This dissertation will explore conspiracy theories from a psychological viewpoint—both theoretically and empirically. Conspiracy theories are introduced here as a phenomenon relevant for many aspects of entertainment, history, popular culture, society, politics, and ideology. The phenomenon is defined and discussed, with its epistemic characteristics and ramifications, from a philosophical viewpoint. It is argued that there is no standard practice for the judgement of conspiracy theories, and that a case-by-case consideration is a pragmatic resolution for this epistemic problem. Along with proposing and implementing a new means of measurement for the belief in conspiracy theories in Raab, Ortlieb, Auer, Guthmann, and Carbon (2013) called narrative construction, it is argued that nearly everyone will construct a conspiracy theory for an important event (exemplified with the 9/11 attacks), which is probably
not a sign of delusion, but of identity construction and management. However, the genesis of such beliefs is prone to distortions. The mere presence of extreme (in terms of conspiratorial value) information might foster the construction of narrations significantly more extreme—without people noticing it. In Raab, Auer, Ortlieb, and Carbon (2013), we have called this the Sarrazin effect. To better understand why conspiratorial narrations are so widespread, powerful and possibly dangerous, psychological and philosophical theories are applied; for example, narrations (and thus conspiracy theories) can be considered cognitive simulations of possible states of the world. Here, it would also be desirable to understand why a given person adheres to a specific narrative content, so the link between personal values (in a psychological sense) and conspiracy belief was analysed empirically. The results were reported in a conference paper (Raab, Kammerl, & Carbon, 2015). Also, a current research question is if people automatically begin to elaborate conspiracy beliefs for a new event, or if it takes psychological triggers to start this process. We found empirical evidence in Gebauer, Raab, and Carbon (2016) that
information has to include testimony of causation (someone causing an event directly) and purpose (someone causing this deliberately), so that people begin to assume a conspiracy at work. To make the knowledge presented here, as well as the results gathered by researchers in the past years and decades, available to a larger audience, a work-in-progress project for a popular science book on conspiracy theories is presented. The conspiracy theory is the message then (speaking with Marshall McLuhan), as those theories extend our realm of human affairs. To integrate the findings of this thesis, a construction kit for conspiracy theories is proposed; and dangers as well as chances of such narrations are discussed with regard to societal progress.
This dissertation presents research projects which investigated dynamics in the perception and appreciation of ambiguous and indeterminate art. It examines how semantical instability in art can induce pleasure in the perceiver although defying an easy consumption. The idea pursued within this thesis is that insights gained during an elaboration of such objects lead to an increase in appreciation (Aesthetic Aha effect, Muth & Carbon, 2013)—the creation of meaning itself being rewarding. The comprised research projects examine such dynamics in perception and appreciation of visual artworks which are semantically instable. A crucial quality of these objects might be that they confront the perceiver with semantical instability as well as opportunity for insight: for instance, we like Cubist artworks more the better we are able to discern identifiable objects in them—still they never dissolve into an easy recognizable interpretation (Muth, Pepperell, & Carbon, 2013a). Also the solvability of ambiguity in another set of visual artworks did not have positive effects on liking, interest, and affect. Instead, the strength of insights gained during their elaboration predicted appreciation positively (Muth, Hesslinger, & Carbon, 2015). In line with the Aesthetic Aha effect (Muth & Carbon, 2013) also the sudden emergence of Gestalt within indeterminate artistic movies elicited an increase in liking. Interest—in contrast –already increased prior to these moments of insight (Muth, Raab, & Carbon, 2015). The presented findings highlight that art perception does not equal a kind of problem solving process in which semantical instability needs to be resolved for the artwork to appeal. Instead appreciation might benefit from rewarding insights into the instable.
It may be fun to perceive illusions, but the understanding of how they work is even
more stimulating and sustainable: They can tell us where the limits and capacity of
our perceptual apparatus are found—they can specify how the constraints of perception
are set. Furthermore, they let us analyze the cognitive sub-processes underlying our
perception. Illusions in a scientific context are not mainly created to reveal the failures of
our perception or the dysfunctions of our apparatus, but instead point to the specific power
of human perception. The main task of human perception is to amplify and strengthen
sensory inputs to be able to perceive, orientate and act very quickly, specifically and
efficiently. The present paper strengthens this line of argument, strongly put forth by
perceptual pioneer Richard L. Gregory (e.g., Gregory, 2009), by discussing specific visual
illusions and how they can help us to understand the magic of perception.
The present study challenges the notion that judgments of artistic quality are based on stable aesthetic standards. We propose that such standards are a delusion and that judgments of artistic quality are the combined result of exposure, elaboration and discourse. We ran two experiments using elaboration tasks based on the Repeated Evaluation Technique (RET) in which different versions of the Mona Lisa had to be elaborated deeply. During the initial task, either the version known from the Louvre or an alternative version owned by the Prado was elaborated; during the second task, both versions were elaborated in a comparative fashion. After both tasks, multiple blends of the two versions had to be evaluated concerning several aesthetic key variables. Judgments of artistic quality of the blends were significantly different depending on the initially elaborated version of the Mona Lisa indicating experience-based aesthetic processing, which contradicts the notion of stable aesthetic standards.
One of the many questions surrounding Leonardo’s Mona Lisa concerns the landscape visible in the portrait’s background: Does it depict an imagination of Leonardo’s mind, a real world landscape or the motif of a plane canvas that hung in Leonardo’s studio, behind the sitter? By analyzing divergences between the Mona Lisa and her Prado double that was painted in parallel but from another perspective we found mathematical evidence for the motif-canvas hypothesis: The landscape in the Prado version is 10% increased but otherwise nearly identical with the Louvre one, which indicates both painters used the same plane motif-canvas as reference.
Processing fluency plays a large role in forming judgments, as research repeatedly shows. According to the Hedonic Fluency Model, more fluently processed stimuli are rated more affectively positive than less fluently processed stimuli. Most research documenting such findings uses neutral or positive stimuli with low complexity, thus any potential impact of initial stimulus valence cannot be tested. In the present study, 60 IAPS stimuli ranging from very negative to very positive valence were rated on liking by participants. Processing fluency was manipulated through perceptual priming (7 ms). Results of Experiment 1 (N = 35) support the prediction of the Hedonic Fluency Model, but only for stimuli with an initially positive valence. However, when negative stimuli were processed more fluently, they were rated as more negative than when processed less fluently. Experiment 2 (N = 39) showed that enhancing the accessibility of the stimulus content (via prolonging the prime duration to 100 ms) cannot account for the results of Experiment 1, since Experiment 2 failed to replicate the findings obtained in Experiment 1. Potential factors influencing affective evaluation of negative stimuli are discussed. A model is offered for the reinterpretation of processing fluency as an amplifying factor for evaluative judgment.
People’s sketches of human faces seem to be systematically distorted: The eyes’ position is always higher than in reality. This bias was experimentally analyzed by a series of experiments varying drawing conditions. Participants either drew prototypical faces from memory (studies 1 and 2: free reconstruction; study 3: cued reconstruction) or directly copied average faces (study 4). Participants consistently showed this positioning bias, which is even in accord with facial depictions published in influential research articles by famous face researchers (study 5). We discuss plausible explanations for this reliable and stable bias which is coincidentally similar to the morphology of Neanderthals.
In an experiment, we systematically tested the risk tolerance for trading stock shares that vary in the initial
price of the shares. Persons inexperienced with the stock market had to set the selling points for 60 stocks in the
case of (a) decreasing or (b) rising prices. First, a stronger risk aversion for falling compared to rising prices was
obtained. Second, the experiment revealed a dramatic increase in risk tolerance the lower the buying prices of the
stocks were; nearly perfectly following a power function (Pearson-R’s>.93). Furthermore, it seemed very difficult for
persons to grasp the consequences of share price neglect, namely that the initial share price has a significant impact
on the readiness to take higher risks, whether in a positive or negative direction. Therefore, we are also referring to
it as a “hidden risk tolerance”. This paper offers insights into irrational decision making in trading stocks. It allows
the formation of estimates regarding trading volume and share price potential on the basis of the initial share price.Furthermore, it provides clues for the consequent reduction of risk-seeking behavior.
In 1932 Frederic Bartlett laid the foundation for the later Schema Theory. His findings considerably contributed to the understanding of how previous knowledge affects processing of visual stimuli. Empirical proof however is sparse and Bartlett’s results are hardly verifiable. We replicated Bartlett’s methods of ‘serial’ (Experiment 1, N=177) and ‘repeated reproduction’ (Experiment 2, N=53). In both experiments undergraduates inspected particular one of different sketches variing in the degree of faceness. After a delay of a minimum of 15 minutes participants were asked to reproduce their visual imageries. In Experiment 1 we rotated the produced sketches among participants and repeated the procedure five times. In Experiment 2 we asked them to reproduce their visual imageries after minimum weekly delays for five times. In two subsequent studies the participant’s sketches were evaluated in the degree of faceness on a 7-point Likert-scale. In contrast to Bartlett’s findings the sketches did not become more face-like the more often the reproduction process was performed, indicating more complex cognitive processes underlying the schema formation. For Experiment 1 we even obtained reversed effects with less face-likeness after a series of reproduction. Further research should vary influential factors such as creativity, drawing abilities and delays to get further insights into the formation of memory from visual inputs.
Research on visual attention triggered by face gender is still relatively sparse. In the present study, three experiments are reported in which male and female participants were required to estimate the midpoint of a line (i.e., the “line bisection task”): at each end of the line a face was presented. Depending on the experimental condition, faces could be of the same gender (i.e., two males or two females) or the opposite gender. Experiment 1 and 2 findings converged in showing that when a male face was presented at the right and a female face at the left endpoint of the line, a clear rightward bias emerged compared to the other experimental conditions, indicating that male faces captured attention more than female faces. Importantly, male faces used across Experiment 1 and 2 were rated as more threatening than female faces, suggesting that perceived level of threat may have been responsible for the observed bias toward the male face. Experiment 3 corroborated this hypothesis by finding an attentional bias toward the male face with high threat (angry) faces but not with low threat (smiling) faces.