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ERC Advanced Grant for Bernhard Hommel

Prof. Bernhard Hommel has been awarded an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). With this grant of 2.5 million euros the cognitive psychologist will conduct a five years research on metacontrol; a study on how we determine the impact of our goals on our actual behaviour.

Our goals determine our behaviour

Human behavior is commonly understood as emerging from a struggle between will and habit; between 'intentional' processes driven by the current goal and 'automatic' processes driven by available stimuli. This scenario suggests that it is mainly the goal-related processes that render behavior adaptive. 

Or is there more?

Prof. Bernhard Hommel has an alternative view. He argues that people can control the relative contributions of goal-driven and stimulus-driven processes to decision-making and action selection. He based this idea on a novel theoretical framework (the Metacontrol State Model, combined with the Theory of Event Coding) that is motivated by recent behavioral and neuroscientific observations. The framework suggests that in particular, people regulate the interaction between the processes by determining the ratio between (goal) persistence and flexibility, depending on task, situation, and personal experience—a process that Hommel refers to as 'metacontrol'. 

Persistence or flexibility

The project aims to identify and trace individual 'metacontrol policies' (biases towards persistence or flexibility) and task- and condition-specific changes therein by means of behavioral, computational, and neuroscientific techniques, and by using virtual-reality methods. Through this study, Hommel tries to predict individual differences in the choice and implementation of such policies. It will identify and explain the cognitive and social consequences of adopting a particular policy, and investigate whether and how people can adopt metacontrol policies from others—either intentionally or automatically.

The research will also look at to what degree people use situational cues to automatize the implementation of suitable policies, and whether often-used, highly practiced policies can become chronified and turn into a trait-like processing style, as suggested by cultural studies.

Short and long term effects 

In his research on metacontrol, Hommel will focus on the short term effects of meditation on divergent thinking and the long term effects of integration of social behavior patterns.

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