Dr. Buchholz's Research Lab

wordle explaining what Dr. Buchholz's main areas of research are

Research Interests

Dr. Buchholz's primary interests are at the intersection of social psychology and evolutionary theory. Specific topics he is currently interested in investigating include:

  • The effects of ingroup-outgroup membership on moral decision making
  • Agency, determinism, and belief in freewill
  • Social emotions and moral decision making
  • The evolutionary roots of consciousness/self-awareness
  • The evolutionary roots of empathy and theory of mind

What Dr. Buchholz is looking for in a Research Assistant

Although he will consider every student individually for a research position, here are some general guidelines for Dr. Buchholz's preferences for research students:

  • Work Study Research Assistants
    • GPA: 2.0 or higher
    • Classification: Any
    • Classwork: No requirements
    • Preferred skills: Experience with Microsoft Office (especially Excel and Word); familiarity with library resources and performing lit searches
  • Research Experience Students
    • GPA: 2.0 or higher
    • Classification: Any
    • Classwork: No requirements
    • Preferred skills: Experience with Microsoft Office (especially Excel and Word) and SPSS; familiarity with library resources and performing lit searches
  • Research Practicum Students
    • GPA: 2.5 or higher
    • Classification: Sophomore or higher
    • Classwork: PSYC 202 or 204 required; PSYC 251 (Social Psychology) or 381 (Evolutionary Psychology) preferred
    • Preferred skills: Experience with Microsoft Office (especially Excel and Word) and SPSS; familiarity with library resources and performing lit searches
  • Independent Study Students
    • GPA: 3.0 or higher
    • Classification: Junior or higher
    • Classwork: PSYC 202 and 204 requiredPSYC 251 (Social Psychology) or 381 (Evolutionary Psychology) preferred
    • Preferred skills: Experience with Microsoft Office (especially Excel and Word) and SPSS strongly preferred; familiarity with library resources and performing lit searches; strong writing skills

Current Research  

I am interested in the connections between evolutionary theory, consciousness, self, and theory of mind (empathy). Consciousness self-awareness is an evolutionary adaptation that is central to the human experience. Arguably, the evolution of our conscious mind is intimately tied to our social nature; that is, it is adaptive to be able to think of ourselves and other humans as thinking agents that are in control of our actions. Our ancestors that were able to create a working model of another human's mind (theory of mind) were better able to predict what that person was thinking and what they might do next. One implication for this line of thought are that our sense of control (agency/free will) is intricately tied to our sense of morality. For instance, we are more likely to want to punish a criminal if we feel they intended harm and that they were in control of their actions. Likewise, we evaluate our level of responsibility for our own bad behaviors depending on whether or not we feel we had a choice in those behaviors. Unfortunately there are many cognitive biases in how we make these moral decisions, and importantly, these biases favor those in our in-group and disfavor those in the out-group.  

When we personally violate moral norms we often experience negative emotions (e.g., guilt or shame); when other's violate moral norms we feel negative emotions towards the transgressor (e.g., disgust or anger). However, if a victim is involved, we may also experience empathy for that victim. I am specifically interested in these social emotions and how they regulate our behaviors for good or ill. Generally we think of empathy as a pro-social emotion in that it often leads to perspective taking and helping behaviors; however, empathy has a dark side as well. The same wellspring of empathetic emotions often leads to an increased desire to punish perceived transgressors.  

Recent studies have shown that individuals that have high levels of trait empathy are actually more likely to endorse the most violent punishments for outgroup transgressors (Bloom, 2013). While it may make intuitive (and evolutionary) sense to want to punish some outgroup members (e.g., ISIS, violent criminals, etc.), the problem is that empathy also pushes us to have stronger feelings of prejudice and to be more likely to act against outgroup members even when those outgroup members are innocent of any transgression (e.g., migrant workers).  

I am interested in examining empathy and other social emotions/cognitions to determine what factors lead us towards help or harm. I believe that research in this area could be highly informative and relevant to how we make moral decisions in contemporary society. Empathetic emotions combined with ingroup-outgroup distinctions, for instance, may go a long way in shedding light on the current divisive political climate. Both sides are similar in that they feel very strongly about doing the right thing for their constituents; however, when you add ingroup-outgroup distinctions to this mix you get intractable conflict.

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