Claus Lamm

Dept. of Cognition, Emotion and Methods in Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, University of Vienna

The two projects I am proposing here serve as a general orientation towards a novel research line on environmental social cognitive neuroscience, which I want to pursue in the next few years. Thus, Ph.D. applicants are encouraged to also come forward with their own research ideas falling into that general research line. This research line encompasses topics such as what shapes human attitudes towards their (natural) environment, including other animals, how that influences their thoughts, feelings, well-being, and in particular what impact has this on pro-environmental and pro-ecological decisions and more sustainable behaviors. To this end, I will predominantly pursue a cognitive and neuroscience laboratory-based approach, which aims to advance our understanding of the neuro-cognitive correlates and ultimately mechanisms of pro-environmental behavior, and possibly complement it by "real life" field-based studies, including e.g. (online) surveys, ecological momentary assessments, and big data analyses.

1. The restorative potential of natural environments

Feeling connected to and being exposed to natural environments has been shown to have a positive impact on mental and physical health, mood and well-being, and stress resilience. With a few notable exceptions (e.g. Bratman et al., PNAS 2015), most of that work has relied on self-report or other types of psychological and behavioral data. The aim of this dissertation project is to develop and test a theoretical framework that connects the behavioral and psychological data to neuromechanistic approaches that may explain by which cognitive, affective and neural mechanisms nature exerts these effects on our minds, brains, and bodies. To this end, laboratory based research using brain imaging and cognitive-behavioral methods (e.g. eye tracking, decision making experiments) shall be combined with "real life" measures of actual responses to nature exposure (either in the same or different samples of participants). Ultimately, the aim is to investigate whether and how individual differences in being susceptible to the positive restorative effects of nature exposure influence pro-environmental decision making and behavior, both on an individual and a macro-level.

2. Attitudes of humans towards canines - friendly dogs, fierce wolves?

The current recovery of wolves across Europe has engendered fierce debates with some extreme cases of anti-wolf sentiment. While obviously wolves can pose a danger to humans, there have been few incidents in the last centuries, even in areas where the wolf was not extinct; in contrast, attitudes towards dogs are largely positive, despite several thousand incidents world-wide with both family and wild-living dogs. This poses the question why a good part of the human population reacts so strongly against the recolonization of wolves, and why subjective attitudes towards dogs and wolves do not always seem to align with objective statistics on their harm potential. Scientific evidence on our attitudes towards wolves and dogs is not only scant but with very few exceptions stems from the use of self-report methods, such as questionnaires. In this dissertation project, social psychological theories on contact theory and social neuroscience approaches including brain imaging, will be combined with knowledge about dog and wolf behavior. The overarching aim is to unravel the social, cognitive and neural mechanisms that drive our attitudes towards dogs and wolves.