Social Psychology Network

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Kees van den Bos

Kees van den Bos

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In our world conflict is omnipresent. For example, nationalism, greed, stupidity, misunderstandings, ideological differences and clashes between cultural worldviews, all of these yield conflicts. Future humans will even face a steady increase in the potential for various sorts of conflicts. For instance, the rising expectations of a continuously growing population in competition for control over rapidly diminishing resources are likely to create situations of conflict. It may be argued, therefore, that the quality of human life is likely to be determined by how we resolve conflicts. Therefore, methods of conflict resolution deserve our attention.

One important way to prevent or resolve conflicts is by paying appropriate attention to cultural norms and values that people value. Cultural norms and values constitute a fundamental feature of human life and hence many prominent lines in social psychology have focused on the issue of why cultural norms and values are important to people. The research my colleagues and I have developed aims to obtain more insight into why and when people adhere strongly to their cultural norms and values, and hence react in strong negative terms toward events or persons who threaten their cultural worldviews and in positive terms toward things that uphold or bolster these norms and values. Several cultural norms and values are important and are studied in our research program. For example, we focus on people's reactions to fair versus unfair events.

Scientists from various disciplines have shown convincingly that fairness is one of the most important social norms and values in human life. In most situations, therefore, most people judge unfair treatment to be in violation with cultural norms and values. In other words, unfair treatment violates people's cultural worldviews (Van den Bos & Miedema, 2000). Therefore, an important cultural worldview defense reaction that our program focuses on concerns people's reactions to unfair treatment. Furthermore, fair treatment may positively affect the prevention and resolution of conflicts, and it therefore deserves our attention as well.

In my work, fair and unfair treatment, morality, and cultural worldviews are, in fact, a main focus of attention. Research questions that I am interested in include "why and when is fairness important to people?", "what makes people to judge a particular event to be fair or unfair?", "why do people respond to events they judge to be fair or unfair in the ways that they do?," "what is the relationship between fairness and other human motives, such as self-interest?", and "how can fair treatment diminish clashes between people's cultural worldviews?"

In answering these questions, my colleagues and I have developed a research program that investigates the social-cognitive processes pertaining to how people form fairness judgments exactly, how they use these judgments in their daily lives, what affects the relative importance of their fairness concerns versus other motives (e.g., Van den Bos, Peters, Bobocel, & Ybema, 2006), and what are the antecedents of people's negative reactions toward events that violate their cultural norms and values.

Although fairness definitely constitutes one of the most important social norms and values in human life, people's reactions to cultural norms and values encompass more than how they react to fair and unfair treatment. For instance, social groups and the values they convey enable individuals to alleviate existential concerns by providing self-esteem resources and epistemic knowledge. Thus, another type of cultural worldview processes that our program focuses on is how people react to praise and criticism of groups that are important and relevant to them.

One of the insights that follows from our research program is that personal uncertainty can constitute an alarming experience for people and that conditions of personal uncertainty hence may lead people to react more strongly to fair and unfair events as well as to other events that bolster or violate their cultural worldviews (e.g., Van den Bos & Lind, 2002, 2009). Conditions of information uncertainty may also moderate the relationship between affect and cognition, especially as to how affect and cogniton influence the psychology of fairness judgments (e.g., Van den Bos, 2003).

Our work on uncertainty management issues has implications not only for the social psychology of fairness and justice, but also for other theories about cultural worldview defense such as terror management theory (e.g., Martin & Van den Bos, in press; Van den Bos, Poortvliet, Maas, Miedema, & Van den Ham, 2005), and for other social psychological theories and concepts, such as sense-making (Van den Bos, 2009), self-regulation, affect and cognition, decision making, and the human alarm system (Van den Bos, Ham, Lind, Simonis, Van Essen, & Rijpkema, 2008).

My colleagues and I also study how people try to make sense of what is going and how to behave in confusing or otherwise unsettling situations.We argue that sense-making is facilitated when ongoing behavioral action is inhibited, but too strong activation of the behavioral inhibition system can block prosocial choices and prosocial behavior. Thus, lowering behavioral inhibition by reminding people of disinhibited behaviors they have performed in the past can promote prosocial reactions, for example in bystander situations (Van den Bos, Müller, & Van Bussel, 2009) and when people respond to outcomes that are better than deserved (Van den Bos, Van Lange, Lind, Venhoeven, Beudeker, Cramwinckel, Smulders, & Van der Laan, 2011). These and other findings fit an appraisal-inhibition model of prosocial behavior (Van den Bos & Lind, 2013).

Recent work also focuses on associative-propositional evaluation models, such as the influence of experiential and rationalistic mindsets on reactions to innocent victims (Van den Bos & Maas, 2009). I am also getting more and more interested in cross-cultural differences and am developing a method to study these differences with experimental control (Van den Bos, Brockner, Stein, Steiner, Van Yperen, & Dekker, 2010; Van den Bos, Brockner, Van den Oudenalder, Kamble, & Nasabi, 2013).

Besides fairness, morality, uncertainty, cultural worldviews, and behavioral disinhibition my other research interests include social cognition, the psychology of religion, law and psychology, organizational behavior, decision making, and the psychology of self-agency and the free will.

Basic studies in our research program examine the social psychology of fairness, morality, and cultural worldviews. Insights that follow from these studies are applied in important societal and organizational contexts as well as contexts related to law and human behavior. For example, we study the social psychology of terrorism and radical behavior (Van den Bos, Loseman, & Doosje, 2009), the issue of trust in government (Van den Bos, 2011), and the role of procedural justice in perceived legitimacy of government and acceptance of government decisions (Van den Bos, Van der Velden, & Lind, 2014).

Last but not least, I try to do my utmost best to convey what I think is exciting and important about these issues, and about social psychology and social behavior more generally, in the classroom and in other interactions with my students as well as in lectures for broader audiences.

Primary Interests:

  • Applied Social Psychology
  • Causal Attribution
  • Ethics and Morality
  • Helping, Prosocial Behavior
  • Interpersonal Processes
  • Judgment and Decision Making
  • Law and Public Policy
  • Motivation, Goal Setting
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Political Psychology
  • Self and Identity
  • Social Cognition

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Journal Articles:

Courses Taught:

  • Behavioral Regulation
  • Ethics and Communication
  • Group Processes
  • Interpersonal Processes
  • Introduction Psychology
  • Introduction Social Psychology
  • Research Design and Research Methods
  • Reviewing Empirical Journal Articles
  • Social Justice

Kees van den Bos
Department of Social and Organizational Psychology
Utrecht University
Heidelberglaan 1
3584 CS Utrecht
The Netherlands

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