Dr Arnaud Wisman
Lecturer in Psychology
I am interested in Experimental Existential Psychology. This means that I am fascinated by ‘the bigger questions of life’, and that I research these questions with the help of rigorous experimental methods derived from neuro, cognitive and social psychology. Most of my current research examines the role of humans’ unique awareness of their mortality on cognition, affect, motivation, and automatic behaviour. I am also interested in the self; self-regulation; implicit (unconscious) processes; evolutionary psychology; and the psychology of scent.
I focus 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 behavior 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 I probably 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, I have begun to explore and investigate some of these questions. I found, for instance, that reminding people of their own mortality promotes people’s 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?
I look forward to investigating these and related questions in collaboration with both colleagues and students.
- Wisman, A., & Shrira, I. (2015). The smell of death: Evidence that putrescine elicits threat management mechanisms. Frontiers In Psychology, 1-26. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01274
- 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.2015.05.006