Meaningful Lives: Psychological Approaches to the Individual and Societal Challenges of the 21st Century

While digitalization has brought great benefits to humanity, its negative effects are a major challenge of our time, as are populism and polarization, aging societies, and climate change.
Members of the Department of Psychology commit themselves to a high-quality research program investigating ways to improve the lives of people in the 21
st century. Our research investigates how a meaningful life can be lived in these circumstances, taking cultural, societal, and social contexts into account. In addition to well-being and mental health, we investigate other aspects of good lives such as positive relationships, meaningful work contexts, and individual contributions to society. We use innovative and subject-appropriate research methods, emphasizing critical reflection of theoretical and methodological approaches. We aim at high-level international visibility of our work, and we collaborate productively with colleagues both within psychology and across disciplines. We consider the “third mission” of universities, contributing to society, as an important aspect of our work. Relevant research can be divided into four subtopics as follows:

1. Understanding Factors and Conditions that Foster and Hinder Meaningful Lives and Prosocial Behavior

Using qualitative and quantitative approaches and correlational, experimental, and epidemiological study designs, we investigate factors and conditions that contribute positively to people’s lives in all phases of the lifespan. A focus is on fostering behaviors and activities that contribute to a common good in the face of today’s individual, societal, and political challenges. We study individual, social, and societal variables that contribute to mental health (Clinical Psychology, Health Psychology), prosocial behavior (Social Psychology, Cognitive Psychology), good relationships within couples, families, and caregiving situations (Health Psychology, Developmental Psychology), health-related behaviors (Health Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Cognitive Psychology), economic decision making and risk perception (Cognitive Psychology) and wisdom (Developmental Psychology).

2. Interventions for Improving People’s Lives

A specific focus of our research program is on developing and evaluating interventions that have a positive effect on people’s lives. Psychotherapy research is one main focus of the department of Clinical Psychology, but the other departments also study relevant interventions and/or experimental conditions that foster, for example, prosocial behavior and social inclusion (Social
Psychology, Cognitive Psychology), wise behavior in professional contexts (Developmental Psychology), parenting and couples’ relationships (Health Psychology), caregiving (Health
Psychology, Developmental Psychology), overall psychological well-being and stress reduction (Health Psychology), and “good” judgment and decision-making in various domains (Cognitive Psychology, Developmental Psychology). The development of statistical methods for evaluating the effectivity of interventions is a focus of the Quantitative Methods department.

3. Utilizing the Benefits and Mastering the Challenges of Today’s Digital Lives

A specific topic that is investigated in all departments concerns the ways positive effects of digitalization can be utilized for the benefit of individuals and society and its negative effects can be reduced. We apply rigorous methods to systematically and critically evaluate the efficacy and effectivity of digital tools for healthy living. Concrete research topics include process research on
online psychotherapy (Clinical Psychology), evaluation and development of behavioral health apps and websites (Health Psychology), and research on specific challenges and benefits of online media
concerning social behaviors (Cognitive Psychology, Social Psychology). Further research examines 
the quality of online psychological information as well as barriers to broader dissemination of
effective digital aids (Health Psychology, Clinical Psychology) and ways to increase civility in online exchanges (Developmental Psychology).

4. Methodological Self-Reflection: Ecological Validity and State-of-the-Art Research Designs and Methodologies

We utilize a broad spectrum of quantitative and qualitative methodologies as appropriate to our research topics. We believe that high-quality research must have a strong theoretical foundation and
that issues of validity and replicability are particularly important in translating theory into meaningful science. Therefore, we consider critical methodological reflection as highly important in
both teaching and research. Qualitative and quantitative methods complement each other as they allow different forms of insight into the research questions that we investigate. We are committed
to utilizing and teaching up-to-date methodologies. Concrete current research topics include the valid measurement of psychological concepts, including
multifaceted constructs and their multidimensional modelling (Quantitative Methods, Developmental Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Health Psychology), the use of qualitative methods
in psychology, including participatory research that takes societal and social contexts into account (Qualitative Methods, Developmental Psychology), integrative reviews and meta-analyses (Health
Psychology, Clinical Psychology), exploring the relationship of data vs. process modelling (Cognitive Psychology, Quantitative Methods), and the development of new, free data-analytical software
(Quantitative Methods).

5. Unique Selling Points with Respect to Teaching

With respect to teaching, two unique selling points (“Alleinstellungsmerkmale”) distinguish us from most other psychology departments in the German-speaking countries. We are committed to
teaching both quantitative and qualitative methods, with a focus on critical methodological reflection, and to teaching a broad range of empirically-supported psychological treatments
including psychodynamic/psychoanalytical and cognitive behavioral therapeutic approaches. Our general philosophy is that we want our students to be able to make reflection-based choices as
appropriate to a subject matter, based on a broad spectrum of scientific knowledge and practical experience.