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Dynamics of defensive reactions

Dynamics of defensive behavior in the context of stress and changing emotional and neutral stimuli (DFG WE 4801/6-1)

Project coordinator: Dr. Christoph Szeska

We live in a constantly changing world. But how exactly do our perception and bodily reactions adapt when the stimuli in our environment change? These and other questions will be answered in a new study by the Chair of Emotions and Biopsychology.

In this two-day study, we investigate perception and bodily reactions during the processing of changing neutral and emotional stimuli. In the first phase of the study, we present different neutral faces that can dynamically change into emotional expressions or remain neutral. These facial expressions can be accompanied by an evaluation or statement that is played through a loudspeaker and can be unpleasant (e.g. “You’re weird!” or “You’re annoying!“) or neutral (e.g. “It’s 4 PM”). In some trials, the ratings and statements can be actively avoided by a keystroke, while in other trials, it will not be possible to avoid them. In addition, short noises will be presented occasionally to elicit a startle reaction. The second phase of the study takes place one week later. In this phase, different faces will be presented again, and some questions about the faces will be asked. After completing the study, mood and anxiety will be assessed using questionnaires.

To measure bodily reactions, sensors with small adhesive rings will be attached to the hands, ankles, and face to measure sweat gland, heart, and muscle activity. In addition, an electroencephalogram (EEG) net will be used to measure brain waves.

Both study phases last approximately 2 hours per day and will be compensated with a total of 40€ or 5.5 participant hours. If you are interested in participating in the study, please sign up through the SONA system (

Participation requirements include German language skills at C1 level, age between 18 and 36 years, and BMI between 19 and 27 kg/m2. The study is not suitable for people who regularly take medication, people with acute or chronic physical illnesses, and people with mental disorders (acute or in the past).