Our research aims to investigate cognitive psychological foundations of human decision-making behavior. We research on the two main topics Decision Making and Behavioral Addictions. Thereby, we follow experimental psychological approaches under the use of different Experimental Paradigms and Diagnostic Tools including different methods, test procedures, and questionnaires.

The findings and methods of our basic research can also be transferred to different fields of application (applied research). As one main topic, we concentrate on psychological aspects of Internet use and investigate processes of Awareness & Knowledge that are necessary in order to make decisions and to use technologies in a way that is advantageous and fruitful for oneself and for others. In several externally funded research projects, we address issues such as security in the context of IT infrastructures (IT-Security), social media or while driving. On the other hand, we aim at investigating those factors and mechanisms which lead to highly risky decision-making behavior or dysfunctional usage patterns. The results from our basic and applied research activities can be used to derive measures for Prevention & Intervention. Therefore, our interest also lies in the development and the evaluation of preventive and protective measures.

Basic Research

Decision Making

People make numerous decisions every day, whether at work or in private life. The ability to make functional and thus advantageous decisions plays a major role in almost every aspect of life. Our research focusses on cognitive and emotive processes underlying decision-making behavior. We aim to understand the processes and mechanisms predicting functional and dysfunctional decision making. For our experimental studies we use, among other instruments, neuropsychological decision-making tasks as well as physiological methods of measurement, such as functional brain imaging.

Dr. Magnus Liebherr
Dr. Silke M. Müller

Behavioral Addictions

Behavioral addiction is a term which refers to excessive or uncontrolled behaviors such as pathological gambling, pathological buying, or hypersexuality. Furthermore, in the last years it was discussed whether or not the use of the Internet or specific Internet activities might be potentially addictive. Overall, there is growing evidence for the assumption that the psychopathology of these behaviors is similar to substance dependencies, which is why these phenomena have frequently been referred to as behavioral addictions. However, since there is still a great need for investigating the underlying mechanisms of behavioral addictions, we aim on contributing to this research topic with studies conducted at our department and at the Center for Behavioral Addiction Research (CeBAR).

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Internet Addiction

In our research focus topic of Behavioral Addictions, we investigate issues of addictive behaviors on the Internet (or Internet-related disorders). Internet addiction describes the excessive use of the Internet in general (generalized Internet addiction) or of a specific online application, e.g. Internet pornography, online shopping, online communication applications or online games (specific Internet addiction). Mostly, individuals experience loss of control due to their use and negative consequences in everyday life. In our research we investigate the interactions between specific predispositions, cognitive functions, and affective reactions (cue reactivity and craving) which can be associated with an uncontrolled Internet use. Therefore, we use and modify experimental paradigms of addiction research.


Further Behavioral Addictions

We also aim to investigate additive behaviors beyond Internet use, such as pathological buying (also termed buying addiction or compulsive buying), gambling disorder, excessive eating or excersing. Affected people continue with the respective behavior despite negative consequences, such as marked distress as well as social, occupational, and financial problems. Our research focuses on basic mechanisms (e.g. craving reactions and dysfunctional decision making) as potential factors for the development and maintenance of pathological behaviors, which provide information about whether and how such behaviors can be classified as behavioral addictions. Therefore, we also examine the similarities and differences of such behaviors with substance dependencies and with respective behaviors on the Internet.


Stephanie Antons
Jaro Pekal
Dr. Patrick Trotzke
Dr. Elisa Wegmann


Experimental Paradigms & Diagnostic Tools

Our studies include experimental paradigms, tests, and questionnaires. In addition to these, we use multiple methods to investigate underlying mechanisms of experience and behavior. We use peripher-physiological methods to assess changes in heart rate and electrodermal activity. We also collect saliva to analyze stress hormones. Additionally, we are closely connected to the Erwin L. Hahn Institute for Magnetic Resonance Imagingin Essen, where brain activations can be observed via 7-tesla fMRI. Aside from the use of physiological and psychometric measures that already exist, we focus on the concenptualization, development, and modification of our own experimental paradigms, tests, and questionnaires, which help us to develop adequate measures for addressing specific (innovative) constructs and research questions.

Applied Research

In the context of our main research topics „Decision Making“ and „Behavioral Addictions“ we address aspects of behaviors that potentially result in negative consequences for the affected or involved individuals . The methods and findings used in our basic research are applicable to various topics.

Our applied research investigates the question what kind of awareness processes and competencies are necessary in order to make advantageous decisions and to use certain technologies in a way that is secure and productive while avoiding negative consequences for oneself or for others. One focus of our current research is the Internet use and respective functional and dysfuncional behaviors, for example Cyberbullying, IT-Security, (pathological) online buying, or the (pathological) use of social media.

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In the context of Internet use, we investigate to what extent a competent use of the Internet (Internet literacy) could prevent dysfunctional behaviors, such as specific types of Internet Addiction or Cyberbullying. This topic was especially addressed in a cooperative project with the Media Authority of North Rhine-Westphalia (Landesanstalt für Medien Nordrhein-Westfalen).

Moreover, we are involved in several projects concerned with the investigation of decision-making behavior and further predictors of a functional use of technologies within currently relevant domains, such as IT-Security, sustainability or age-appropriate systems, with the aim to find innovative solutions. For example, we examined awareness and (buying-related) decision-making processes for the development of sustainable logistics services (project ILoNa) and, further, for innovative car concepts in the context of electric mobility (project DesignStudio NRW) or age-appropriate driving (project ALFASY) sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and EFRE.NRW respectively.

IT-Security is another area where individual competencies and awareness processes play an important role. The human factor is often neglected as a risk factor for IT systems although attackers target the users more and more frequently. The investigation of which situational aspects, individual competencies, and cognitive processes influence peoples‘ awareness and behavior in IT-Security related situations was part of the cooperative BMBF project „IT-Security Awareness Penetration Testing“ (ITS.APT). Privacy and the diclosure of personal data online, including potentially evolving risks, are subjects that have been addressed, for example, in the BMBF project „Effective Information after Digital Identity theft“ (EIDI) as well as in the context of the interdisciplinary Research Training Group "User-Centred Social Media" (UCSM) funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Under the link Research Grants you can find further information and contact details referring to all of our externally funded projects.

In our basic research on Behavioral Addictions, we also aim to transfer our findings and theoretical approaches to different fields of application (e.g., specific Internet-use disorders or other risky behaviors online and offline). From the results of respective empirical studies, important conclusions can be drawn for methods of prevention and intervention. This topic is especially addressed within the Center for Behavioral Addiction Research (CeBAR) which is affiliated to our research department.