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Susann Fiedler

Video Susann Fiedler

Susann Fiedler

Researcher of the Month

Group Behavior: How People Make Decisions

Exclusion is omnipresent in social interactions. So is the fact that we prefer to surround ourselves with like-minded people. In her new study, WU researcher Susann Fiedler from the Institute for Cognition and Behavior uncovers cognitive processes underlying our group behavior. For this purpose, she and her team use eye tracking technology, a tool known from newspaper research.

The stranger who tries their best to return a lost wallet to its rightful owner or an employee who helps a colleague with a project: It is actions like these that shape our environment and create a basis of trust and cooperation. To encourage such behavior and increase the level of collaboration within an organization, it is important to understand how collaboration decisions are made.

Susann Fiedler's team uses eye tracking technology to record gaze behavior of study participants while they actively make a decision as to whether or not they should share their own resources with another person. The share of attention paid to one's own monetary resources can be understood as an indicator of how much relevance this person gives to these resources during the decision-making process. The experiments thus investigate the still poorly understood attentional mechanisms behind intergroup discrimination.

Key findings:

  • People with strong prosocial preferences, that is, those wanting to help others, are more likely to reduce their personal welfare to benefit another person from their group rather than a person from another group.

  • Stronger prosocial preferences are associated with greater decision effort: Such individuals require more time in making a decision and inspect more information before making decisions. This observation contradicts the assumption that cooperation is an intuitive decision made fast and without much deliberation

  • Individuals whose partner is a member of their own group placed larger weight on others’ outcomes and invested more time and effort in gathering information before reaching a decision. It is possible that people are particularly concerned about the consequences of their decisions when members of their own group are involved and affected.

"The results show that utility differences from different courses of action do not only predict behavioral choices but also the cognitive effort spent on decision making", Fiedler said. "Our experiments allow us to take a new look at intergroup research by moving beyond evaluating mere decision behavior and focusing more on the processes underlying those decisions. Preliminary findings shed light on how much people with different social preferences care about the resources of others in an intergroup context, and on how much effort they invest on information search when making a decision that maximizes their own resources, benefits their own team, or supports a rivaling group."

About Susann Fiedler

Susann Fiedler

Susann Fiedler is a behavioral scientist. She received her PhD in psychology from the University of Erfurt in 2013 and has been leading the Gielen-Leyendecker Research Group on Economic Cognition at the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods since 2014. During her academic career, she has been a visiting researcher at the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics (Harvard University) and a visiting professor at the University of Hagen.
Among others, she has been awarded the Max Planck Society's Otto Hahn Medal for her work on the cognitive and affective foundations of evaluation and action processes.

Susann Fiedler’s research focuses on issues related to the design of choice situations and organizational environments. It offers insights into how situations and problems are mentally represented and how these representations can change. Other research interests include motivation, discrimination, cooperation, and the replicability of research findings.

Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Science, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Psychological Science, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, and PNAS.