Dr Arnaud Wisman
Arnaud is a Lecturer in Psychology and Internationalisation, Erasmus and European Degrees Co-ordinator in the School of Psychology.
Arnaud is interested in Experimental Existential Psychology. This means that he is fascinated by ‘the bigger questions of life’, and that he researches these questions with the help of rigorous experimental methods derived from neuro, cognitive and social psychology.
Most of Arnaud's current research examines the role of humans’ unique awareness of their mortality on cognition, affect, motivation, and automatic behaviour. He is also interested in the self; self-regulation; implicit (unconscious) processes; evolutionary psychology; and the psychology of scent.
Arnaud focuses on the following topics:
- The psychology of ‘scent’
It is well documented that scent, and the olfactory system, is crucial for the survival of most mammals. Scents can communicate many things such as danger, whether something is edible, whether a partner is suitable, and even how others feel. Interestingly, the latest research suggests that humans, too, can communicate various emotions such as fear and stress via scent. However, it is still largely a mystery as to what role scents or chemo-signals play in human behaviour and cognition. Do the scents of others affect our evaluation, and motivation? Do we have innate responses to certain scents? Does scent play a pivotal role in sexual attraction?
- To lose or use the symbolic self?
People evolved with the advanced cognitive ability to form and maintain abstract representations of the self. This is handy because among other things it allows us to anticipate future events, modify our behaviour, and reflect upon ourselves. However the self can also be a source of worry and existential concern. People may worry about their future, how they look, their achievements, a close relationship, or their ultimate fate. Thus, ironically, people are equipped with a brain that is a burden and a blessing at the same time. As has been pointed out by several theorists, one way to escape worry is to escape ‘the self’. We may, for instance, try to forget our bad exam results by drinking quite a few beers. But it is also possible to ‘lose’ the self in a less self-destructive way. For instance, we can engage in dancing and totally ‘forget ourselves’. On the other hand, people could decide to ‘use’ the self and start focusing more on their exams and study harder to improve their results. In a series of studies, we have examined the hypothesis that existential concerns promote an increased effort to either ‘lose’ or ‘use’ the self.
- Why do people desire offspring?
Although we do not need to spell out how people procreate, there is surprisingly little known about why we procreate. Do we desire to have children because the ‘biological clock’ starts ticking, or do we procreate because we want to live on in others, because our friends have kids, or is it all about sex after all? Recently, Arnaud has begun to explore and investigate some of these questions. He found, for instance, that reminding people of their own mortality promotes their desire for offspring. However, this desire seems strongly influenced by cultural constructs. For instance, what is the role of a woman’s desire for a career? Does religion play a role in people’s desire for children?
Arnaud looks forward to investigating these and related questions in collaboration with both colleagues and students.
- Wisman, A, & Shrira, I. (in press). Sexual chemosignals: Evidence that men process olfactory signals of women’s sexual arousal. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Current research student
- Brad Johnson: Putting a face to death to find hope in life
Past research student
- Dr Rotem Perach (School of Psychology Departmental Studentship): The psychological functions of cultural legacy: A terror management investigation of creative achievement and symbols of motherhood
Perach, R., & Wisman, A. (2019). Can Creativity Beat Death? A Review and Evidence on the Existential Anxiety Buffering Functions of Creative Achievement. Journal of Creative Behavior, 53, 193-210. doi:10.1002/jocb.171The relationship between creativity and symbolic immortality had been long acknowledged by scholars. In a review of the literature, we found 12 papers that empirically examined the relationship between creativity and mortality awareness using a Terror Management Theory paradigm, overall supporting the notion that creativity plays an important role in the management of existential concerns. Also, a mini meta-analysis of the impact of death awareness on creativity resulted in a small-medium weighted mean effect. We examined the existential anxiety buffering functions of creative achievement as assessed by the Creative Achievement Questionnaire in a sample of 108 students. It was found that at high, but not low, levels of creative goals, creative achievement was associated with lower death-thought accessibility under mortality salience in comparison to controls. To our knowledge, this is the first empirical report of the anxiety buffering functions of creative achievement among people for whom creativity constitutes a central part of their cultural worldview. The current findings support the notion that creative achievement may be an avenue for symbolic immortality, particularly among individuals who value creativity. Implications for understanding death-related creativity motivations and their impact on individuals and society and for the promotion of creative achievement and creative motivation are discussed.
Shrira, I., Wisman, A., & Noguchi, K. (2018). Diversity of historical ancestry and personality traits across 56 cultures. Personality and Individual Differences, 128, 44-48. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2018.02.013Prior research has found that the diversity of a culture's ancestry over the previous 500 years—its historical heterogeneity—has an impact on existing cultural differences in social behavior in adaptive ways. The present paper examined whether historical heterogeneity, which reflects the degree to which a culture's population has a long-term legacy of interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds, would be related to individual personality traits in that culture. Using a large sample of respondents from a variety of world cultures, the results found that historical heterogeneity was associated with greater openness to experience. The findings suggest that openness to experience may have been socialized more strongly in diverse societies because this trait promotes tolerance of differences and facilitates cooperation. These results highlight the importance of considering social–historical factors in understanding the origin of cultural traits.
Wisman, A., & Shrira, I. (2015). The Smell of Death: Evidence that Putrescine Elicits Threat Management Mechanisms: The Smell of Death. Frontiers in Psychology, 1-26. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01274The ability to detect and respond to chemosensory threat cues in the environment plays a vital role in survival across species. However, little is known about which chemical compounds can act as olfactory threat signals in humans. We hypothesized that brief exposure to putrescine, a chemical compound produced by the breakdown of fatty acids in the decaying tissue of dead bodies, can function as a chemosensory warning signal, activating threat management responses (e.g., heightened alertness, fight-or-flight responses). This hypothesis was tested by gauging people’s responses to conscious and non-conscious exposure to putrescine. In Experiment 1, putrescine increased vigilance, as measured by a reaction time task. In Experiments 2 and 3, brief exposure to putrescine (vs. ammonia and a scentless control condition) prompted participants to walk away faster from the exposure site. Experiment 3 also showed that putrescine elicited implicit cognitions related to escape and threat. Experiment 4 found that exposure to putrescine, presented here below the threshold of conscious awareness, increased hostility toward an out-group member. Together, the results are the first to indicate that humans can process putrescine as a warning signal that mobilizes protective responses to deal with relevant threats. The implications of these results are briefly discussed.
Wisman, A., Heflick, N., & Goldenberg, J. (2015). The Great Escape: The Role of Self-esteem and Self-related Cognition in Terror Management. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 1-48. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2015.05.006Integrating terror management theory and objective self-awareness theory, we propose the
existential escape hypothesis, which states that people with low self-esteem should be
especially prone to escaping self-awareness as a distal response to thoughts of death. This is
because they lack the means to bolster the self as a defense, and the propensity to bolster the
self reduces the motivation to escape from self-awareness. Five studies supported this
hypothesis. Individuals low, but not high, in self-esteem scored lower on a measure of private
self-awareness (Study 1), showed less implicit self-activation (Studies 2 & 3), were more
likely to choose to write about others than themselves (Study 4), and consumed more alcohol
in a field study at a nightclub (Study 5) in response to mortality reminders. Implications for
terror management theory (highlighting an additional route to defend against mortality
awareness), self-regulation, physical health and well-being are discussed.
Moynihan, A., van Tilburg, W., Igou, E., Wisman, A., Donnelly, A., & Mulcaire, J. (2015). Eaten up by boredom: consuming food to escape awareness of the bored self. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1-10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00369Research indicates that being bored affectively marks an appraised lack of meaning in the present situation and in life. We propose that state boredom increases eating in an attempt to distract from this experience, especially among people high in objective self-awareness. Three studies were conducted to investigate boredom’s effects on eating, both naturally occurring in a diary study and manipulated in two experiments. In Study 1, a week-long diary study showed that state boredom positively predicted calorie, fat, carbohydrate, and protein consumption. In Study 2, a high (vs. low) boredom task increased the desire to snack as opposed to eating something healthy, especially amongst those participants high in objective self-awareness. In addition, Study 3 demonstrated that among people high in objective self-awareness, high (vs. low) boredom increased the consumption of less healthy foods and the consumption of more exciting, healthy foods. However, this did not extend to unexciting, healthy food. Collectively, these novel findings signify the role of boredom in predicting maladaptive and adaptive eating behaviors as a function of the need to distant from the experience of boredom. Further, our results suggest that more exciting, healthy food serves as alternative to maladaptive consumption following boredom.
Wisman, A., & Heflick, N. (2015). Hopelessly Mortal: The Role of Mortality Salience, Immortality and Trait Self-esteem in Personal Hope. Cognition and Emotion, 0-0. doi:10.1080/02699931.2015.1031643Do people lose hope when thinking about death? Based on Terror Management Theory, we predicted that thoughts of death (i.e., mortality salience) would reduce personal hope for people low, but not high, in self-esteem, and that this reduction in hope would be ameliorated by promises of immortality. In Studies 1 and 2, mortality salience reduced personal hope for people low in self-esteem, but not for people high in self-esteem. In Study 3, mortality salience reduced hope for people low in self-esteem when they read an argument that there is no afterlife, but not when they read “evidence” supporting life after death. In Study 4, this effect was replicated with an essay affirming scientific medical advances that promise immortality. Together, these findings uniquely demonstrate that thoughts of mortality interact with trait self-esteem to cause changes in personal hope, and that literal immortality beliefs can aid psychological adjustment when thinking about death. Implications for understanding personal hope, trait self-esteem, afterlife beliefs and terror management are discussed.
Shrira, I., Wisman, A., & Webster, G. (2013). Guns, germs, and stealing: exploring the link between infectious disease and crime. Evolutionary Psychology, 11, 270-287. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23535372Can variation in crime rates be traced to the threat of infectious disease? Pathogens pose an ongoing challenge to survival, leading humans to adapt defenses to manage this threat. In addition to the biological immune system, humans have psychological and behavioral responses designed to protect against disease. Under persistent disease threat, xenophobia increases and people constrict social interactions to known in-group members. Though these responses reduce disease transmission, they can generate favorable crime conditions in two ways. First, xenophobia reduces inhibitions against harming and exploiting out-group members. Second, segregation into in-group factions erodes people's concern for the welfare of their community and weakens the collective ability to prevent crime. The present study examined the effects of infection incidence on crime rates across the United States. Infection rates predicted violent and property crime more strongly than other crime covariates. Infections also predicted homicides against strangers but not family or acquaintances, supporting the hypothesis that in-group-out-group discrimination was responsible for the infections-crime link. Overall, the results add to evidence that disease threat shapes interpersonal behavior and structural characteristics of groups.
Wisman, A. (2012). Digging in Terror Management Theory: To Use or Lose the Symbolic Self?. Psychological Inquiry, 17, 319-326. doi:10.1080/10478400701369468
Wisman, A. (2006). Digging in Terror Management Theory: To ‘use’ or ‘lose’ the symbolic self?. Psychological Inquiry, 17, 319-327. doi:10.1080/10478400701369468
Wisman, A., & Goldenberg, J. (2005). From the grave to the cradle: Evidence that mortality salience engenders a desire for offspring. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 46-61. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.124On the basis of terror management theory, the authors hypothesized that reminders of mortality (mortality salience) should promote the desire for offspring to the extent that it does not conflict with other self-relevant worldviews that also serve to manage existential concerns. In 3 studies, men, but not women, desired more children after mortality salience compared with various control conditions. In support of the authors' hypothesis that women's desire for offspring was inhibited as a function of concerns about career success, Study 3 showed that career strivings moderated the effect of mortality salience on a desire for offspring for female participants only; furthermore, Study 4 revealed that when the compatibility of having children and a career was made salient, female participants responded to mortality salience with an increased number of desired children. Taken together, the findings suggest that a desire for offspring can function as a terror management defense mechanism
Wisman, A., & Goldenberg, J. (2005). From the Grave to the Cradle: Evidence That Mortality Salience Engenders a Desire for Offspring. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 46-61. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.199On the basis of terror management theory, the authors hypothesized that reminders of mortality (mortality
salience) should promote the desire for offspring to the extent that it does not conflict with other
self-relevant worldviews that also serve to manage existential concerns. In 3 studies, men, but not
women, desired more children after mortality salience compared with various control conditions. In
support of the authors’ hypothesis that women’s desire for offspring was inhibited as a function of
concerns about career success, Study 3 showed that career strivings moderated the effect of mortality
salience on a desire for offspring for female participants only; furthermore, Study 4 revealed that when
the compatibility of having children and a career was made salient, female participants responded to
mortality salience with an increased number of desired children. Taken together, the findings suggest that
a desire for offspring can function as a terror management defense mechanism.
Wisman, A., & Koole, S. (2003). Hiding in the crowd: Can mortality salience promote affiliation with others who oppose one’s worldviews?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 511-526. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.521The present research highlights affiliation defenses in the psychological confrontation with death. In 3 experiments. it A as found that mortality salience led to increased affiliation strivings, as indicated by a greater preference for sitting within a group as opposed to sitting alone. Mortality salience actually led to increased affiliation with a worldview-threatening group (Experiments 1-2), even when affiliation with the group forced participants to attack their own worldviews (Experiment 3). Taken together, the findings support a distinct role of affiliation defenses against existential concerns. Moreover, affiliation defenses seem powerful enough to override worldview validation defenses, even when the worldviews in question are personally relevant and highly accessible
Wisman, A., & Koole, S. (2001). Hiding in the Crowd: Can Mortality Salience Promote Affiliation With Others Who Oppose One’s Worldviews?. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 511-526. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2061The present research highlights affiliation defenses in the psychological confrontation with death. In 3
experiments, it was found that mortality salience led to increased affiliation strivings, as indicated by a
greater preference for sitting within a group as opposed to sitting alone. Mortality salience actually led
to increased affiliation with a worldview-threatening group (Experiments 1–2), even when affiliation
with the group forced participants to attack their own worldviews (Experiment 3). Taken together, the
findings support a distinct role of affiliation defenses against existential concerns. Moreover, affiliation
defenses seem powerful enough to override worldview validation defenses, even when the worldviews
in question are personally relevant and highly accessible.