to modern research techniques, we can finally see this causal relationship and understand how art can change our brains for the better," he shared the insights from his lecture at Indiana University.


Collective Trauma During the COVID-19 Pandemic


During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, there was a noticeable surge in mental distress — particularly during the first lockdown, when the virus went from a foreign concept to a personal threat. In this project, the intention is to find out if there was a surge in behaviors linked to collective trauma.

The window of data collection was from March to May of 2020 when the first lockdown took place in Austria. A demographics questionnaire was administered to the participants, as well as the Beck’s Anxiety Inventory, the Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory - Revised, and a Pandemic Disgust Survey. The data collected was analyzed using a correlation analysis, a linear Regression analysis, and a mediation analysis in order to conclude if there was an increase in avoidant behaviors after the first lockdown in Vienna.

The data analyzed suggests that people who displayed more symptoms of anxiety and obsessive compulsive symptoms were more likely to adopt avoidance behaviors during the first lockdown. The mediation analysis showed that obsessive compulsive disorders significantly mediated a strong relationship between anxiety symptoms and avoidance behaviors. These findings would indicate the presence of collective trauma after the first lockdown.

Limitations to this study include grounding the results on the participants’ memory and the shame of not complying with sanitary precautions during the pandemic, possibly affecting their responses.

This research was conducted by Miranda Ruano as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.


Psychology and the Law - Is Justice Really Blind?


Carla Beckmann receives a Student/Faculty Collaborative Research Grant from Webster University for her research on decision making in court cases!

People usually assume that decisions made in court are the result of careful and reasoned evaluations of the evidence presented. This evidence, however, is often incomplete and the presentation of facts may also be biased in some way or another. Moreover, factors inherent to the individual deciding on the case (for example motivation, emotion, and personal beliefs) can strongly impact decision making. This leads to court decisions being fairly noisy, with possible negative consequences for society or even for the defendants themselves.

Being aware of the important role psychological factors play in court decisions, Carla Beckmann, senior psychology student at WVPU, decided to investigate these factors in more detail in a lab experiment that involves the evaluation of court cases under different circumstances. If you are interested in participating to this research, please contact the Psychology Department.


Prof. Dr. Luca Ticini has been invited to present his work in the series of “Art and the Brain” lectures at Indiana University, USA. This series comprises talks for undergraduate and graduate students that include lectures on psychology, neuroscience, cognitive science, art, design and architecture.

Based on the recognition of his research output in the area of Neuroaesthetics, Prof. Ticini's will give a lecture entitled "Neuroesthetics in the 20th and 21st centuries" (Wednesday April 6 10-11:15 a.m. EST).


Emotional cues have a stronger implicit influence than sex cues on judgments of faces and voices

Past research has shown that judgments about the emotional expression of a face are influenced by the face’s sex, and vice versa that judgments about the sex of a person somewhat depend on the person’s facial expression. For example, participants associate anger with male faces, and female faces with happiness or sadness.

However, the strength and the bidirectionality of these effects remain debated. Moreover, the interplay of a stimulus’ emotion and sex remains mostly unknown in the auditory domain. To investigate these questions, we created a novel stimulus set of 121 avatar faces and 121 human voices with matched, fine-scale changes along the emotional (happy to angry) and sexual (male to female) dimensions. In a first experiment (N=76), we found clear evidence for the mutual influence of facial emotion and sex cues on ratings, and moreover for larger implicit (task-irrelevant) effects of stimulus’ emotion than of sex.

These findings were replicated and extended in two preregistered studies – one laboratory categorisation study using the same face stimuli (N=108), and one online study with vocalisations (N=72). Overall, results show that the associations of maleness-anger and femaleness-happiness exist across sensory modalities, and suggest that emotions expressed in the face and voice cannot be entirely disregarded, even when attention is mainly focused on determining stimulus’ sex.


Korb, S.; Mikus, N.; Massaccesi, C.; Grey, J.; Duggirala, S. X.; Kotz, S. A.; & Mehu, M. (in press). EmoSex: Emotion prevails over sex in implicit judgments of faces and voices, Emotion.


Selection of 44 of the 121 stimuli used in Experiments 1 and 2. A) happy male to angry male; B) happy female to angry female; C) happy female to happy male; and D) angry female to angry male.


The Impact of the Affective Content of Self-Talk and Automatic Thoughts on Wellbeing and Stress Levels of University Students

Higher-level education appears to be a very stressful time for students and can place a great amount of strain on student’s wellbeing and increase their stress levels. Various factors can influence one’s wellbeing and stress levels with one of them being the affective content of self-talk and automatic thoughts.

This research study focused on investigating the relation between the affective content of self-talk and automatic thoughts to wellbeing and stress levels. This was an online study using standardized questionnaires on wellbeing, stress and Automatic thoughts. It was hypothesized that students, who tend to engage in positive self-talk and experience higher levels of positive affective content in automatic thoughts, are more likely to have a healthy psychological wellbeing and lower stress levels.

Moreover, students, who tend to engage more in negative self-talk and experience more negative affective content in automatic thoughts, are more likely to have a reduced psychological wellbeing and higher stress levels. The findings suggested significant correlations between the affective content of self-talk and automatic thoughts and the wellbeing and stress levels of university students.

Students who experienced greater levels of negative affective content in self-talk and automatic thoughts also had lower subjective psychological wellbeing and higher stress levels. In contrast, Students who experienced lower levels of negative affective content in self-talk and automatic thoughts had greater psychological wellbeing and lower stress levels.

This research was conducted by Helen Steigerwald as part of a BA thesis, supervised by Mag. Katrin Kristjansdottir.



This or that brain area? The neural correlates of beauty

In these days, in the course PSYC2000/50 "Issues in Contemporary Psychology: Neuroesthetics”, Prof Dr Luca Ticini (who recently join Vienna Webster Private University) is discussing with the students the role of two main areas that seem equally involved in the experience of beauty: the middle orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dLPFC).

He highlights that it may seems pointless to discuss the role of one or the other brain structure in such a complex domain of study as Neuroaesthetics, particularly because at the present time we are looking at the brain areas as network rather than in isolation. Nonetheless, the neuroimaging literature in the field of aesthetics seems to be divided in two “schools”: one consistently producing results highlighting OFC’s role and the other the importance of the prefrontal cortex.

For this reason, Prof. Ticini decided to discuss in class the role that these two brain structures have in aesthetics as well as in other cognitive domains. Who is the winner? The result of his research argues that the aesthetic experience results from the activity of the mOFC. His work in this domain is open access (you can download the article by clicking on the link below), therefore we leave it to you to consider whether the conclusions he reached are sound and reasonable.

More information available here.



Nature or Nurture? The roles of genes and environment in aesthetic evaluation.

How is our aesthetic experience generated? Is it shaped by prior experience? Or rather, do genetic factors play a role in it? Providing an answer to this questions has not only significance to neuroscientists working in the field of Neuroaesthetics, or to art historians, artists and philosophers, but to everyone who enjoys any form of art.

This important scientific question, that has not been systematically tested yet, is currently examined in a collaborative study conducted by researchers at the Max Planck School of Cognition, Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics, at the University of Amsterdam, at the University of Vienna, and at the Department of Psychology at Webster Vienna Private University.

In this study, the authors examined aesthetic evaluations from more than 2000 pairs of twins and by applying sophisticated analysis approaches found that our genes indeed contributes to many aspects of human aesthetic evaluation.

This month, Giacomo Bignardi (the leading author) will be our guest lecturer in the course PSYC 2000/50 "Issues in Contemporary Psychology: Neuroesthetics” where he will present the results of this interesting research to our students.



Effect of the Islamic headscarf on interpersonal behavior: A comparison between three European cities

The Islamic headscarf has been in the middle of heated debates in European society, yet little is known about its influence on day-to-day interactions. The aim of this randomized field experiment (n=840) is to explore how the generally negative views that surround the hijab in Europe manifest in the behavior that people direct to hijab-wearing women in everyday situations.

Using a helping scenario and videotapes of the resulting interactions, we measured whether passengers offered assistance and also various details of behavior that indicate interpersonal involvement. We predicted that in interaction with the covered confederate less help would be offered, that women’s level of nonverbal involvement would increase but men’s decrease, and that responses would be stronger in Paris, intermediate in Brussels, and weaker in Vienna. We analyzed the data using Generalized Linear Models estimated with Bayesian inference.

While the headscarf does not produce concluding differences in “overt” helping, it does affect “subtle” cues of interpersonal involvement. In response to the hijab, women across sites increase, but men in Paris decrease, the level of involvement that they show with their nonverbal behavior.

Citation: Aranguren M, Madrisotti F, Durmaz-Martins E, Gerger G, Wittmann L, Méhu M (2021). Responses to the Islamic headscarf in everyday interactions depend on sex and locale: A field experiment in the metros of Brussels, Paris, and Vienna on helping and involvement behaviors. PLoS ONE 16(7): e0254927.

This research was funded by a FWF International grant to Dr. Marc Méhu.



The Power of Words


Words are a part of human life that have been with us for millennia. We rely on them for everything from daily living to directing the course of nations. But is there an inherent power in words, and how does that power affect us—do they harm or help us in relationships, at school, and at work?

Moreover, can the power of words be utilized to enhance the wellbeing of clients in psychotherapy and counseling? The objective of this exploratory study was to examine the emotional impact of words. In order to answer this line of inquiry, words and their connection to nonverbal vocal and facial expression of emotion, as well as participants’ self-report of word valence were examined. This was achieved by selecting participants in dyads, and having them read and summarize specially written valence stories to each other on camera, and then measure their nonverbal behavior and self-report responses in order to determine which effects, if any, words had on the participants.

It was hypothesized in general that story valence would affect the reader’s voice; the reader’s voice would affect the listener’s facial expression; the self-report would reflect vocal and facial expressivity; and that story valence would affect vocal and facial expressivity during the summary tasks. Repeated measures two-way ANOVAs and correlation analyses showed mixed results, especially regarding the vocal measures, although some tests supported the idea that words have an effect on nonverbal vocal and facial features. Overall, the valence of words (whether they are positive or negative) appeared to influence facial more than vocal expressions. Both modalities of expression were influenced by the nature of the interaction (reading vs. summarizing) as well as by individual differences.

This research points to the importance of these factors in the study of the relations between emotional communication and linguistics.

This research was conducted by Suzanne Preston-Mroz as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.



The wellbeing of Webster University students during COVID-19

Mental wellbeing in students is a big and important topic, because negative mental health can have adverse consequences for students. In addition to the stress of achieving success in the academic career or financial problems, being struck during the pandemic and experiencing lockdown could lead to the worsening of mental wellbeing.

This study assessed changes in the wellbeing of Webster University students from the St. Louis and Vienna campuses as a response to COVID-19 pandemics, as well as compared differences in these variables across different time periods and previous studies done on the same topic. The data was collected during August/September of 2020, and February/March of 2021. A self-administered online questionnaire assessed socio-demographic information (gender, age), self-reported psychological health, social support, burdens, and study-related questions.

The comparison of data from other studies with the current situation suggests that during the COVID-19 pandemic, students experienced increased levels of depression, anxiety, and stress, which were represented by a lack of motivation, increased agitation, and responsiveness to the situation, as well as the inability to find a way to relax during the pandemic. These increases in depression anxiety and stress also related to sleep disturbance, neck ache, and overall feelings of burden.

This study concludes that level of psychosomatic complains in addition to increased levels in depression anxiety and stress call for increased awareness of university administrators and counseling services to act upon this situation and prevent possible future diseases.

This research was conducted by Milan Antonovic as part of a BA thesis, supervised by Mag. Katrin Kristjansdottir.



Patriotism, Nationalism, and Personality: A Correlational Study

Given the current political climate, including the increasing polarization of politics and a recent heated election in the United States, the question of what kind of person qualifies as a patriot is just as apt as ever.

This study was designed to examine patriotism and nationalism in relation to personality. To measure patriotism and nationalism, this study was built upon the theoretical constructs of constructive patriotism and blind patriotism as postulated by Schatz, Staub, and Lavine in 1999. Sixty-one participants obtained through convenient sampling were used on a volunteer basis to measure constructive and blind patriotism in relation to personality.

This was done through an online survey, with constructive and blind patriotism scores being collected using scales employed by Schatz et al. (1994). Additionally, personality was measured using the 6 factors and 25 subfactors found in the HEXACO PI-R (Ashton & Lee, 2004). It was hypothesized that participants with high constructive patriotism scores would also rate higher in honesty-humility, emotionality, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. Simultaneously, a roughly equal and opposite correlation was anticipated in participants with high blind patriotism scores.

Ultimately, no significant correlations were observed between these factors, although some interesting correlations were observed in the flexibility, social self-esteem, and unconventionality subfactors. Openness to experience came the closest to a significant relationship with constructive patriotism, while agreeableness came the closest to a significant relationship with blind patriotism. These findings suggest that personality may not be intrinsically reflected by or tied to an individual’s levels of nationalism or patriotism, however more research may be warranted to validate these findings.

This research was conducted by Ryan N. Ross as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.



Using facial behavior to predict psychological maladjustment


Previous research suggests the existence of connections between nonverbal behavior and emotional processes. Given the association between emotion and psychological disorders, nonverbal behavior may be relevant cues of the processes underlying psychopathology. In an attempt to corroborate this idea, we investigated the relationships between facial behavior and psychological maladjustment.

Dyadic interviews were conducted in the CanBeLab in which participants discussed a series of events in relation to fundamental life situations. These interviews were recorded with cameras and microphones and the video recordings were used in automatic facial behavior analyses. Scores obtained on the Depression Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS) were taken as measures of an individual’s maladjustment. Correlation analyses revealed a number of moderate negative associations between facial behavior and self-reported depression and stress, suggesting that individuals who scored high on the depression subscale of the DASS tended to be less expressive facially.

The variability of facial behavior over time was also negatively correlated with scores on the stress subscale. People displaying low variation in facial behavior reported feeling more stressed. All in all, the idea that facial behavior can be used as an indicator of maladjustment processes is supported by our data and further research will examine whether these associations hold for other expressive modalities such as vocal and bodily cues. This research suggest that systematic measurements of nonverbal behavior appear to be valuable in the assessment of psychopathology, which makes it particularly relevant for the practice of counseling and psychotherapy.

This study was part of Ielyzaveta Golovina's Senior Thesis research, supervised by Dr. Marc Méhu. The data used in this research was partly collected by students of the MA in Psychology with an emphasis in Counseling Psychology within the remit of the course Applied Statistics and Research Methods in Spring 2019.



Sex Differences in Physiological and Facial Reactivity Towards Animal Subjects


Our social relationships and emotional connections with animals are multifaceted (ranging from outright exploitation to unconditional love) and it is expected that men and women differ in their emotional responses to animals, depending on the situations in which they are presented. Differences between men and women have indeed been explored copiously in psychology.

Specifically, differences have been found with regards to emotion and empathy. These differences, however, likely depend on the type of emotion investigated, and on the context surrounding the emotional responses. Past research has investigated sex differences via self-report and observational methods, but studies measuring physiological and behavioral responses to stimuli involving animal subjects are lacking.

This study aimed to explore sex differences through a quasi-experiment exploring the facial and physiological reactivity of men and women while viewing graphic images involving animal subjects, specifically in reaction to human-induced cruelty. The experiment included three conditions, consisting of neutral images (N), graphic images involving animals (GA), and graphic images of animals created by human involvement (HGH). Facial reactivity, respiration, skin conductance and heart rate were measured during exposure to images of these three conditions, while participants talked about what they saw, thought and felt.

After the experiment, participants were required to complete the Animal Attitude Scale (AAS). Thirty–five (N = 35) participants took part in the study, 18 women and 17 men. The facial reactivity and physiological data were then analyzed to assess differences between men and women, and between the conditions. Females were found to be more facially reactive than men, with women producing significantly higher levels of disgust, sadness, and fear expressions. The presence of humans in the images had a significant effect on positively valenced expressions as well as on happiness, sadness and fear expressions.

No significant differences between men and women’s physiological responses were found, but a significantly lower respiration rate was found in the Graphic Animal than the Graphic Human condition. These findings indicate some differences in the way men and women react towards animals in distress, and future research may want to focus on more naturalistic stimuli such as video footage, with a more diverse and larger sample of participants.

This research was conducted by Lara Mahdessian-Jagdev as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.



Gernot Gerger (Webster Vienna Private University, Psychology) together with his co-applicants (Caroline Heider, University of Applied Arts, Vienna; Ruth Horak, Art History, University of Vienna; Ines Mehu-Blantar, Institute for Molecular Biotechnology - IMBA Vienna) was awarded a grant for the interdisciplinary project “Magic Hour” to be conducted at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna (Duration 03.2021 – 03.2022; Project sum: € 34.500) and will research the effects of “twilight” from an interdisciplinary perspective.

In nature, twilight can have unique effects on our emotions and mood. These can range from positive reactions including feelings of “comfort” and “transcendence” but often also negative reactions of “uneasiness” or “uncanniness” can be evoked. Thus, twilight is characterized by its’ ambiguous nature. Artists often capitalize on these effects in their artistic creations (e.g. Casper David Friedrich, William Turner, Ólafur Elíason) to trigger intense aesthetic experiences in perceivers.

However, how (1) twilight actually informs the aesthetic and creative process of artists, (2) how artists are (re)producing effects of twilight and, (3) whether the emotional effects that artists’ intend to achieve are actually mirrored in perceivers is hardly researched.

This project is set out to research these questions by bringing together diverse scientific fields including photography, psychology and art theory. Specifically, the project wants to research the effects of twilight in photography with a special emphasis on “uncanniness”. Our main aims concern development and reflection of artistic processes as well as investigating the match between artists’ intention and viewers’ experience in artistic photographic creations of twilight.

The Relaxing Effect of Binaural Beats

Brainwave entrainment (BWE) studies have measured the effectiveness of manipulating brainwave frequencies as an alternative to medicinal therapy. Binaural beats (BB) are created by producing two sounds of different frequencies delivered individually to each ear; this is used to entrain, through monotonous, repetitive, pulse-like qualities. This study used a within-subject’-s, double-blind design to compare the effectiveness of binaural beats of the alpha frequency (10Hz) on reducing stress compared to other acoustic stimuli.

A total of four conditions followed a short audio-visual presentation to induce stress/arousal: A music condition (ambient rain), a sound condition (one sound at a constant frequency, 400Hz), a binaural beats condition (10Hz binaural beat), and a music plus BB condition (10Hz binaural beats integrated with rain). Arousal level was measured using biofeedback measures of skin conductance and heart rate.

It was hypothesized that following the short audio-visual stressor, the BB conditions (Binaural Beats & Music plus BB) would have decreased arousal and a lower level of arousal than the other two conditions. The results of this experiment partially supported the hypothesis. On average, all four experimental conditions resulted in increased relaxation through a decrease in the skin-conductance measures.

With regard to heart rate, except for binaural beats, participants experienced higher heart rates after being exposed to other stimuli. There was a significant difference between the effect of BB and the effect of music on relaxation. The effect of binaural beats on relaxation compared to the sound of rain also significantly differed between female and male participants.

Additionally, the results show that when binaural beats are combined with music (sound of rain) then their effect on the extent of relaxation is significantly different than merely binaural beats. Considering prior research and the results of this study, the benefits of brainwave entrainment cannot be overlooked. The ease at which these methods of induction can be created or developed, as well as administered, contributes to making BWE an accessible and cost effective alternative to medicinal therapy.

This research was conducted by Kamran Cooper as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Prof. Peter Walla.



The CanBeLab reopens its doors!

After a well-deserved winter break, the CanBeLab has reopened its doors and welcomes participants for a research study on the perception of trust. The study involves the evaluation of short videos on different psychological dimensions as well as the completion of a questionnaire. The whole procedure lasts approximately 30 minutes. The project has been approved by the ethics committee (IRB) of Webster University. Anyone over the age of 18 can take part in this study.

In the current context, it is important to remind everyone that the CanBe Lab operates strict hygienic measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus:

  • One participant is allowed in the lab at any time.
  • Participants are requested to disinfect their hands before entering the lab and before leaving.
  • Interaction with the experimenter takes place at the recommended social distance of 1.5 meters with a face mask (the face mask may be removed during the study, when the participant is alone in the lab).
  • Disinfection of surfaces is performed regularly, and the room is thoroughly ventilated between each participant.


Dimensions of Religiosity in Relation to Explicit and Implicit Homosexual Prejudice

Dimensions of religiosity and explicit and implicit attitudes toward homosexual individuals and heterosexual individuals were investigated in two studies with religious and nonreligious individuals. Explicit attitudes were measured using the Centrality of Relgiousity Scale (CRS) the Religious Fundamentalism Scale (RF) and the Atittudes Toward Gay Men and Lesbians Scale (ATLG).

Implicit attitudes of religious individuals were measured with the Implicit Association Test (IAT), a computerized test that records reaction times to categorized photos (heterosexual couples, gay men couples and lesbian couples) and adjectives (positive or negative words). Religious participants reported significantly more negative explicit attitudes than non-religious participants. Older participants were more likely to explicitly report more negative attitudes and also showed relatively more negative attitudes in the IAT.

Religious fundamentalism was a greater predictor of negative attitudes toward homosexuality than religion alone. Both studies showed a significant difference in attitudes among religious and non-religious participants, though the results for implicit attitudes were less clear. The low number of participants in the IAT part of the experiment should be taken into account and more research needs to be done to better understand religious peoples’ implicit attitudes toward homosexuality. Factors leading to sexual prejudice, incidences and the effects of sexual prejudice, and reduction of sexual prejudice in both religious and nonreligious people were also discussed.

This research was conducted by Kelli Raymond as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.



Adult Attachment, Conflict Resolution, and Relationship Satisfaction in Premarital Adult Romantic Relationships

Satisfaction within interpersonal relationships plays an extensive role in the overall well-being of human beings. In light of this, it is important to study predictors of Relationship Satisfaction (RS). While research on Adult Attachment (AA) Theory (Brennan & Shaver, 1995) and Conflict Resolution (CR) styles (Gottman, 1994) were found to independently influence RS, there is still little insight into how CR style affects or better explains the relationship between AA style and RS. We conducted a correlational study to explore these missing links.

The sample included 477 premarital individuals aged between 18 and 40 years. Participants completed online questionnaires measuring AA style and CR style, and, in addition for those currently in a relationship (N=271), RS. Correlation analyses supported previous findings of positive associations between Adult Attachment, Conflict Resolution styles, and Relationship Satisfaction. Furthermore, mediation analyses found that use of CR styles; Collaborating, Compromising and Avoidant, partially mediated the relationship between AA and RS. Likewise, CR styles were found to moderate the relationship between AA and RS. It appeared that the positive correlation observed between AA and RS depended on the CR style, namely high levels of Collaborating/Compromising and low levels of Avoiding.

These results are important as they allow more insight into predictors of RS and aid the development of interventions aimed at helping individuals to adopt more positive styles of resolving interpersonal conflict, which may increase not only their satisfaction within their intimate relationships but ultimately in life in general.

This research was conducted by Amanda Klose as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.



Comparing the Effects of Positive Psychology Interventions: Using Gratitude Journaling and Personality Strengths Interventions


The aim of this study was to compare and ascertain the effectiveness of two positive psychology interventions, personality strengths interventions on the one hand and gratitude interventions on the other. The goal was to find out which one is more effective in increasing feelings of happiness and reducing feelings of stress, anxiety and low moods.

The participants were divided into three groups, group one was instructed to do gratitude activities, group two was instructed to do positive psychology interventions based on their top three personality strengths and group three acted as a control group. The study was carried out over the course of 14 days with participants instructed to spend 20 minutes a day on the exercises in the experimental groups. The participants were European women and men aged 23 to 40 years old. 57 people started the study and 45 completed it. Each group consisted of 12 women and three men.

To measure the participants' stress levels the Perceived Stress (PSS) as well as the stress scale from the Depression, Anxiety and Stress inventory (DASS-42) were used. Participants' low moods were measured using the depression and anxiety scales in the DASS-42. To measure participants levels of well-being the Authentic Happiness Inventory (AHI) was used and to identify participants’ character strengths the VIA Character Strengths Survey was used. The standardised tests measuring participants' stress, anxiety, low moods and subjective happiness were measured prior to starting the experiment and measured again on the last and 14th day of study.

The outcome of the study is that while personality strengths interventions (more than gratitude interventions) decrease feelings of stress, anxiety and low moods, neither of the interventions showed any effect on subjective well-being. Because the study took place while most of Europe was experiencing a lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the results may not generalize to other contexts and situations.

This research was conducted by Charlotte Ekström as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Prof. Peter Walla and Mag. Katrin Kristjansdottir.



Cultural Differences and Their Relationship to Attitudes Toward Mental Health


Differences in cultural values greatly contribute to the wide range of attitudes toward mental illness. Past research identified that collectivistic cultures have a stronger tendency to develop more negative attitudes toward mental illness in comparison to individualistic cultures. In order to have a better understanding of this phenomenon, we need to first examine what are these cultural values and how do they influence attitudes toward mental illness.

This research aims to explore these relationships by conducting a survey-based correlational study using the following instruments: the Individualism-Collectivism Scale (ICS) which measures the degree of identification with collectivistic or individualistic cultures as the predictor variable, the Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support (MSPSS) which measures the perceived ability of support from family, friends, and significant others as the moderating variable, and the Beliefs toward Mental Illness Scale (BMI) which measures negative stereotypical views of mental illness as the outcome variable. It was hypothesized that identification with the individualistic cultural values will be positively correlated with favorable views of mental illness, while identification with the collectivistic cultural values will be negatively correlated with favorable views of mental illness.

In addition, perceived social support was predicted to serve as a moderator between identification with collectivistic or individualistic cultural values and positive views of mental illness. The study was conducted online with 151 participants (101 women). Contrary to our first hypothesis, we observed a significant positive relationship between individualistic cultural values and negative attitudes toward mental illness. Perceived social support serves as a moderator between individualistic cultural values and attitudes toward mental illness but not for collectivistic cultural values and attitudes toward mental illness, indicating that the second hypothesis is partially supported. Results point to the complexity of defining different cultural worldviews using the individualism-collectivism dichotomy as well as the importance of social support in individualistic communities.

This research was conducted by Lica Ishida as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Prof. Peter Walla.



Psychological Effect of Social Media: Investigating the Influence of Exposure to Idealistic Images on Instagram on Psychological Well-being

There are relatively few studies that have examined the effect of Instagram use on an individual’s mental health, and the purpose of this research was to find out if Instagram use influences the psychological well-being of its users. The Multidimensional Body-Self Relations Questionnaire was used to assess self-attitudinal aspects of body image, the Self-Esteem Scale was used to assess self-esteem, and the Iowa-Netherlands Comparison Orientation Measure was used to assess social comparison behaviors.

Participants were asked to view, rate, and comment mock fitness/beauty and travel photos taken from Instagram. Results of this study showed a positive correlation between time spent on Instagram and Appearance Orientation, and a negative correlation with time spent on Instagram and age. The results also showed that there is a significant interaction effect between the image type and the time of the ratings for the Appearance Evaluation and orientation, Fitness Orientation and Overweight Preoccupation ratings.

These results suggest that the exposure to fitness/beauty images has an effect on how participants judge their own appearance, their fitness orientation, and preoccupation with weight. Overall, women exposed to fitness related images had lower ratings of fitness evaluations and body satisfaction that women exposed to travel images. Overall, our findings partially supported the hypothesis that exposure to images of idealized physical appearance influences self-evaluations.

This research was conducted by Ivanka Mocic as part of a MA thesis, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.



Initiated on the 2nd of June, Dr. Peter Walla and his student Alessandra Flöck partook in the annual NeuroIs conference. Professor Walla is one of the society’s cofounders and as such takes on an important role in the continuation of the same. Their paper contribution was a study titled “Think outside the Box”, an experiment which was conducted in the on-campus CanBe lab.

The experiment itself was an electroencephalography (EEG) experiment for which participants were tested and seated, firstly, inside a wooden box (enclosed space) and subsequently, without the wooden box. Starting in March, the paper had to be handed in, subsequently undergoing a review process, and, if accepted, was followed by an invitation to present the work in an online setting.

The actual presentation was followed by a short discussion with experts in the field of psychology, information systems, brain imaging techniques etc.



The Role of Mental Toughness, Competitive Anxiety, and Team Cohesion in Athletic Performance among Women’s Competitive Rugby

Among competitive sports, psychological and team-related factors play an important role in achieving successful outcomes. The purpose of this study was to examine the role of mental toughness (MT), competitive anxiety (CA), team cohesion (TC), in rugby performance. Participants were 39 female athletes competing at the 2019 Austrian Women’s 7s Series Championship Tournament. The participants completed questionnaires aimed at measuring perceived mental toughness, anxiety towards sport, team cohesion. In addition, different measures of competitive performance were recorded based on the team’s ranking at the end of the tournament and based on the individual player’s performance during the tournament (frequency of tackles, passes, catches, tries, and kicks).

Bivariate Pearson correlation and multiple linear regression analyses revealed interesting findings about individual performance. Players who invested a lot of energy during the game (as measured by the number of actions such as tackling, passing, etc.) also appeared to report a higher attraction to the team and to the task at hand. These players were also well aware of their own performance during the game. Interestingly, among the players who invested a lot of energy during the game, those who reported higher levels of mental toughness were also those who scored the most points for their team. Although competitive anxiety negatively correlated with mental toughness, it was not significantly related to individual performance. These results suggest that overall rugby performance and decisive actions depend on different psychological processes. While the overall physical involvement in the game depends on an individual’s attraction to the group, the ability to score points depends on confidence and constancy (two sub-components of mental toughness). This research has implications for the development of training strategies in team sports, as it suggests that a healthy mixture of social and individual skills likely impacts individual performance, with overall positive consequences for the team.

This study was conducted at WVPU Psychology Department by MA student Andrée-Claude Larocque, who was supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.



Advancing a NeuroIS research agenda with four areas of societal contributions

Written by Dr. Walla in contribution with the University of Liechtenstein, University of South Florida, HEC Montreal, University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria and University Linz.

On the 10th anniversary of the NeuroIS field, we reflect on accomplishments but, more importantly, on the future of the field. This commentary presents our thoughts on a future NeuroIS research agenda with the potential for high impact societal contributions.

Four key areas for future information systems (IS) research are: IS design, IS use, emotion research and neuro-adaptive systems.

We reflect on the challenges of each area and provide specific research questions that serve as important directions for advancing the NeuroIS field. The research agenda supports fellow researchers in planning, conducting, publishing, and reviewing high impact studies that leverage the potential of neuroscience knowledge and tools to further information systems research.


The Psychology Department Head, Dr. Peter Walla, had one of his articles published in the Brain Sciences Journal

In cooperation with the Centre for Translational Neuroscience and Mental Health Research (University of Newcastle - Australia) and with the Sydney Medical School (University of Sydney - Australia), Dr. Peter Walla had again of his articles published in a Neuroscience Journal (Brain Sciences).

Do EEG and Startle Reflex Modulation Vary with Self-Reported Aggression in Response to Violent Images?

Increased violence and aggressive tendencies are a problem in much of the world and are often symptomatic of many other neurological and psychiatric conditions. Among clinicians, current methods of diagnosis of problem aggressive behaviour rely heavily on the use of self-report measures as described by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) and International Classification of Diseases 10th revision (ICD-10). This approach does not place adequate emphasis on objective measures that are potentially sensitive to processes not feeding into subjective self-report. Numerous studies provide evidence that attitudes and affective content can be processed without leading to verbalised output. This exploratory study aimed to determine whether individuals in the normal population, grouped by self-reported aggression, differed in subjective versus objective affective processing. Participants (N = 52) were grouped based on their responses to the Buss–Durkee Hostility Inventory. They were then presented with affect-inducing images while brain event-related potentials (ERPs) and startle reflex modulation (SRM) were recorded to determine non-language-based processes. Explicit valence and arousal ratings for each image were taken to determine subjective affective effects. Results indicated no significant group differences for explicit ratings and SRM. However, ERP results demonstrated significant group differences between the ‘pleasant’ and ‘violent’ emotion conditions in the frontal, central and parietal areas across both hemispheres. These findings suggest that parts of the brain process affective stimuli different to what conscious appraisal comes up within participants varying in self-reported aggression.

Kunaharan, S., Halpin, S., Sitharthan, T., and Walla, P. (2019). Do EEG and Startle Reflex Modulation Vary with Self-Reported Aggression in Response to Violent Images?



Brainstorms Festival 2019 – Dr. Peter Walla Talked About Emotions and Decision Making

On Friday, Sept. 27, 2019 the Psychology Department Head Dr. Peter Walla presented once again at the BrainStorms Festival, which the main theme was Business & the Brain. The BrainStorms Festival is a neuroscience, neurotech, innovation festival featuring businesses and human-oriented technology. Dr. Walla spoke about Emotions and Decision Making and the event was very well attended, as it usually is.


The Psychology Department Head, Dr. Peter Walla, had recently one of his articles accepted by the well-reputed journal “Archives of Sexual Behavior”.

Do varying levels of exposure to pornography and violence have an effect on non-conscious emotion in men?

As we are often inundated with images of violence and pornography in modern times with the aid of mobile devices and unrestricted online access and content, the non-conscious effect of such exposure is an area of concern. To date, many clinicians and researchers in behavioral sciences rely on conscious responses from their clients to determine affective content. In doing so, they overlook the effect the non-conscious has on an individual’s emotions. The present study aimed to examine variations in conscious and non-conscious responses to emotion-inducing images following varying amounts of exposure to violent and pornographic images.

Eighteen participants who self-reported as being low pornography users were presented with emotion-inducing images after no exposure (Session 1), one round of exposure to 50 pornographic and 50 violent images (Session 2) and a further nine rounds of exposure to 50 pornographic and 50 violent images (Session 3). Sessions were temporally separated by at least two days while Startle Reflex Modulation (SRM) and scalp-recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) were used to determine non-conscious emotion-related processes. Explicit valence and arousal ratings were assessed for each presented image to determine conscious emotion effects.

Conscious explicit ratings and SRM amplitudes revealed no significant difference between the sessions. However, frontal ERP analysis revealed significant changes between the processing of “violent” and “unpleasant” images at later ERP time windows, further supporting the growing body of research which shows that relying on self-report data does not result in a full understanding of emotional responses.”

Kunaharan, S., Halpin, S., Sitharthan, T., and Walla, P. (2019). Do varying levels of exposure to pornography and violence have an effect on non-conscious emotion in men? Archives of Sexual behavior accepted for publication.



Interpersonal communication is a complex process that involves the production and perception of social signals using different expressive modalities (auditory, visual, etc.). Investigating the relationships between different production modalities is essential to understand the subtleties of efficient communication.

With this in mind, BA Psychology student Savannah Sweeting conducted a case study looking at the relationship between verbal and nonverbal signals (facial behavior), as well as the effect of social context on emotional cues. Using the behavior analysis tools of the CanBeLab, she analyzed sections of Brett M. Kavanaugh’s sexual assault hearing in front of the US Senate Judiciary Committee.

The analysis revealed a greater variety of facial expressions during the interactive questioning segment in comparison to the prepared and monologue-like opening statement. During the interactive follow-up questioning, different patterns of expression were observed, depending on the political party of the addressee. Although Mr. Kavanaugh appeared to show more intense facial expressions towards republican senators, these expressions would be more commonly labelled as negative. A larger diversity of facial expression was displayed towards democrat senators, the majority of which would also be labelled as being negative. No particular association was found between facial behavior and speech acts.

All in all, this research shows that facial behavior differs depending on the social context, with a more intense facial activity during interactive, direct and unprepared speech. In addition, this study shows that the diversity of expressions may depend on the social group of the addressee. Further research is still needed to understand the relationship between speech acts and facial behavior. This work was supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu.


“NeuroIS Conference 2019: Psychology student receives the prize for the most visionary paper”

During the NeuroIS Conference in June 2019, the Psychology department’s head, Dr. Peter Walla, in collaboration with the student Sofija Lozovic, won the “Zemlicka Award – The most visionary paper”. The paper will be also published as chapter in the book “Information Systems and Neuroscience” (published by Springer). Below you can find the details of the paper and the link from NeuroIS Conference:

“The Effect of Technology on Human Social Perception: a multi-methods NeuroIS pilot investigation”

Walla, Peter (1,2); Lozovic, Sofija (1)
Organization(s): 1: Webster Vienna Private University, Vienna, Austria; 2: School of Psychology, Newcastle University, Newcastle, Australia

For more details visit: NeuroIC Conference – Zemlicka Award


“Smiling — a behavioural gate to cooperative negotiations?”

Can we predict interactive styles and outcomes of face-to-face negotiations by simply looking at how people smile? Previous research suggests that smiling contributes to the formation of cooperative relationships as it may reliably disclose prosocial dispositions and positive interactive style. In this context, we tested the hypothesis that emotional "investments" made at the beginning of an interaction forecast interactive style and, when reciprocated, lead to positive relational outcomes and joined material benefits. Sixty-five pairs of unacquainted men and women were observed in same-sex dyadic interactions consisting of a mixed-motive negotiation exercise. Micro-analysis of smiling behavior was performed on the first 30 seconds of each interaction.

Overall, the reciprocation of low intensity smiles was associated with assertive behavioral style during the negotiation and with lower joined material outcomes for the pair. On the other hand, the mimicry of high intensity smiles was positively correlated with positive negotiation behavior and joined material outcome. In addition, while the reciprocation of low intensity smiles in women was correlated with a perceived competitive and negative atmosphere, reciprocation of high intensity smiles was positively correlated with mutual evaluations that the partner demonstrated a cooperative attitude and that the negotiation atmosphere was friendly. Sex differences were also observed in the effects that different smile types had on interactive outcomes. This research suggests that smiling does not always have a positive effect on negotiation and that a minimum of emotional investment is needed from both parties to secure positive interactive outcomes.

These results were presented by Dr. Marc Mehu at the 14th Annual Conference of the European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association, held at the University of Toulouse (France) from 23-26 April 2019.


Psychology students have their researches accepted by NeuroIS Conference

The Psychology department’s head, Dr. Peter Walla, in collaboration with our students, got two references of papers accepted by NeuroIS Conference this year (June 4-6, 2019). Both papers will be also published as chapters in the book “Information Systems and Neuroscience” (published by Springer).

A. The Effect of Technology on Human Social Perception: a multi-methods NeuroIS pilot investigation
Walla, Peter (1,2); Lozovic, Sofija (1)
Organization(s): 1: Webster Vienna Private University, Vienna, Austria; 2: School of Psychology, Newcastle University, Newcastle, Australia

B. The Effect of Body Positions on Word-Recognition: A Multi-Methods NeuroIS Study
Chang, Minah (1); Pavlevchev, Samuil (1); Flöck, Alessandra (1); Walla, Peter (1,2)
Organization(s): 1: CanBeLab, Webster Vienna Private University, Austria; 2: School of Psychology, Newcastle University, Newcastle, Australia “

Here is a link providing information on the conference.


The Power of Words

Words are inescapable, vital parts of human life, from daily interactions to global events. But just how powerful are words, for example, in such cases as swearing and slander, positive suggestion and priming, as well as in expressions of empathy? In this research project, it was hypothesized that negative words have a negative effect and positive words have a positive effect on participants’ behavior, physiology, and interaction satisfaction. The researcher examined the participants’ response to words in differently-valenced stories: positive, negative, and neutral. Six, two-minute stories were created (two different stories per valence) using Warringer, Kuperman and Brysbaert’s (2013) list of nearly 14,000 valenced words. Participants were filmed and physiological measures were taken while participants took turns reading and summarizing positive, negative and neutral stories.

Self-report measures were taken in the form of questionnaires after each story summary. Nonverbal, physiological and self-report data were collected and analyzed with Biotrace+, FaceReader 7 and Observer XT, and statistically analyzed with repeated measures ANOVAs. Results showed strong effects of story valence on facial expression and self-report, however, physiological activity appeared not to differ between the stories. This research strongly suggests that the valence of spoken words influences the emotional climate of social interaction. Although further research is necessary, implications include the constructive use of words in school, occupational and therapeutic or healthcare settings.

This research project was conducted by Mrs. Suzanne Preston-Mroz in the context of her Bachelor thesis in Psychology, supervised by Dr. Marc Mehu. Suzanne is now a student in the MA in Psychology with an emphasis in Counseling Psychology.


Dr. Peter Walla was invited to the next edition of the Brainstorm Event – “Neuromarketing”, and will talk about the techniques to better measure decision making, focusing on how to get access to the non-conscious emotion-mind.

Topic of the event:
As we live in an environment where we see so many ads per day, is it possible to understand if and how our subconscious is influenced by such advertisements?

Neuroscientists have long known that we make decisions unconsciously in thousandth of a second, only to justify our choice consciously seconds later, creating a sense of "I am in control." Do you have a free will when it comes to buying or is it possible to influence subconscious decision making processes to make you spend (more) money? Does the brain have a buy button?


Prof. Peter Walla is a founding member of the Society for NeuroIS which is the premier academic organization for scientists and professionals working at the nexus of Information Systems (IS) and neuroscience research and development. For more information you can visit the official website.


Dr. Peter Walla, head of the Psychology department, was recently featured as a topic editor in the ebook: The Janus-Face of language: Where are the emotions in words and the words in emotions?

Language has long been considered as independent from emotions such as if the information conveyed by words would be mentally represented in an abstract, propositional format. Research of the last few years however accumulated empirical evidence against this theoretical belief, the purely cognitive-based foundation of language. In particular, via research about reading and listening to emotion words, irrespective of emotion category, it has been shown that emotional brain networks were activated, emotional facial expressions occurred and action tendencies of approach and avoidance were primed. In addition, visually presented emotional content is processed in the visual cortex in similar time-windows as for words, pictures and faces. For words, even earlier emotional facilitation has been reported occasionally, indicating that emotional language content is able to circumvent in-depth semantic analysis. But this is only one side of the coin. Very recent research putting words into context suggests that words can be powerful emotion regulators. For instance, when paired with personal pronouns emotional words can provide a window to own feelings; they enhance activity in medial prefrontal brain areas, the amygdala and the insula, and additionally alter the decoding of emotions from other input signals such as the human face and voice. On the other hand, reducing the accessibility of emotion words experimentally decreases emotion recognition accuracy and having no words for feelings at all is symptomatic for emotional blindness observed in many clinical disorders such as depression.

All these observations support a close relationship between language and emotions at the level of word meaning as a specific evolutionary achievement of the human species. As such, this relationship seems to be different from the one between emotions and speech, where emotional meaning is conveyed by nonverbal features of the voice. But what does this relationship then imply theoretically for the processing of emotional information? Is the information about an emotion presented in a word based on a cognitive representation or is it encoded in a yet unclear way in the sensorimotor and affective functions of the body? Then, what role do particularly somatosensory and visceral experiences play in the generation of emotional word meaning? Or do emotion effects in word processing set the stage for “new” models that combine elements of an embodied and semantic network approach?

The present research topic aims at serving as a platform for studies answering the following questions by utilizing behavioral and neuroscientific research methods a) do emotions and emotional feelings generate emotional meaning at the level of words and b) how does emotional information conveyed by words modulate and regulate emotional feelings. In contrast to research that focused on one or the other aspect this research topic will take both sides into consideration to fully explain the reciprocal, bidirectional relationship between emotions and language and its relevance for understanding human behavior.



On the 19th of October 2018, Katrin Kristjansdottir gave a lecture at the Nordic Baby swim conference in Selfoss, Iceland.

Katrin gave a 40 minute talk on her preliminary research, with Olafur Gislason, on attachment and the wellbeing of a mother and baby during a baby swimming course. (Can baby swimming foster a healthy connection between mother and baby and contribute to the wellbeing of the mother as well as the baby?)

Katrin discussed attachment between a mother and a baby and her preliminary findings. Which showed that after an intense baby swimming course both the mother’s wellbeing and the attachment between the mother and her baby improved.

The talk was very well received and led to further research cooperation with both the Austrian and Icelandic baby swim associations.



One interesting aspect of aesthetic experiences is that negative emotions can sometimes be enjoyed. Think for example of the pleasure listening to sad music can provide. Consider contemporary art exhibitions which often have left the path of beauty in favor of demanding, disturbing, or negative emotional content. Nonetheless such exhibitions attract and are enjoyed by thousands of visitors. Whereas enjoyment of negative emotions in these examples is a well-documented phenomenon, emotion priming studies, whereby the emotional content of a prime stimulus influences the evaluation of a subsequent target stimulus, have shown conflicting results, reporting both higher and lower liking after negative primes. These divergences may be driven by key differences in the priming procedures.

Specifically, past studies’ use of emotional faces and emotional scenes as primes, differing negative emotion content (fear, disgust), as well as different priming durations may involve differing processes, leading to opposing effects in aesthetic judgments. To differentiate among these, this research presented emotional primes (20 ms) consisting of either emotional faces or scenes, further subdivided in disgusting, fearful, positive or neutral content and tested how aesthetic liking was affected. Additionally, non-verbal indicators of emotion processing by measuring facial electromyography were employed, to see whether primes would elicit prime-emotion congruent changes. However, facial electromyography indicated no prime congruent changes. Critically, primes influenced aesthetic judgments of the abstract target patterns in an emotion congruent manner for both prime types – emotional faces and emotional scenes. Abstract targets were liked more after positive primes and less after negative disgust or fear primes. The similarity of priming effects for both prime types in absence of congruent changes in facial electromyography may suggest that priming exerts its influence via a cognitive rather than a more immediate emotional route. Overall-at least in emotional priming-negative emotions seem to be incompatible with higher liking.

This research was conducted and started by Dr. Gernot Gerger while working at the Empirical Visual Aesthetics Lab, Faculty of Psychology, at the University of Vienna. Dr. Gerger joined Webster Vienna Private University last May and finalized the research article at Webster Vienna. Dr. Gergers’ main research focus lies in understanding how emotions and cognitions interact in forming human evaluations with a specific focus on the contributions of non-verbal indicators of behavior. At the moment Dr. Gerger works as a post-doctoral researcher in the FWF funded project: Exploring and explaining misrecognitive discrimination: field and laboratory experiments (SEDICE) awarded to Dr. Marc Mehu. The main aim of this project is to uncover non-verbal indicators of discriminatory behavior in real life and lab settings.



Peter Walla, together with Webster Vienna alumna Minah Chang, collected brain imaging data during the summer months of 2018 that now allow them to measure the time it takes for visual information to cross over from one brain hemisphere to the other. This illustrates a temporal brain activity aspect that is referred to as “interhemispheric transmission time”.

The study was conducted in the CanBeLab (Cognitive & Affective Neuroscience and Behavior Laboratory). No less than 55 participants took part in this study. In combination with further brain imaging data on early visual information processing in the human brain, Dr. Walla and Minah soon plan to publish their findings in a peer-reviewed journal.



The research project “Developing the “Psychoanalytic Core Competence Q-Sort” — An instrument for defining and operationalizing psychoanalytic competency” developed and headed by Karoline Parth, assistant professor at the psychology department at Webster Vienna Private University, was recently presented at the 49th International Annual Meeting of the Society for Psychotherapy Research in June 2018 in Amsterdam.

The presented study illustrates the development of a novel research instrument that enables researchers to document and empirically investigate psychoanalytic core competences in psychodynamic psychotherapy sessions.



Dr. Peter Walla, head of the psychology department at Webster Vienna recently edited a special issue for the journal “Applied Sciences”.
The topic of the issue is “Sub- and unconscious information processing in the human brain”.

Excerpt from issue:
Clearly, there is growing interest in non-conscious brain processes in the human brain. We all know that initial interest started centuries ago, but with the advent of modern technologies that give us objective access to processes below the level of awareness, the endeavor to better understand our non-conscious mind has gained a totally new perspective. There is a strong need for all scholars to do as much as we can to contribute to that endeavor, because the non-conscious mind still has largely unknown effects on basically all kinds of human behavior, in both clinical and non-clinical environments, in political and economical, as well as any other social settings



Can language elicit emotions? If so, where are the emotions in words and where are the words in emotions?

The following study attempts to answer these questions. It is a recently accepted editorial featuring the Head of the Psychology Department, Prof. Dr. Peter Walla.

Dr. Walla and other contributing authors contributed 24 articles which are compiled into 4 chapters. These articles highlight how language and emotions work together. "They provide answers to how information about an emotion is decoded from abstract stimuli such as words, and how the emotional content of a word is represented in the brain. They furthermore highlight the role bodily physiological changes and self- and socially relevant contexts play in the processing and generation of emotional word meaning." Front. Psychol. | doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00650



The scientific peer-review journal “Administrative Sciences” invited Dr. Peter Walla, head of the Psychology Department at WVPU, to be a guest editor of a special issue on Consumer Behavior and Consumer Neuroscience.

This issue will focus on implicit and explicit consumer preferences which can be measured by objective (physiological) and self-reported data respectively. There is evidence suggesting that there are discrepancies between what a consumer reports s/he likes and what s/he actually prefers. This implicit, non-conscious preference can be observed and measured through objective technology which can serve as an unbiased measure of consumer likes and dislikes. This information can be extremely useful for companies offering a variety of services or goods.



WePsYC 2018

The Psychology Department at Webster Vienna Private University kindly invites high school, AP, and IB students, as well as Austrian GymnasiastInnen and MaturantInnen to participate in Webster’s second Psychology Youth Conference.

Participants will submit a poster of their own research projects to display at the conference. The projects may be empirical or a literature review with the planned steps for a research project. These could be individual projects or group projects. The research area of Psychology is open. Prizes will be awarded to the best presentations. The conference language is English.

The conference itself — on Friday, June 8, 2018 — will include invited speakers and their research results. This event is open to the public and free of charge.



A lot has been said about emotional intelligence, namely, the ability people have to connect with themselves and others. According to some, success in life depends more on emotional than on general intelligence, suggesting that sociability and emotional skills are what determine most of individual success.

In a recent study, Dr. Mehu and a team of researchers investigated the role of a central component of emotional intelligence, emotion recognition ability (ERA), in dyadic face-to-face negotiation. More precisely, the efficiency of ERA was compared in predicting economic and relational outcome to that of general intelligence and traditional emotional intelligence measures. In order to test these ideas, the research team placed 65 pairs of same-sex unacquainted individuals in an employee-recruiter negotiation situation in which they had to reach an agreement on a number of topics (salary, holidays, insurance package, etc.). At the end of approximately 20 minutes of interaction, both individuals ended up with a score that reflected how well they were able to put their own interest forward but also to make room for their partner’s requests.

The results of the study show that the recruiter’s ERA and capacity for emotional understanding significantly predicted joint gains (the total amount of resources both partners were able to gather during the negotiation). Even though a person’s scores on ERA and emotion understanding did not predict his/her own individual gains, they did predict his/her partner’s individual gains, suggesting that ERA and emotion understanding are associated with a more cooperative negotiation style. This idea was further corroborated by the finding that ERA and emotional understanding were positively associated with self-report measures of own, and partner’s, perceived cooperativeness during the negotiation. The measure of general intelligence (general reasoning skills) failed to significantly predict economic gains and relational outcomes.

Overall, this study suggests that the economic and relational benefits obtained from a dyadic negotiation depends more on people’s ability to perceive and process others’ emotional cues and signals than on the capacity to reason on the task at hand. Even though the latter may be necessary to understand what is at stake in a negotiation, additional emotional skills are necessary to achieve the material and relational goals inherent to negotiation. Further research by the research group investigates the biological and behavioral factors associated with these dyadic interactive processes.

Original paper: Schlegel, K., Mehu, M., van Peer, J.M., & Scherer, K.R. (2018). Sense or sensibility: The role of cognitive and emotional intelligence in negotiation. Journal of Research in Personality, 74, 6-15.



If you have ever felt angry towards a person you deeply love you know what love/hate is. How can one have two emotions at the same time? A quick answer is that love and hate are no emotions, they are feelings. A more elaborate answer is that given the current confusion in emotion research it is difficult to find a clear answer and only the use of a more sophisticated and accurate vocabulary and a clear understanding of human brain function can help.

Dr. Peter Walla’s new article aims to solve this issue by distinguishing between emotion, feeling and affective processing and by offering clear definitions. Numerous prior attempts to agree on only an emotion definition alone have failed, even among the only few key players in emotion research. A further, still widely neglected, problem is that language as a cognitive cortical mechanism has no access to subcortical affective processing, which forms the basis for both feelings and emotions. Thus, any survey question about something emotional cannot be answered properly. This is why it is particularly important to complement self-report data with objective measures whenever emotion-related processes are of interest.

While highlighting that cognitive processing (e.g. language) is separate from affective processing, Peter’s new article proposes a brain function model as a basis to understand that subcortical affective processing (i.e. neural activity) guides human behavior, while feelings are consciously felt bodily responses that can arise from supra-threshold affective processing and that are communicated to others via emotions (behavioral output).

To provide an exemplary consequence, according to this model fear is not an emotion, but a feeling. The respective
emotion is a scared face plus other behavioral responses that show an observer that one feels fear as a result of affective processing.


Webster Vienna is proud to announce that Dr. Marc Mehu of the Psychology Department has secured a prestigious research grant. Jointly funded by both the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) for a period of 4 years, the overall value of the project is circa 640,000 euros, of which Marc’s share will be almost 340,000 euros. Marc will run the project in Vienna, together with Dr. Martin Aranguren, a researcher at CNRS, affiliated to the center for studies in migration and interethnic relations URMIS in Paris. The project looks at nonverbal indicators of implicit prejudice and discrimination in inter-group relations, it involves both field and laboratory experiments.

The winning of such a grant from the FWF is an affirmation of the outstanding research work and enduring efforts of our faculty and staff and marks a major milestone in achieving the external financing goals laid out in our strategic plan.

Abstract — Exploring and explaining misrecognitive discrimination: field and laboratory experiments (SEDICE)

Face-to-face interactions between people of different cultures are the theater of complex emotional processes that influence how individuals behave towards each other. Understanding these processes is crucial if we want to address the problems that typically arise from inter-cultural interactions. This research project proposes to study the emotional communication observed during interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Past research on this topic is mostly based on questionnaires (i.e. people report how they would think or act in particular situations), hence it does not really address the communication styles people actually adopt in their relationships with other cultural groups. The objectives of our project are therefore: 1) To describe observable communicative behavior (e.g. facial expression, body posture) associated with misrecognitive discrimination against Muslims, 2) to study the social and emotional bases of these interpersonal behaviors, as well as the social and emotional impact of interpersonal discrimination on the Muslim minority. We do not expect everyone to react to these situations in the same way and predict that the observed emotional reactions will be moderated by individual variables such as social dominance orientation, authoritarianism, and implicit attitudes towards the out-group. Emotion regulation strategies are also expected to attenuate the subtle emotional reactions.

The methodology utilizes naturalistic observations of nonverbal behavior in public places in Paris and Vienna, in a research paradigm involving help requests between members of different cultural communities. In addition, we plan a series of psychological experiments, in which we combine questionnaires, face-to-face social interactions, and measurements of physiological activity (e.g. heart rate and respiration). The experiments are designed to study the different components of emotional reactivity under tightly controlled conditions, in relation to the behaviors observed in public places. The combination of field and laboratory experiments in a single project is innovative and is aimed at gaining valid scientific knowledge that can be applied to everyday interactions between people of different cultures. This project is important because it will allow us to discover psychological processes we are not always aware of when interacting with people of different cultures. These unconscious processes can sometimes prevent the positive unfolding of inter-cultural relationships and therefore undermine attempts at social integration. In addition, this project has the potential to make a scientific breakthrough in the study of inter-cultural relationships because it integrates different measurement techniques (questionnaires, behavioral observations, and physiological measurements), a rare feature in psychological research.



The application of psychological knowledge to concrete clinical and social issues are some of the psychology department’s main teaching and research objectives. To this end, a brand new observation laboratory was installed to further expand our current research environment in order to allow us to collect measures at different levels of analysis: cognitive, behavioral, and physiological.

The new laboratory was installed by Noldus and includes three video cameras and five microphones, where recordings can be synchronized. The lab also includes three software packages designed for acquisition and analysis of behavioral data. The Observer XT facilitates the annotation and analysis of nonverbal behavior, but can also integrate audio and physiological recordings while the FaceReader 7 is specialized in the analysis of facial expressions and head movements.



A prominent research focal point of the psychology department is the discrepancy between conscious and non-conscious emotional responses. A recently published paper by Dr. Walla explores such a discrepancy related to evaluative conditioning of established "liked" and "disliked" brands.

Evaluative conditioning (EC) is what all advertisers try to do. Their goal is to generate positive associations to brands in order to make them more appealing. Surveys have been the traditional way to measure the impact of EC on brands. Our approach is to complete such self-report data with objective data resulting from various innovative recording methods (non-conscious measures).

The question is, which of these methods is most sensitive to EC and what do differences between those measurements look like? Most strikingly, it was found that non-conscious measurements of evaluative conditioning effects are more sensitive compared to self-report.

In more detail, non-conscious measures are more sensitive for disliked brands becoming liked brands than vice versa. In other words, a well-established liked brand is less likely to become disliked as a result of negative associations than a well-established disliked brand is to turn into a liked brand after positive EC.

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