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.

Are you interested in participating? Please contact Dr. Marc Mehu at


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: (1) IS design, (2) IS use, (3) emotion research, and (4) 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.

Click here to read the full article.


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?

Click here to have access to the full article.



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

On Friday, September 27th, 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.

For more details about the BrainStorms Festival, please click here.



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), 1 round of exposure to 50 pornographic and 50 violent images (Session 2) and a further 9 rounds of exposure to 50 pornographic and 50 violent images (Session 3). Sessions were temporally separated by at least 2 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 23rd to 26th of 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 4th to 6th, 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, of which Marc’s share will be almost €340,000. 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.