One way or another, most people want to understand social life. How can we understand the ways in which individuals, groups, and even nations approach each other - and how they interact with each other? How can we understand the development of trusting, cooperative interactions in which people benefit from mutual help? How can be understand the development of selfish or competitive interactions? What are the functions of fairness, empathy, generosity, forgiveness, and gratitude? And what are the functions of competition, retaliation, and even hate?
Scientifically, social interaction is one of the most comprehensive and challenging topics one can address. Most inside-the-head phenomena (such as trust, empathy, or sympathy) are, at some level, part of a system guiding us how we should approach another person, and most inside-the-head phenomena help us make sense of the social world around us. And societally, if we really understand social interactions, then we are much better equipped at understanding several key questions - how can we improve unselfish behavior in relationships and small groups, how can we promote energy-friendly actions, how can we optimize coordination in traffic and elsewhere, how can we improve interactions among ethnically diverse groups, and even how can we prevent or resolve conflict between groups and broad forms of international conflict.
My research focuses on several topics that center on social interaction, such as cooperation and competition, prosocial orientation, forgiveness, trust, generosity, and misunderstanding. These phenomena are often studied in the social psychology laboratory at the Vrije Universiteit.
Self-interest is overestimated inside and outside of science
My original interests focused on extensions of the assumption of rational self-interest, thereby addressing the concept of social value orientation. In particular, my earlier research illuminated the theoretical and predictive value of prosocial, individualistic, and competitive orientation in determining motivation, cognition, and behavior in social interaction situations, social development contexts, political contexts, and ongoing relationships (see Van Lange & Kuhlman, 1994; Van Lange, Otten et al., 1997).
Generosity outperforms reciprocity (or stinginess) in most situations
Rather than giving an eye for an eye and engaging in social book-keeping, my research seeks to delineate the circumstances under which acts of sacrifice, generosity, and forgiveness provide benefits through interaction - an issue strongly relevant to the evolution of cooperation. For example, my research (with several colleagues) has provided evidence in support of the functionality of sacrifice in ongoing relationships, generosity in situations in which misunderstands are bound to happen, and forgiveness in committed relationships (see Van Lange et al., 1997; van Lange, Ouwerkerk, & Tazelaar, 2002; Karremans et al., 2003). Among the various issues, I seek to extend this line of research by examining the functionality of honesty (i.e., genuine and open communication), gratitude, and clarity, especially in situations in which misunderstandings are bound to happen.
"Bridging" and theorizing in (social) psychology is essential for genuine scientific progress
My activities also center on examining "bridges" between social psychology and other fields of psychology or disciplines - such as neurosciences, other fields of psychology, and economics (see Van Lange, 2006). Also, I intend to examine the utility of social psychological theories by examining not only standards such as Truth, Abstraction, and Progress, but also Applicability to Society. Recently, I completed an co-edited Handbook of Theories of Social Psycholog (see Van Lange, Kruglanski, & Higgins, 2012), in which numerous theories are described, typically by the person(s) who advanced and developedthe theory. They describe not just the theory itself, but also the personal story behind the theory (how and why they developed it) and many authors devote careful attention to the applicability of the theory. I truly enjoyed editing this volume, and I am working on papers that address topics that are closely linked to ideals for theorizing in (social) psychology.
Nothing is as basic to social life as trust and human cooperation
I find topics such as social comparison, self-control, and social exclusion truly fascinating. From an interdependence perspective, they are basic to social interaction, and as such, I see them as strongly connected to the study of trust and human cooperation. Social comparison in many ways might trigger competition, both the aversive form (not getting less than others) and the appetive form (getting more than others); self-control is about the delay of gratification, which in social settings often imply taking the "longer-time perspective" by giving others the benefit of the doubt, communicating trust, and signaling boundaries; and social exclusion often operate at the level of collective, in that subjectively or objectively, exclusion is often believed to make sense at the level of the group. Some of my older work on the Muhammad Ali effect (Van Lange, 1991; Van Lange & Sedikides, 1998) reflects a social comparison ("I am better than others, but not necessarily more competent than others) that is essential to social interaction. The SLAM effect (Stressing Limiting Aspects in Others' Manuscripts, Van Lange, 1999) is essential to social exlcuson, as the more recent finding that reminders of significant others help us regulate and cope with threats of social exclusion (Karremans et al. 2011). I also believe that trust and human cooperation are basic to understanding the development of political beliefs and ideology (for some evidence, Van Lange, Bekkers, et al., 2012), and that social interaction experiences can also importantly shape differences in trust and human cooperation.
Measuring social value orientation
Triple-Dominance Measure of Social Values here (English)
Measuring cooperation in the gradual social dilemma task (e.g., Van Lange et al., 2002; more recent research, see Klapwijk &Van Lange, 2009) here (English)
Klapwijk, A., & Van Lange, P. A. M. (2009). Promoting cooperation and trust in “noisy” situations: The power of generosity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 96, 83-103.
Measuring beliefs and cooperation
The coin incomplete information task (used in Vuolevi & Van Lange, 2012), here (English)
Vuolevi, J. H. K., & Van Lange, P. A. M. (2012). Boundaries of reciprocity: Incompleteness of information undermines cooperation. Acta Psychologica, 141, 67-72. Download here
Bridging Social Psychology
Cooperation and competition
Noise and Misunderstanding
Social value orientation,