What do you find so fascinating about the decision-making process?
Well, I think that the process of decision making allows you to see cognition in action in the clearest way. While making decisions, you have to weigh up different options and think about yourself, about your motives and the consequences of your choices for the future. I think that decision-making is one of the most fundamental aspects of how we conduct our lives.
But decision-making is not always grounded on rational arguments, right?
Yes. There are many theories about nudging, which means that you try to influence people by presenting options in a slightly different way. And it is also assumed that about half of our decisions are based on habits. This suggests that, in our daily life, we don’t weigh up the options every time we encounter them, but we rely on what has worked in the past. There’s no longer room for flexibility.
What does your work focus on?
My questions involving decisions refer to the social domain. For example: We know a lot about how people make decisions for themselves in the sense that they weigh up the outcome for their own future. But the equation becomes quite different if another such as a partner, child, father, mother, friend or even a total stranger appears on the scene and this other is also affected by these decisions.
You are investigating social interaction in rodents. Are rats considered to be social animals?
Yes, I find them extremely social. You see, rats grow up in very big families of up to ten or sometimes even more. So they have to be social in order to integrate. And you can derive from their behavior that they make alliances and compete with brothers and sisters and – while growing up – are involved in "social play" where they investigate each other.
But why have you chosen to work with rats?
The advantage of working with rodents is that their brains are very similar to human brains, like a blueprint. That provides a good comparison method or model of how the human brain works. And furthermore, as I am interested in researching social behavior, rats also show a lot of social behavior that can be investigated.