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Cross-Cultural Studies on Subjective Well-Being

Your country of residence has unavoidable consequences for your life. It determines the quality of the air you breathe, your risk of becoming unemployed, the probability that you will cheat on taxes and the likelihood that you will engage in volunteer work. By granting access to resources and structuring your life in a certain way, your country is partly responsible for your level of satisfaction with life and happiness. This influence is by far not exhaustive. We suggest that the normative climate in a country determines whether you will feel despised by others for being unemployed, living in an unregistered partnership, or cheating on taxes. Similarly, it determines whether you will feel appreciated for volunteering and strictly following a religious tradition. In other words, we suggest that an individual’s characteristics contribute to their well-being to the extent that these characteristics are socially approved (i.e., normative) in the respective societies. Social psychologists have long known that group deviance and non-conformity are associated with negative consequences for deviants’ well-being. In this project, we are asking which factors are intrinsically related to happiness and represent psychological universals, and which factors are related to happiness only because they are associated with socially desirable traits in a certain social context. For example, is virtuous behavior beneficial by itself, or does it foster happiness only because virtuous people are rewarded by their social environment? Finding answers to this and similar questions contributes to a better understanding of happiness and the human nature in general.

Funding: research training group “Social Order and Life Chances in Cross-National Comparison” financed by the German Research Foundation.

Duration: 2009 – current

Researchers: Olga Stavrova; Detlef Fetchenhauer; Thomas Schlösser; Cristina Oarga.



DFG-Project "Justice Sensitivity, Information Processing, and Behavior"

People differ systematically in terms of the ease at which they detect injustices in their environment and in the strength of their reactions to such instances. These differences were found to be largely stable over time and different situations. Hence, Justice Sensitivity is interpreted as a personality trait along four possible perspectives from which injustice can be perceived – the perpetrator, beneficiary, observer, and victim. It has been shown to account for substantial variance of pro- and antisocial behavior in controlled laboratory experiments, and also relates to real life phenomena such as moral courage, solidarity, willingness to protest, or party preferences. In all these studies, the influence of justice sensitivity is independent from other individual characteristics (e.g., the Big Five or Belief in a Just World).

In our current research we investigate – together with our cooperation partners in Landau - how information processes and emotional reactions mediate the relationship between justice sensitivity and justice relevant behavior. Beyond that, through joint efforts with our partners, we are looking forward to the promising results of incorporating Justice Sensitivity in the Socio-Economic-Panel (SOEP).

Funding: DFG project

Duration: 10/2011 – 10/2013

Researchers: Thomas Schlösser; Olga Stavrova; Laura Hasters, Detlef Fetchenhauer


Cooperation partners: Anna Baumert, Simona Maltese, Manfred Schmitt, University Koblenz-Landau.



Lay Economics

Economic laypeople generally have different views on the economy, economic phenomena, and economic policy compared to economic experts. For example, in contrast to economists, economic laypeople favor minimum wages and trade barriers. In our research, we explore reasons for these consistent differences, focusing on two major lines of explanations. First, we study cognitive heuristics and biases that people apply when reasoning about economic phenomena – both in field surveys and in the laboratory. Those heuristics and biases (e. g., underestimation of exponential effects, hindsight bias etc.) are addressed in the applied contexts of inflation and economic policy. Second, we study judgment criteria that economic laypeople and economists use when judging economic policies. Evidence suggests that economists base their judgments mainly on economic efficiency considerations, while laypeople focus on procedural and fairness considerations. We also examine the role of teachers and journalists as potential multiplicators for economic knowledge transfer. In our current research, we study whether laypeople’s and economists’ judgments of trade and immigration policies are prone to a bias in favor of their home country.

Funding: Self-financed research project

Duration: 2009 – current

Researchers: Fabian Christandl, Robert Jacob, Detlef Fetchenhauer, Erik Hoelzl

Cooperation partners: Tommy Gärling, University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Thomas Oberlechner, Webster University, Vienna (Austria)




Trust is a central element of social life. It is essential for friendships and intimate relationships, and also for work organizations and societies as a whole. Trust is inherently ambivalent: To trust someone entails making oneself vulnerable to another person. If trust is rewarded, everybody is better off. However, at least under certain conditions, people do have an incentive to misuse the trust that is given to them. In our research, we investigate the determinants and the consequences of trust, in both the laboratory and society as a whole. In our laboratory research, we have shown that most people are overly pessimistic about the trustworthiness of others, but still are willing to hand their money over to an unknown stranger in the so-called trust game. Why are people so cynical about others? And why do they still hand over their money? In our work on societal factors, we investigate the moderating role of climate and wealth on levels of trust in different relationships. We show that wealth is closely linked to trust in harsh climates, but not in temperate climates.

Funding: Partly self-financed research project, partly financed by the research training group “Social Order and Life Chances in Cross-National Comparison” (German Science Foundation).

Duration: 2005 - current

Researchers: Detlef Fetchenhauer, Thomas Schlösser; Daniel Ehlebracht, Thomas Göbbels

Cooperation partners: Dave Dunning, Cornell University