Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Threat and Challenge in Social Contexts

o How can cardiovascular responses index challenge and threat motivational states?
o How do challenge and threat states shape, and are shaped by, social relations?

When is a task a threat? And when is it a challenge? When people are engaged in a certain activity (negotiating, jogging, presenting, doing a math test, parallel parking), they can experience this as a threat or as a challenge. Challenge and threat are important motivational states resulting from the balance between the demands of the task, and the resources the person has to deal with these demands. When demands outweigh resources threat arises; when resources approach or exceed demands, challenge arises (Blascovich & Mendes, 2010).

Body and mind are one: By measuring the appropriate bodily processes we can tap into specific psychological states, like challenge and threat. According to the biopsychosocial model of challenge and threat (Blascovich & Mendes, 2010; Blascovich & Tomaka, 1996), motivational states of challenge and threat can be distinguished by means of specific patterns of cardiovascular arousal (e.g., Heart Rate, Pre-ejection Period, Cardiac Output, Total Peripheral Resistance). These cardiovascular markers can be predictive of performance in situations where people are not able (or willing) to report their motivational states; they also have important health implications (Blascovich, 2008).

In our lab we examine (cardiovascular markers of) challenge and threat motivational states in relation to a diversity of topics in social and organizational psychology, ranging from negotiation (Scheepers et al., 2012), group decision making (De Wit et al., 2012), interethnic interactions (Scheepers et al., 2014) and the influence of negative stereotypes on performance (Derks et al., 2011). Apart from gaining more insight in the precise motivational processes in these phenomena, we also aim to better understand the factors that may turn threats in social contexts into challenges.