Marcel Brass speaks about his research and his work at SCIoI with the Einstein Foundation

Ever wonder why we act differently in social situations compared to when we’re alone? Well, Marcel Brass, one of our psychologists at Science of Intelligence (SCIoI), is on a mission to find out. By conducting behavior experiments and using neuroscientific methods, he is uncovering the cognitive processes that allow us to behave in a socially intelligent manner and how “social contagion” works.

When we communicate with others, things usually flow smoothly. We take turns speaking, don’t interrupt too often, and imitate our conversational partner to establish a connection. A lot of what makes successful interpersonal interaction work and what we call social intelligence happens relatively unconsciously. For example, we don’t have to think hard about how long we can look someone in the eye before it gets awkward – the optimal duration comes to us intuitively.

So, a big part of our social intelligence operates like an autopilot, an optimized program that kicks in when needed. How crucial this autopilot is becomes evident when we look at how difficult social interactions can be for people whose program is disrupted, such as those on the autism spectrum. As part of his research, Marcel aims at better understanding the highly complex processes that underlie social behavior. To that end, he designs behavior experiments and observes brain processes using neuroscientific methods.

At SCIoI, Marcel investigates how behavior in groups develops and spreads: if many people clap at a soccer game, the individual also has a strong tendency to do so. There is thus a type of social contagion that shapes group behavior. In biology, this is studied with mathematical models from a bird’s-eye perspective. In psychology, the research focus is on how the individual behaves in the group.

By using a variety of experimental setups, Marcel and his collaborators are striving to comprehend the diffusion of behavior in events like demonstrations and emergency situations. The aim is to experiment on and model the gained data to enhance safety and AI guidance. Are you curious for more? Read the full article here.


An overview of our scientific work

See our Research Projects