Henk Aarts is Professor of Psychology.
He established the GOALLAB, consisting of a team of scientists that conduct research and teach several topics of Cognition and Social Behavior.
"Spending a substantial amount of money at Internet shops, replying to emails of colleagues and text messages of friends, watching TV all night with the family, drinking beer in pubs and restaurants, taking the car rather than public transport to work … A major part of our behavior is intentionally executed in social context, and tends to become a habit after practice. Practice makes perfect. However, old habits also impede the achievement of new goals that we have and share with others. Habits form a central challenge for modern societies, which today are characterized by a growing pressure on people to adapt their behavior in light of vastly increasing health care costs, climate change, and interactions with artificial intelligence (AI), such as robots and computer-based decision systems. Hence, a major challenge for scientists, policy-makers and professionals interested in changing human behavior is to understand and appreciate the psychological processes underlying people’s goals and habits in social context."
Our research program aims to investigate cognition and social behavior in order to contribute to a better understanding of how people act as autonomous agents, set goals and form habits in social context. We study this at several levels of analysis, including action, perception and neurocognition. We also examine how different senses, such as vision, hearing and smell, contribute to behavior in social context. Our program addresses basic and applied questions in the context of (mental) health, consumer behavior and Artificial Intelligence. The research is mainly experimental, using knowledge and methods from social, behavioral and neuroscience. We also conduct survey research to examine associations between people's subjectively reported feelings, thoughts, and actions. The scientific research we conduct can be divided into three interrelated themes:
Goals and Habit Formation: How do we set and pursue goals and how do we form habits after achieving them? What is the role of learning and the environment in shaping social norms and habits?
Social Influence: How does perceiving other people, their actions and their opinions affect our own behavior? Does this type of social influence depend on what people look like, how they present themselves online, and even how they smell?
Personal Autonomy: How do we arrive at the feeling of acting intentionally and being the agent of our own behavior? How do we understand the control of other human and artificial agents and when do we trust them?
We collaborate with other researchers in different disciplines in the UU Strategic themes Institutions for Open Societies and Dynamics of Youth, and the Focus Area Human-centered AI: SIG ABC and Alliance program HUMAN-AI. We also collaborate with several stakeholders in the public and private sector, such as UMCU, Erasmus MC, Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, Fontys University of Applied Sciences, the Custodial Institutions Agency, the Center for Crime Prevention and Security.
At University Utrecht, we teach in several courses at the undergraduate and (research) master level. We are involved in:
the bachelors Psychology
the Minor program Social Neuroscience
the bachelors Kunstmatige Intelligentie [artificial intelligence]
the bachelors program at University College Utrecht
the 1-year Master Social, Health and organizational Psychology
the 2-year Master Social and Health Psychology (Research)
the 2-year Master Artificial intelligence
the 2-year Master Neuroscience and Cognition
We strongly embrace team science and consider research and teaching as two sides of the same coin.
for more information: www.goallab.nl