8 May 2018

Daan Scheepers appointed professor of Group Psychophysiology

Social psychologist Daan Scheepers has been appointed professor of Group Psychophysiology at Utrecht University. This new part-time chair is part of the research group led by distinguished professor Naomi Ellemers. Scheepers: 'In order to better understand group processes, we will be using instruments to measure heart rate and blood pressure.'

Scheepers will be studying processes within and between groups. The new part-time professor, who is also active as associate professor at Leiden University, employs psychophysiological methods for this. 'In order to measure feelings of being threatened, we measure heart rate and blood pressure.'

Blood pressure meter

'Of course', the new professor adds, 'you can simply ask people how they feel when they think about such subjects as the arrival of migrants. Or ask how they view women in management positions, or the shifting gender identities in society. Do they feel threatened or challenged by this?' Scheepers indicates that some people will answer honestly, while others might perhaps give socially acceptable answers. 'Others in turn might not be aware of how they feel about the subject. In these cases, aids such as a blood pressure meter can prove useful. The method we use even makes it possible to distinguish negative stress, which we refer to as threat, from positive stress referred to as challenge.'

Don't make a fuss

Someone who feels threatened, whether they are aware of this or not, will often respond defensively to such issues as social change. In that case it can be desirable to remove those feelings of threat, for example in dealing with migrants or transgenders, or even to transform these into challenge. But doing so is not simple. 'You have to acknowledge that this is often a subconscious and thus unverifiable process. So remarks such as "Don't make a fuss, there's no need to feel threatened" often have no effect, and only increase the threat.' In coming years, Scheepers hopes to focus more on interventions that can adapt those feelings of threat. 'And we will not only be testing those interventions in the university lab, but also with a mobile lab at businesses and schools.'