We are very happy to share that our paper “Spinach in the teeth: how ego- and allocentric perspectives modulate neural correlates of embarrassment in the face of others’ public mishaps” has now been published in Cortex. The paper is part of the Special Issue “Understanding Others” and we compared to types of observers’ perspectives on others mishaps:

  • How strong is your vicarious embarrassment? (egocentric)
  • How strong do you think is the protagonist’s embarrassment (allocentric) 

Using fMRI we show that the perspective matters depending on the type of mishap. There are mishaps, where the protagonist is aware about the blunder:

And there are mishaps, where the protagonist is not aware about the mishap:

Both types of embarrassing situations have unique affordances for observers. In the first, one can easily share the embarrassment and thereby simulate the emotional experience of the protagonist. In the second, this is not possible as the protagonist does not feel anything (aka “Spinach in the teeth”). We here dissociate regions within the brain’s mentalizing network that contribute to a rather spontaneous (ego) vs. a rather deliberate and motivated act of understanding other’s mental states (allo) in the context of vicarious embarrassment.


Together with Jennifer Hundt (Lübeck), Tanja Lange (Lübeck), Harald Engler (Essen), Julie Lasselin (Stockholm) and Binka Karshikoff (Stockholm), Lena Rademacher from the Social Neuroscience Lab published an new Frontiers Research Topic which now is open for submissions.

The Research Topic focuses on immune-driven sickness behavior and its social and communicative side. Articles that either highlight these specific aspects or expand on these in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic are welcome. As it is assumed that interactions between the immune system, the brain and the mentioned psychological processes play an important role in the development and maintenance of neuropsychiatric conditions such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse or fatigue, contributions with such a clinical focus are of particular interest.


We are happy to announce the open-contribution publication of a new research metric: The c-index 

Abstract: The Cuckoo-index (c-index) is a new index that attempts to measure both the effectivity and the savviness of a scientist. The index is based on the number of publications of the scientist as author on original research manuscripts without contributing to them in any way. In a time of increasingly global competition for resources and funding, it is of great importance to collect scientific merits with the least investment. The c-index takes this into account.

Check out the full manuscript here: Cuckoo_Index_01042020


Figure 1. Illustration of the association between career success and increasing c- vs. h-index


Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash


If people master a challenging task, they experience positive emotions. A recent study from our lab finds that the emotional response is shaped by how much people think they are personally responsible for an achievement and characterizes brain activity associated with receiving outcomes in controllable environments.

Experiencing events as controllable is essential for human well-being. This sense of control depends on whether people believe that the course of events is shaped by their own doing and whether they are able to perform the required actions. The new results show that successes that depend on own actions and capabilities, such as hitting the bullseye in a game of darts, make people happier and experience pride.

The study, published in Nature Communications, investigated the emotional reaction to successes and losses in tasks that had different levels of controllability. Previous research could already show that making choices, such as betting on one color in a game of roulette, was inherently valued and preferred over conditions where no choices were possible. The present study extends these findings by letting people solve a task in which they experienced their own abilities and efforts to lift success rates above chance level.
“Such experience of control has been shown to determine whether individuals show effort and how they make career choices. The more generalized belief of internal control is also a well-established protective factor for various psychiatric conditions.” said David Stolz, Ph.D. candidate at Lübeck University and lead author of this study.

Across three studies, altogether 129 young adults completed three different simple tasks that induced varying control beliefs. First, equaling a lottery, participants were asked to click a button to initiate a gamble and to potentially collect a reward. Second, equaling a coin-flip, subjects could choose between two options of which one was later rewarded. Third, subjects were instructed to find the brightest square out of a set of several closely matching squares, providing participants with the idea that only their ability and effort determined whether they would be able to gain rewards above chance level. During all three conditions, small monetary rewards were obtained in case of successes, while the probability of winning was 50% and similar for all three conditions. In between, participants were also asked to report on their happiness and pride. As expected, control beliefs substantially increased when outcomes depended on the capability to perform the task correctly and people reported increased happiness and particularly pride in contexts of greater internal control.

“We think that the experience of pride can shape how people approach novel tasks and how much they prefer environments where they believe to have control. In this line, when people had the option to choose, those who experienced more pride were also more willing to forego money in order to play the task with greater control.” explains Frieder Paulus, assistant professor at the Social Neuroscience Lab at the Translational Psychiatry Unit at Lübeck University who conducted the study together with David Stolz and colleagues.
A complementing functional MRI study suggests that brain activity in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex could be responsible for building the preference for tasks offering greater control. This brain area is closely connected with dopamine neurons in the brain’s reward system and responded to both the level of control and success when people received their rewards. In addition, activity of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex was also linked to the ups and downs in the experience of happiness and pride during the experiment. “This convergent tracking of successes and self-contributions could help people building a concept of worthiness and positive self-evaluation.” said David Stolz. “After all, it is not only important to receive a certain reward. Sometimes it is more desirable to shape the world according to one’s own needs than to be at the mercy of chance, even if the result is ultimately identical”.

We are very happy to share that our paper “Negativity-bias in forming beliefs about own abilities” has finally been published. In this team effort, led by Dr. Laura Müller-Pinzler, we introduce a novel social learning paradigm, the LOOP (“learning of own performance” task), that mimics everyday life performance situations. Inferring prediction error (PE) learning rates by fitting computational learning models we assessed the modulatory influence of self-relatedness, prior beliefs, and the social context on belief updating.

We find a specific negativity bias for learning about own performances. Social anxiety affected self-related negativity biases only when individuals were exposed to a judging audience. This finding might explain the persistence of negative self-images in socially anxious individuals which commonly surfaces in social settings.

The manuscript is Open Access and can be downloaded under the following link:

Negativity-bias in forming beliefs about own abilities. Müller-Pinzler L, Czekalla N, Mayer AV, Stolz DS, Gazzola V, Keysers C, Paulus FM & Krach S. Sci Rep. 2019; Oct 8;  9:14416. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-50821-w


Alkoholabhängigkeit –  Was macht das Immunsystem?

Trotz der großen gesellschaftlichen Bedeutung sind die Ursachen für die Entstehung der Alkoholabhängigkeit bisher nur unzureichend verstanden. Ein neuer Forschungsansatz untersucht die Rolle des Immunsystems. Entzündungen im Körper können, wie bei der Depression gezeigt, auch bei Alkoholabhängigkeit bestehen und bei einer Untergruppe von Patienten eine neue Therapiemöglichkeit darstellen. Um Entzündungsparameter bei Alkoholabhängigkeit und ihren Zusammenhang mit der Psyche genauer zu untersuchen, führt die AG Soziale Neurowissenschaft aktuell eine klinische Studie durch welche die Referentin, Frau Johanna Voges am Abend vorstellen wird.



Why do we feel vicarious embarrassment? Frieder Paulus explores embarrassment on behalf of others at the University of Lübeck, Germany. He says that the main reason for feeling embarrassed is the violation of rules and conventions. Although the feeling of embarrassment itself is not particularly pleasant, it is generally something positive and constructive for the individual.

Check out the new podcast (only in German):

Eine junge Frau liegt auf dem Bett und hält ihre Hände vors Gesicht


From June 7th – June 14th several lab members presented their newest data at the Annual Meeting of the Organization of Human Brain Mapping (OHBM) in Rome.

  • “Self-attribution shifts affective, neural, and motivational markers of outcome valuation” was presented by David Stolz.
  • “Egocentricity and allocentricity modulate neural and emotional processing of embarrassment in the face of others’ mishaps” was presented by Annalina Mayer.
  • “Belief updating about the self and others in a social performance context” was presented by Nora Czekalla.

In a joint publication with Michigan State University, Goethe-University Frankfurt and Lübeck University, published at Frontiers in Communication – Political Communication, we show that there has been a 45-percent increase in people tweeting about embarrassment since Donald Trump took office. An analysis of Twitter traffic between June 2015 and June 2017 revealed how platform’s users responded to Trump’s actions at high-profile events. We argue that two factors might have motivated the nationwide increase in embarrassment mentions on Twitter: First, compared to former representatives, Trump seems to violate norms and etiquettes on purpose. Second, Trump’s role as president means he represents all Americans – even those who don’t agree with his politics. So, his norm violations threaten U.S citizens’ social integrity and causes people to cringe and feel vicarious embarrassment for Trump and his actions.

Link to the article at Frontiers in Communication – Political Communicationhttps://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01487/full

Coverage of the topic by:
The Atlantic
Americans Are Getting Secondhand Embarrassment From Trump.

Newsweek: Americans have tweeted more about embarrassment since President Donald Trump took office, according to researchers who analyzed millions of Twitter posts.

The Guardian: Spike in tweets about ’embarrassment’ under Trump, study finds. 

Mother Jones Magazine: Researchers Just Found a Way to Map Trump’s 10 Most Embarrassing Moments Using Twitter


For a long time, Gilles-de-la-Tourette Syndrome (GTS) has been considered a motor disorder characterized by its dominant features of vocal and motor tics. Neuroscientific research on GTS has accordingly focused on dysfunctional motor and motor control brain networks, most prominently the frontostriatal circuitry. Some of the most prominent features of GTS are, however, inherently social by nature, most notably echophenomena, coprolalia or non-obscene socially inappropriate behaviors. Echophenomena refer to automatic imitative behavior and include both echopraxia, repetition of actions; and echolalia, repetition of sounds and language. (further reading)

Topic editors: Ulrike Krämer, Sören Krach, Clare Eddy & Alexander Münchau

Dr. Lena Rademacher received funding by the Else Kröner-Fresenius-Foundation to study the interaction of cortisol, oxytocin and the dopaminergic reward system in alcohol addiction. We are looking forward to start this very ambitious collaboration together with Prof. Dr. Schmid (Department of Internal Medicine I) and Prof. Dr. Junghanns (Department of Psychiatry)!


Dr. Laura Müller-Pinzler was granted an “Eigene Stelle” by the German Research Foundation (DFG) for three years to study how people form beliefs about themselves and how this relates to social anxiety. We are highly excited to see this and other projects on the neural mechanisms of social learning about the self to continue!


Scientists receive grants, bonuses, and tenure depending on the perceived impact of the journals in which they publish their research. Using the journal impact factor (JIF) for such purposes results in reasoning and argumentation fallacies. In our new publication we describe several “impact factor fallacies” by applying ideas from reasoning and argumentation research. We argue that using the JIF in policy and decision making in academia is based on false beliefs and unwarranted inferences and outline why we think that the world of scientific publishing is more complex than can be expressed with a two-digit number.

Link to the article at Frontiers in Psychology: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.01487/full

Coverage of the topic by The Scientist: https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/opinion-on-the-impact-factor-fallacy-31809

We are happy to announce that Johanna Voges (physician) received a 2-year stipend by the German Academic Scholarship Foundation (Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes)!

In her PhD, Johanna will focus on social reward processing in alcoholism and examine the interactions with the immune and stress system.



shutterstock_577444870Frontiers in Psychiatry welcomes Professor Sören Krach from Lübeck University, Germany, as Specialty Chief Editor of the new Social Cognition section

Professor Sören Krach heads the Social Neuroscience in Psychiatry group at Lübeck University’s Social Neuroscience Lab. His clinical research focuses primarily on Autism Spectrum Disorder and social anxiety.

As the Specialty Chief Editor of the new Frontiers in Psychiatry section, he aims “to encourage scientists in the field of psychiatry to dare new avenues in the study of social cognition.” He also hopes to create a space for researchers to embrace the full methodological breadths of the field.

“Humans constantly represent themselves in the context of their surrounding social world and social interactions eminently shape how humans perceive, feel, and behave,” he says. “Perturbations in the capability to properly engage in social interactions have a severe impact on personal wellbeing. Accordingly, most psychiatric conditions reveal perturbations in social cognition.” (…)

9780735211636New York magazine’s “Science of Us” editor explains the compelling psychology of awkwardness, and why learning to accept your cringeworthy moments can be a social advantage.

Have you ever said goodbye to someone, only to discover that you’re both walking in the same direction? Or had your next thought fly out of your brain in the middle of a presentation? Or accidentally liked an old photo on someone’s Instagram or Facebook, thus revealing yourself to be a creepy social media stalker?

Melissa Dahl, editor of New York magazine’s “Science of Us” website, has experienced all of those awkward situations, and many more. Now she offers a thoughtful, original take on what it really means to feel awkward. She invites you to follow her into all sorts of mortifying moments, such as reading her middle school diary on stage in front of hundreds of strangers, striking up conversations with busy New Yorkers on the subway, and even taking improv comedy lessons. [more at Penguin Random House]

David Stolz and other members of the SNL have been featured in a national TV show on social behavior. Please find the video and a teaser for the show below (in German).


Warum klatschen wir, wenn alle klatschen? Warum kaufen wir dort, wo alle kaufen? Menschen imitieren das Verhalten der Gruppe, zu der sie sich zugehörig fühlen oder zu der sie gehören möchten – egal ob Nachbarn, Freunde oder Arbeitskollegen. Die Journalistin und Tagesschau-Sprecherin Linda Zervakis beleuchtet menschliches Sozialverhalten im Alltag.” [to the Video]


We are very happy to announce that Lena Rademacher’s most recent PET work on the recovery of dopamine function in former smokers has been featured on Reuters by Lisa Rappaport. The Biological Psychiatry paper contains all the details and can be found here.

The brain makes less dopamine, a chemical involved in both pleasure and addiction, when people smoke but this temporary deficit may be reversed when smokers kick the habit, a small experiment suggests. “It is assumed that the brain adapts to the repeated nicotine-induced release of dopamine by producing less dopamine,” said lead study author Dr. Lena Rademacher of Lubeck University in Germany.” [link to the article]

We have just come across this wonderful article by Julia Layton on HowStuffWorks. The article begins with a cringeworthy video of Ted Cruz and then nicely explains our take on why we experience such odd emotions as vicarious embarrassment for another’s predicaments.

In this video from a January campaign event in Iowa, presidential hopeful Ted Cruz leans in to give his young daughter a kiss on the cheek. What happens next is pretty brutal: Cameras rolling, the 7-year-old flicks repeatedly at his face and then protests “Ow, ow, ow” as she tries to physically escape him.” [link to the full article]

This is a very intersting read on the pain the media corps feels when confronted with awkward acting and decisions of politicians by Haddas Gold in POLITICO. Somewhere in the middle of the piece on Jeb Bush’s excursions in the field you can also find reference to the famous “Fremdscham”.

“At a recent campaign Jeb Bush event in South Carolina, three voters in a row who were supposed to be asking him questions instead started giving the gentle-spirited candidate, who once pledged to run a “joyful” campaign, advice on how to be sharper.

It felt more like an intervention than a town hall. Reporters sitting at a table reserved for the press recalled making rueful eye contact with each other, with the unsaid sentiment, “Poor Jeb.”” [link to the full article]

It seems that Jeb Bush’s campaign offers a lot of examples illustrating the motivation for  our research. In this article by Lucy Tiven on attn: she draws attention on a recent incident in New Hampshire.

“Jeb Bush is no stranger to embarrassment. A new report explains why despite his flubs and missteps, we’re prone to feel for the younger Bush brother.

A prime example of Jeb Bush’s embarrassing moments.

On Tuesday, the Former Florida Gov. pled for the audience of a New Hampshire town hall to “Please clap,” according to an MSNBC report.” [the link to the full article]