Call for applications for a PhD position


Applications are invited for a PhD position (50%-65% fte, TVL-E13) for up to four years in the Comparative Psychology research group headed by Tobias Kalenscher. In this PhD project, we will investigate the effects of stress hormones on economic decision making (Margittai et al., Neuropsychopharmacol, 2018; Margittai et al., PNEC, 2018), using behavioral, psychopharmacological and neuroimaging techniques on a healthy human population. The position is available from May 2018.

The Comparative Psychology group at Düsseldorf University investigates economic and social decision making in animals and humans. Combining animal research and human neuroimaging techniques with conceptual tools borrowed from psychology, economics, and biology, we employ a truly multidisciplinary, comparative approach to understand the behavioral and neural basis of decision making. We cooperate with the Life & Brain Center in Bonn (Prof. Bernd Weber) for fMRI scanning.

For the position, a strong interest in decision making and neuroeconomics is essential, and sound knowledge in statistics and stats software (R, SPSS, Matlab…) are required. Applicants should have a Master degree, or equivalent, in neuroscience, psychology or related fields. The candidate should enjoy working independently as well as in a team. An excellent command of English, and a moderate command of German, or the willingness to learn German, is expected.

Applications should include a CV, a brief statement of research experience and interests, academic achievements and names of at least 2 referees. Please send your application electronically as a single pdf file to Tobias Kalenscher (Tobias.Kalenscher@hhu.de). Application deadline is March 16, 2018. (Skype) interviews will be held in the second half of March.




New paper out!

People often cope with stress by investing into social relationships. We have undefinedrecently shown that psychosocial stress alters the social discount function; that is, in times of stress, individuals offer costly help to a delimited group of close friends and family, but not to socially more remote others. In this new paper, we demonstrate that the stress-hormone cortisol has a very similar effect on social discounting compared to psychosocial stress: exogenous hydrocortisone administration boosts generosity towards socially close, but not socially remote others. Interestingly, this cortisol-related upregulation of prosocial behavior was offset by concomittant administration of yohimbine, a drug that amplifies noradrenergic action. These findings have implications for understanding why stressed individuals sometimes respond with a tend-and-befriend response, while, at other times, they show fight-or-flight tendencies: there is a time-dependent neuroendocrine response to stress with combined cortisol and noradrenergic action right after stress, and cortisol action alone in the aftermath of stress. Our data suggest that prosociality is upregulated in the aftermath of stress when coping mechanisms act to reverse the acute stress effects and, thus, normalize the stress response, but prosocial tendencies are actually downregulated right after stress when fight-or-flight tendencies dominate. Congratulations, Zsofia! 


undefinedMargittai Z, Van Wingerden M, Schnitzler A, Joels M, Kalenscher T (2018) Dissociable roles of glucocorticoid and noradrenergic activation on social discounting. Psychoneuroendocrinology 90:22-28.




New paper out!

Our decisions are often very short-sighted; we are consequently not very good in making choices that are in line with our long-term interests. Why did evolution favor a choice mechanism that leads to overweighting of short-term outcomes at the expense of our long-term plans? In this new paper, we argue that it is true that we fail to maximize economic utility when making choices between future rewards, but that the very same choice mechanism that is considered suboptimal from an economics perspective is actually optimal when looking through the lens of optimal foraging: hyperbolic discounting - the steep and asymmetric devaluation of future rewards that leads to short-sighted decision-making - is a prerequisite for maximizing another currency than econoomic utility: long-term reward rate - the amount of reward gained per time unit. Thus, short-sightedness might not be so suboptimal, after all.

undefinedSeinstra M, Sellitto M, Kalenscher T (2017) Rate maximization and hyperbolic discounting in human experiential intertemporal decision making. Behavioral Ecology Early Online Publication:1-11.




New paper out!

When making decisions under risk, we often attach more weight to prospective losses than to equivalent gains. This is one of the most prominent and deleterious decision biases called loss aversion. By consequence of loss aversion, we might chase our losses, and thus accumulate more of them, or we may ask more money for selling goods than we would be willing to spend to buy equivalent goods. In this new study, we show that the two stress neuromodulators Cortisol and Noradrenaline combined, but not in isolation, reduce loss aversion. Our results have implications for understanding hormonal factors influencing the susceptibility to decision biases. 

Margittai Z, Nave G, Van Wingerden M, Schnitzler A, Schwabe L, Kalenscher T (2017) Combined Effects of Glucocorticoid and Noradrenergic Activity on Loss Aversion. Neuropsychopharmacology. Published online ahead of print.



New paper out!

This commentary article, just published in Nature Human Behaviour, accompanies a paper by Kruti Vekaria, Abigail Marsh and others showing that altruistic kidney donors value the welfare of socially distant others higher than normal control participants.  

Kalenscher T (2017) Social psychology: love thy stranger as thyself. Nature Human Behaviour 04:Article no. 0108.



Sprechstunde / Office hours

Unfortunately, Prof. Kalenscher will be out of office the following dates:

Leider muss die Sprechstunde von Prof. Kalenscher an folgenden Daten ausfallen:

17.5.2017, 14.6.2017, 26.7.2017, 9.8.-23.8.2017, 6.9.2017, 4.10.-11.10.2017, 1.11.2017, 15.11.2017



New schedule for summer term colloquium out

Check here!



The program of the 6th Düsseldorf Symposium on Decision Neuroscience is available!

We are proud to anounce that the program for the 6th Düsseldorf Symposium on Decision Neuroscience is now available. There will be an exciting line-up of speakers again: Brian Knutson (Stanford University, USA), Mark Buckley (Oxford University, UK), Grit Hein (Frankfurt University, D), Friederike Range (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Austria). The symposium will be held on Friday, June 30, 2017 in O.A.S.E. at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. You can download the flyer with all information, including registration details and directions, here. For further information or to register, email Adam Schweda.




New study out in cooperation with Uni Zürich!

New paper out in collaboration with Alexander Soutschek and Philippe Tobler from Zürich University! In this paper, we show that brain stimulation can improve self-control. This idea is a follow-up on a recent neuroimaging study (Crockett et al., Neuron, 2013) in which we showed that the frontopolar cortex is engaged when we use a cognitive, strategic form of self-control - precommitment. Precommitment refers to the deliberate removal of tempting, but ultimately undesirable choice alternatives if the decision-maker anticipates he might succumb to the temptation. In the present experiment, we applied transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) over the frontopolar cortex and found that this brain stimulation increases the propensity to show precommitment in a self-control task. 

Soutschek A, Ugazio G, Crockett MJ, Ruff CC, Kalenscher T, Tobler PN (2017) Binding oneself to the mast: stimulating frontopolar cortex enhances precommitment. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 12:635-642.

Verantwortlich für den Inhalt: E-Mail sendenAdam Schweda