Interview with Benedikt Langenbach, a SGS-CLM member working on this PhD project titled "Prosocial behaviour from a self-control perspective"
Briefly describe what your research topic is about
Social behaviour is one of the cornerstones of human cultures and our ability to form large and complex social group is likely one reason for the advantage of humans over other species. Often, however, our urge to behave prosocial is at odds with other, more selfish goals. Sometimes, people even choose to adopt behaviour that is deeply harmful to the well-being of their peers if it is profitable for them personally.
In my research, I am investigating one specific aspect of prosocial behaviour: self-control. I want to learn more about when and how self-control is involved in the way humans make decisions in social contexts. For this, I am combining methods from social psychology, behavioural economics, and neuroscience.
Why did you choose to make your PhD? What is your motivation?
I chose to study psychology because I wanted to learn more about why humans behave in the way they do. And in a way, that’s also why I’m doing my PhD – only this time, I don’t have to learn it from a textbook, but can contribute to discovering new aspects of human behaviour with my project. How exciting is that?
During my studies, I have always been highly interested in the fields of social psychology on the one hand, and cognitive neuroscience on the other. In our lab here in Bern, I have the chance to combine the two: I can use neuroscientific methods to study social behaviour.
What is the best thing and what the worst when doing a PhD?
It can be pretty frustrating at times. You might spend weeks trying to set up an experiment, only to then find out it doesn’t work out in the way you thought it would.
On the upside, you’re able to completely concentrate on a topic that you find really interesting. And you’ll learn a lot! The other members of my lab are always happy to pass on their own knowledge, which is incredibly helpful as a PhD-student!
What does a normal day of yours look like?
That really depends – a lot of my work happens in front of the computer (designing an experiment, writing a paper, doing stats, etc.). But, of course, I also have to test participants with various neuroscientific methods and I frequently meet with colleagues to discuss the state of our projects. And then there are the special “highlights”, like attending a summer school or meeting an expert from your field.
Do you have any advice you would like to give to future PhD students?
Relax! It can be pretty stressful at times and undoubtedly, there’ll be moments when you feel like all your work was in vain. Sometimes, you feel like everyone else is just so much cleverer than you are or you wonder how you’re supposed to learn all these new skills in such a short time. Whenever that happens go for a run, eat an ice cream, or talk it over with a fellow PhD-student (preferably over a glass of wine). Everyone has these thoughts once in a while, and having a social network of people in a similar situation really helps.
That being said: those times are rare, and doing research is quite a lot of fun!
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time?
Probably still doing research. However, ten years is a long time. At the moment, I’m trying to just focus on my PhD without worrying too much about my future.