Mission Statement

Research at the SCAN-Unit explores how humans and non-human animals navigate complex social worlds. While the focus has been on human empathy and understanding others for many years, recent years have expanded to research lines that focus more broadly on (pro)social behaviors and their drivers, including sustainable decision making and behavior, as well as comparative approaches including canines, corvids, and other primates as model species.

Complex topics such as how we understand others, what compels us to help and support them, and how our brains and minds support the complex social skills we have evolved can only be understood across multiple levels of analysis. This is why our research is guided by a multi-level multi-methods approach. We aim for converging evidence and the integration of knowledge, theory and methods from social, cognitive and emotion psychology, social cognitive and affective neuroscience, computational approaches, psychopharmacology, psychoneuroendocrinology, and social and behavioral sciences.

Our prime mission is to perform and disseminate high quality, rigorous and systematic scientific research. Research, training and interactions of all lab members are guided by a collaborative and mutually supportive mindset. We do not just study social phenomena, but explicitly aim to create an environment where meaningful and fulfilling social interactions and collaborative work can emerge and flourish. Our mindset is growth-oriented: Rome wasn’t built in one day, and so won’t the individual academic be. Trying to understand the human social brain and behavior is probably one of the biggest challenges one can engage in. The personal and professional growth this requires may thus also come with some pains and setbacks, and we accept that science and research can sometimes be hard, frustrating and deluding. But we generally see it as fulfilling, as we are in academia to pursue a passion we share. The privilege that this entails also comes with some responsibilities.

  • 1.   Scientific excellence: The primary purpose of the lab and each lab member is to conduct rigorous and theoretically groundbreaking research. We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of scientific rigor and integrity and to pursuing research questions that represent a significant contribution to psychology and neuroscience. We hold each other accountable to these standards by challenging and testing our own and each other’s ideas and research approaches, but we do so in a constructive, meaningful, and supportive way.
  • 2.    Education and training: The secondary purpose of this lab is to create a space where lab members can grow and thrive academically. We thus each contribute, according to our current career levels, expertise, and experience, to the education and training of postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate students. We aim to help lab members and students develop the skills, expertise, and professional networks that prepare them for careers in academic or non-academic positions with the highest standards. 
  • 3.    Intellectual and personal fulfillment: We also see it as a responsibility that lab members can grow personally, and engage in an activity that they enjoy and find fulfilling and purposeful. This is no small feat to achieve, as science and academia can be challenging. We actively contribute to build and maintain resilience by creating a safe, fun and pleasant working atmosphere, where we can also get to know each other beyond our working selves. We do so in our regular meetings, lunches, and coffee breaks, but also actively maintain regular lab social outings and support structures (e.g., hikes, skiing trips, pub nights, birthday celebrations, onboarding buddies, etc.)

Our lab culture builds on the strong conviction that kind, collaborative, and talented persons (in that order, roughly) and an enriching culture produce excellent science, a vibrant educational environment, and a socially and personally fulfilling working atmosphere. This is why we strive at recruiting, selecting, and supporting people who are not only highly talented, but who are also eager to grow and love to support others, and whose expertise and skills complement each other. This is why we are also committed to diversity, inclusivity, and mutual respect. We do so by accepting that others may have different views and perspectives, academically and personally. If science, including the one we do, teaches us something, it is that there is no absolute or final truth. Rather, advancing science needs collaboration and cross-pollination of ideas, approaches, and concepts. We are part of an evolving collective enterprise, and we need to treat each other with respect, compassion and curiosity if we want to make a difference.

Open Science statement: We place high value on responsible and ethical scientific practices. We are advocates of the Open Science Movement, and actively contribute by our actions and the way in which we do research to support it. We aim to preregister and openly share data, scripts, and other relevant materials of all our studies. We also acknowledge however that some measures may seem harmful a lab member, which is why we maintain an open culture of discussing possible concerns. 

Approachability and conflict: We try to help each other in cases of conflict or working as well as personal issues we are grappling with. Our lab head Claus is generally very open, supportive and understanding for any kind of personal and professional issues, and attempts to create a culture where approaching him and openly talking about issues is seen as the right and most normal thing to do. He may nevertheless not always seem the right person to go to, which is why you are encouraged to approach your fellow lab members, or external support structures such as the Ombudsteam of the Faculty of Psychology (of which Claus is a part of, but there are 4 other persons in addition to him), or the various support and counseling structures from the University of Vienna (e.g. the Ombudsperson for good scientific practice, the gender mainstreaming and equality unit, or the ECR ambassadors and the mental health coaching they offer).