I serve as an Assistant Professor at BI Norwegian Business School and as an Associate Research Scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. I earned my PhD from Yale University, following degrees in Computer Science and Psychology at New York University.
My research spans across psychology, decision making, motivation, and human behavior. Recent studies have examined prejudice, fanaticism, and the spread of misinformation.
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Ryu, Y., Olcaysoy Okten, I., Gollwitzer, A., & Oettingen, G. (2023). Intellectual humility predicts COVID-19 preventive practices through greater adoption of data-driven information and feelings of responsibility. Social and Personality Psychology Compass.
Two studies find that intellectual humility - the openness to the possibility of being wrong - leads to better adherence to COVID-19 preventive measures like social distancing, hand washing, and mask-wearing. This happens mainly because intellectually humble people are more likely to trust data-driven sources like medical experts, and feel more responsible for COVID-19 outcomes. This suggests that intellectual humility plays a key role in informed decision-making during public health crises.
Social scientists' ability to predict societal change was assessed through two forecasting tournaments. Predictions were made in domains commonly studied in social sciences. Participants submitted monthly forecasts for a year, with the opportunity to update their predictions based on new data. Comparison with simple statistical models and public forecasts showed no significant advantage for social scientists. However, accuracy improved when scientists had domain expertise, used simpler models, and relied on prior data.
Deviancy aversion, or discomfort with pattern distortions, plays a role in the strength and prevalence of social norms. In five studies with 2,390 participants, higher deviancy aversion predicted negative emotions towards norm violations, increased norm-following behavior, and a heightened emphasis on norms. This effect extended to different tasks and adherence to various norms. Thus, deviancy aversion, as a low-level emotional process, contributes to the promotion and maintenance of social norms.
This theoretical paper examines how misplaced certainty, characterized by unwavering conviction despite lacking evidence or facing skepticism, can help explain when conspiracy beliefs are associated with antisocial actions. Misplaced certainty has been linked to negative social outcomes, including increased aggression, deliberate ignorance, and alignment with extreme groups. By considering the role of misplaced certainty, we gain insights into the circumstances that contribute to the harmful behavioral consequences of conspiracy beliefs.
Researchers examined the link between discordant knowing (holding firm knowledge contrary to others' beliefs) and fanaticism in nine studies with 3,277 participants. Manipulating participants' views to align with discordant knowing heightened indicators of fanaticism, including aggression and a desire to join extreme groups. The findings suggest that discordant knowing plays a key role in fostering fanaticism and highlight the importance of investigating fanaticism from an epistemic-social-cognitive perspective.
This study examined the emergence of pro-White racial bias in a homogenous Black community with limited exposure to modern media and less overt discrimination. Black African children in rural Uganda (N = 214), aged 5 to 12, showed significant pro-White bias, preferring White children 78% of the time and perceiving them as higher status. These findings suggest that pro-White racial biases can develop early, even in homogenous Black communities, emphasizing the influence of minimal status cues in the development of racial prejudice.
Marshall, J., Gollwitzer, A., Mermin-Bunnell, N., Shinomiya, M., Retelsdorf, J., & Bloom, P. (2022). How development and culture shape intuitions about prosocial obligations. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.
Do children and adults believe that only kin and close others are obligated to help? Two studies (N=1,140) across five societies found that younger children generally believed everyone, including parents, friends, and strangers, is obligated to help. Older children and adults showed more selective judgments, considering parents more obligated than friends, followed by strangers. This suggests that children's initial sense of prosocial obligation starts broadly and becomes more selective with age.
We examined the psychological experience of being certain about the future. Studies (N=1218) revealed that certainty about the future predicted ignorance, conspiratorial thinking, lower knowledgeability (Study 1), and antisocial behaviors like failing to social distance (Study 2) during COVID-19. In the context of the 2020 Presidential Election, future certainty predicted poor information seeking and endorsing violence (Study 3). Future certainty is linked to intellectual blindness and antisocial behaviors during uncertain times.
This study examined motives attributed to individuals who engage in punishment. Children (6-7 years old, n=100) and adults (n=100) were assessed for their ascriptions of punitive motives in third-party punishment scenarios across different social roles. Children endorsed diverse motives but rejected inflicting suffering, whereas adults prioritized consequentialist motives and found "just deserts" more plausible in personal contexts. These findings reveal developmental and contextual variations in understanding punitive motives and shed light on how individuals perceive and respond to punishment in daily life.
Gollwitzer, A., Mcloughlin, K., Martel, C., Marshall, J., Höhs, J.M., & Bargh, J.A. (2021). Linking Self-Reported Social Distancing to Real-World Behavior During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Researchers examined the link between self-reported social distancing and objective distancing behavior. Findings from two studies revealed that self-reported social distancing predicted reduced mobility measured by smartphone step counts and GPS data during the COVID-19 pandemic. These results suggest that self-reports align with actual social distancing behavior.
Gollwitzer, A., Martel, C., Brady, W.J., Pärnamets, P., Freedman, I.G., Knowles, E.D., & Van Bavel, J.J. (2020). Partisan differences in physical distancing are linked to health outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Nature Human Behaviour.
COVID-19 response in the US is deeply divided along partisan lines. Using data from 15 million smartphones across the United States, we found that counties that supported Trump showed 14% less physical distancing, and the divide grew over time. Consumption of conservative media correlated with reduced distancing, and these partisan differences led to higher infection and fatality rates in pro-Trump counties.
Following preventive measures like social distancing, handwashing, and mask wearing is important in combating COVID-19. We find that women exhibit higher adherence to these practices compared to men. Tailoring health messages to motivate men can enhance their compliance during pandemics.
To what extent can general cognitive factors influence moral judgment? We explore the role of people's aversion to broken patterns in predicting moral sensitivity. We find that participants' aversion to non-social pattern deviations predicted greater condemnation and punishment of harm and purity violations, particularly for intuitive thinkers. Additionally, pattern deviancy aversion was associated with a greater tolerance for moral violations once these were framed as common in an alternate society. These findings suggest a link between people's aversion to broken patterns and moral judgment.
Few studies have explored how grandiosity is reflected in political speech, despite remarks like Donald Trump's claim of having "the best words." This research examines grandiose U.S. presidents (n=35) and finds that they use words differently compared to more humble presidents and other grandiose individuals, employing more "we-talk." The study proposes that grandiose individuals adapt their language to suit specific audiences, seeking to find the most effective words for each context.
Research has shown a connection between people's dislike of pattern deviations and their prejudice, but the underlying processes and causality remain unclear. We suggest that aversion to pattern deviations may contribute to prejudice by intensifying people's dislike for statistical minorities. In nine studies (N=1,821), we found support for this idea, as aversion to pattern deviations related to disliking novel statistical minorities, which in turn predicted prejudice against racial and stigmatized minorities. These findings indicate that people's aversion to pattern deviations can drive prejudice, particularly towards statistical minorities.
Gollwitzer, A., Martel, C., McPartland, J., & Bargh, J.A. (2019). Commentary: Reply to Taylor et al.: Acknowledging the multidimensionality of autism when predicting social psychological skill. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The authors argue that the relationship between autism and SPS that they observed remains valid despite the multidimensional nature of autism. They acknowledge limitations in their dataset for examining the subdimensions of autism and highlight the need for future research to explore how these subdimensions individually predict SPS to gain a better understanding of the link between autism and SPS.
Social-cognitive skills come in different forms, from understanding individuals' thoughts and emotions to predicting social phenomena. Previous research connected autism spectrum traits with deficits in person perception. However, our study found that autism spectrum traits actually predicted slightly better accuracy in predicting social psychological phenomena. A second study indicated that this link may be due to heightened systemizing. These results suggest that autism traits can be linked to a specific form of social cognitive skill and highlight the need to distinguish between different types of social cognition.
To avoid uncertainty, people sometimes claim to know something that they acknowledge as unknowable. This paradoxical knowing was observed across different topics and emotions in Study 1. Study 2 found that high goal-incentives led to increased paradoxical knowing, where individuals felt certain about achieving important future goals despite acknowledging their unknowability. However, paradoxical knowing can have negative consequences, as shown in Study 3, where it was associated with aggression, determined ignorance, and a willingness to join extreme groups.
Previous research found that toddlers punish those who harm others, typically by reducing resources. We studied children aged 4 to 7 (N=141) to see if they engage in corporal punishment against antisocial others in third-party situations. Study 1 showed younger children hit both antisocial and prosocial puppets, while older children preferentially hit the antisocial puppet. However, Study 2 with a larger sample found no corporal punishment. Combining the results showed no significant effect, suggesting children lack a strong inclination for corporal punishment against third-party wrongdoers. Different forms of punishment should be considered, raising questions about the development of third-party corporal punishment.
Research suggests that people's aversion to pattern deviations contributes to social phenomena like prejudice. The factors driving this aversion are unclear, but anxious attachment, characterized by hypersensitivity to social inconsistency, may heighten pattern deviancy aversion. In two studies (N=137 and N=102), anxious attachment predicted aversion to broken patterns. In two additional studies (N=310 and N=470), experimentally inducing anxious attachment increased pattern deviancy aversion. These findings indicate that anxious attachment is a factor in pattern deviancy aversion and suggest its role in certain social phenomena.
In a series of six studies involving over 1,000 participants, researchers examined lay individuals' skill in predicting social psychological phenomena. The findings revealed that certain attributes, such as cognitive ability, cognitive curiosity, and introversion, were associated with higher social psychological skill. Additionally, the study demonstrated that social psychological skill is distinct from other skills and is linked to reduced self-deception and improved understanding of situational influences on behavior. These findings have important implications for understanding human behavior and its underlying mechanisms.
Reducing and preventing paranoia means tackling its underlying cause. Loneliness can make paranoia worse, but we wondered if we could target it using two approaches: reducing loneliness and addressing negative emotions. In Study 1, recalling companionship reduced paranoia for those already feeling paranoid, while in Study 2, using cognitive strategies to handle negative feelings linked to loneliness helped lower paranoia. By targeting loneliness, we have a promising route to combat subclinical paranoia.
There is debate about whether adults have an implicit system for understanding others' perspectives. Some argue that people automatically consider others' viewpoints, while others suggest a simpler process. Study 1 found that altercentric interference occurs equally in social and non-social conditions. Study 2 used a different method and did not find altercentric interference in response times but found evidence of interference in accuracy. These findings suggest that altercentric interference in social situations is driven by perspective-taking, while in non-social situations, it is driven by attention-cuing mechanisms.
Research conducted across six studies indicates that people's strong aversion towards non-social pattern deviancy, such as a row of triangles with one out of line, predicts their dislike of social deviancy. This relationship remains consistent across various measures and cultural contexts, displaying a moderate effect size. The findings suggest that aversion to pattern deviancy plays a significant role in shaping stigmatization and prejudice.
Gollwitzer, A., Schwörer, B., Stern, C., Gollwitzer, P. M., & Bargh, J. A. (2017). Up and down regulation of a highly automatic process: Implementation intentions can both increase and decrease social projection. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 70, 19-26.
Two studies found that implementation intentions, or "if-then" plans, can impact social projection - the tendency to assume others share our attitudes. Participants forming implementation intentions were less likely to perceive others as sharing their attitudes (Study 1, N=120). The findings were replicated in Study 2 (N=268), which also showed that implementation intentions can increase social projection. This suggests that implementation intentions can both decrease and intensify automatic processes, providing dynamic control over biases.
Psychotic symptoms are associated with social factors like migration and urban upbringing, possibly linked to loneliness. This study (N=766) found that depression fully mediated the relationship between loneliness and positive symptoms in most samples. Loneliness showed a unique connection to paranoid beliefs, but not other psychotic symptoms. Early interventions targeting loneliness in psychosis, especially when addressing depression, could be beneficial. This supports the idea that specific adversities lead to distinct psychotic symptoms.
Weinreich, A., & Gollwitzer, A. (2016). Automaticity and affective responses in valence transfer: Insights from the crossmodal auditory-visual paradigm. Psychology of Music. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0305735615626519
This study examined valence transfer in a crossmodal paradigm, finding that participants perceived Asian ideographs as visually more pleasant when paired with pleasant sounds. Experiment 2 further showed that evaluative judgments of the ideographs were influenced by the valence of the accompanying music, as measured by facial electromyography and skin conductance responses. These findings suggest that valence transfer occurs automatically and involves affective responses.
Duckworth, A. L., Kirby, T. A., Gollwitzer, A., & Oettingen, G. (2013). From fantasy to action: Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII) improves academic performance in children. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4, 745-753.
This intervention aimed to improve academic performance in economically disadvantaged children using a metacognitive self-regulatory strategy called Mental Contrasting with Implementation Intentions (MCII). In a study with 77 5th graders, those who learned MCII showed significant improvements in report card grades, attendance, and conduct compared to a control group. These findings suggest that MCII holds promise for enhancing academic performance in disadvantaged middle school children.
Two brief intervention studies examined the effects of teaching students to mentally contrast their desired future with their present reality. German elementary school children (N=49; Study 1) and US middle school children (N=63; Study 2) from low-income neighborhoods showed improved academic performance in learning foreign language vocabulary words. These findings have implications for enhancing academic outcomes in low-income areas.
*Disclaimer: Electronic versions of papers are provided as a professional courtesy to ensure timely dissemination of academic work for individual, noncommercial purposes. Copyright (and all rights therein) resides with the respective copyright holders, as stated within each paper. These files may not be reposted without permission of the copyright holder. Anton Gollwitzer asserts no COI on any of these publications.