Selection of recent projects
Leadership, evolution and hormones
My main line of research is on the evolutionary origins, functions, and psychological processes underlying leadership and followership. In one project we look at the facial cues of leadership perception. For instance, when do individuals prefer to follow a dominant looking leader? In another project we look at the evolved function of charismatic leadership. For instance, why do charismatic leaders inspire followers and through which cognitive mechanisms do they exercise influence? In a third project we look at the role of testosterone and cortisol in predicting leadership behaviors. Finally, I am interested in the social memory of leaders versus followers.
Intergroup relations and the male warrior hypothesis
In another line of research I am looking at the evolutionary psychology of intergroup relations. Our research suggests that there is a gendered intergroup psychology, meaning that men and women differ in their evolved social psychologies for intergroup relations (due to different selection pressures operating on men and women in the past). For instance, why are men more aggressive towards outgroups than women -- the male warrior hypothesis? Do ingroup members respond differently to male and female outgroup members?
The evolutionary psychology of sustainability
I am working on a few projects regarding the psychology of the environment. In one line of research we are looking at the effectiveness of psychological interventions to foster sustainability such as kinship, reputations, and social norms. In another project we are looking at the effects of green schoolyards on children’s cognitive and social development.
Theoretical evolutionary psychology: Mismatch, multilevel selection, niche construction, sexual selection, costly signaling
This is largely a theoretical project in which I try to understand the importance of evolutionary theories such as sexual selection, multilevel selection, mismatch, and niche construction as explanatory frameworks for understanding how humans behave in groups. These concepts have great potential to understand key social questions such as how contraceptives influence mate choice, why groups are more competitive than individuals, why people behave unsustainably, and why leadership and governance programs fail in modern organizations.
I studied social and organizational psychology at the University of Groningen (1985-91), followed by a PhD in applied social psychology at the University of Maastricht (1991-96) during which I worked on research into environmental sustainability using models from social dilemma and game theory. After receiving my PhD, I was hired by the University of Southampton, UK, as a lecturer in psychology (1995-2004), followed by a professorship in 2004 at the University of Kent, UK (2004-9). Since 2009 I hold a professorship in Evolutionary Psychology, Work and Organizational Psychology at the VU University Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I have affiliate positions at the University of Oxford (Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology) and the University of Kent (Centre for the Study of Group Processes). My research has received funding from grant agencies such as NWO and ESRC, from charities such as Leverhulme, and from private partners such as LTP Business Psychologists.
My particular interest and expertise lies in the fields of evolutionary psychology and social- organizational psychology. I am interested in how insights from evolutionary theory can explain group and organizational processes such as leadership and followership, status and power, altruism and cooperation, and intergroup conflict. Together with colleagues we are using a range of innovating methodologies from experimental psychology, social neuroscience, and behavioral economics to test evolutionary psychology hypotheses about human social behavior. I also have a keen interest in applied research – inspired by evolutionary theory -- to understand and tackle societal challenges regarding management and governance, economics and finance, health and poverty, charity, and environmental sustainability.
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