Applied Social Psychology

Our research

Social Psychology in its basic and applied form

In our research, we focus on the application of psychological theory to understand and influence human behaviour and decision making in everyday life. We address societally relevant issues in the domains of health, safety and energy conservation. Moreover, we study social psychological phenomena like stereotyping and stigmatisation as well as emotion regulation and social media use. We use social cognitive theories to identify causal factors of risky or problematic human behaviour, and use behaviour change theory and Intervention Mapping, a 6-step protocol for the design of behavioural interventions, to promote health, safety, and environmental gains. Social psychology is our main field of expertise and Kurt Lewin’s – one of the founding fathers of social but also organisational psychology – famous adagio “Nothing as good as a practical theory” is what drives our research and teaching.

Broad Use of Methods: we want to understand human behaviour by intergrating a broad spectrum of disciplines within psychology. Especially evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience extend our thinking about the role of motivational and neural processes and add behavioural observation and non-invasive measures of brain activity to our toolbox of research methods. Aside from quantitative research in laboratory and field settings, our group holds strong expertise in qualitative research methods including interview and discussion techniques. Moreover, we strongly endorse the participation of community members and stakeholders in need assessment studies and when designing interventions. Furthermore, new developments in the domains of Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Sciences have our interest.

Planned behaviour change & Intervention Mapping

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Our group, together with colleagues at the School of Public Health at the University of Texas, is author of Intervention Mapping. We conduct detailed needs assessments of societal relevant public health and safety issues and translate this knowledge to intervention development, implementation, and evaluation using theory and empirical evidence. The group’s research contributes to the development of educational campaigns and programmes both nationally and internationally in the domains of infectious disease control, sexual and reproductive health and rights, maternal health, substance abuse, physical exercise, pro-environmental behaviour, and traffic safety.

Within these study domains, our group has a long tradition in supervising external PhD candidates from low and middle-income countries in the Global South to strengthen local research capacity, including projects in vulnerable populations and settings in Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Indonesia, Thailand, and India. Typical of these projects is that PhD candidates work on their research and PhD thesis in their country of residence while graduating at Maastricht University.

Research lines

Emotions & social media

Emotions colour our lives and influence our decisions in a wide variety of domains. We study how emotions change over time by identifying the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying these emotion dynamics, including the regulation strategies people adopt to influence their emotional experiences. Moreover, as these emotional processes increasingly often take place in a digital context, we also examine the impact of social media on people’s well-being. Do social network sites such as Facebook and Instagram hinder or promote well-being, and which (social) psychological mechanisms explain the impact of these platforms on their user’s emotional experiences?

  • Philippe Verduyn
  • Kai Jonas

Health promotion and behaviour change

Leading a healthy live are skills that can be learned. Knowledge alone is not sufficient, skills training and effective self-regulation play a core role in behavior change processes. This is especially the case for individuals and communities that are disenfranchised and suffer from other hurdles such as lower levels of education and socio-economic status. Our research makes use of evolutionary psychological and socio-ecological approaches that inform both analysis and intervention.

  • Rob Ruiter
  • Karlijn Massar
  • Karen Schelleman-Offermans
  • Gill ten Hoor
  • Gerjo Kok

HIV, sexual behaviour and sexual identities

HIV prevention as well as the treatment of HIV – even in the age of bio-medical approaches like PrEP, treatment-as-prevention, and HIV cure research – is in need of a strong behavioural analysis and interventions to facilitate the use of medical advances. Our research covers all aspects of the prevention and treatment cascade, such as HIV testing, PrEP use, and initiation and adherence of HIV therapy, as well as ageing with HIV. We conduct our research in Dutch national and regional contexts, as well as globally, with a focus on projects in Southeast Asia. Social psychological approaches are also at the core of the investigation of associated topics like stigma against HIV or against trans* individuals, and determinants and consequences of sexualised substance use.

  • Kai Jonas
  • Hanne Zimmermann

Intergroup relations and social inequality

Uneven access to resources, rights, power or to the recognition and valorisation of identities simply as a function of group membership (i.e., gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, etc.) is one of the main concerns of contemporary societies. It is well known today that (more) equality is a necessary condition for the attainment of any of the Sustainable Development Goals defined by the United Nations. More equality is therefore necessary to achieve peace and justice but also economic growth or to increase environmental sustainability. However, inequality is rising in certain places and massive regressions in previously acquired civil rights, such as abortion in the USA, are now taking place. We conduct cross-sectional and experimental research and examine big data across various intergroup contexts in order to understand dynamics of support or resistance to social change as well as individuals’ experiences of disadvantage or privilege in a broad sense. We examine these issues from a multi-level perspective by, for example, analysing the interplay between the context of inequality, the needs of individuals as members of certain groups and the (re)actions of others towards inequality.

  • Catia Pinto Teixeira

Obesity and physical fitness

Obesity, especially among children is one of the major non-communicable conditions that peril current societies. Novel approaches are needed here, to be able to offer everyone affected tailored interventions. Next to food intake and dieting, and cardio focused approaches, interventions based on strength training provide opportunities for individual that seek to live less sedentary lifestyles.

  • Gill ten Hoor
  • Rob Ruiter

Socio-economic health inequities

Reducing socio-economic health inequities is one of the biggest public health challenges. Compared with people with a high socioeconomic position (SEP), people with a low SEP are more likely to think that their health outcomes are due to fate and therefore inevitable (present-fatalistic time perspective), they show lower reserve capacities (e.g., psychological capital or financial self-reliance), and their levels of perceived life stress are higher. How do unfavorable circumstances or conditions related to a low SEP, lead to unhealthy behaviors or outcomes and what role do psychological processes play in these associations? Different theoretical frameworks are used to answer this question, integrating psychological processes, more structural social determinants of health at multiple levels of influence, a life course perspective, and the life history theory approach.

  • Karlijn Massar
  • Karen Schellemans-Offermans
  • Rob Ruiter

Our teaching

In our graduate and post-graduate programmes we train students to become experts in the understanding and promotion of behaviours that contribute to better population health, public safety, and sustainable environments. Graduates of such programmes are seen as experts on behaviour change. They are expected to make informed decisions when it comes to identifying targets for behaviour change interventions, selecting appropriate change methods to reach these targets, and translating these methods into practical applications, while making sure these measures can be implemented and their effectiveness can be assessed.

We teach about the above topics within and outside the buildings of the Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience. Our core teaching happens in the master’s programmes Health and Social Psychology and Human Decision Science. In these programmes, we teach about behaviour change in the courses Planning Behaviour Change Programmes and Manipulation, and about the psychology of decision making in the courses Cognitive Psychology of Decision Making and Social Psychology of Decision Making. Further, we provide an introduction to Social Psychology in the Bachelor in Psychology and teach students about the psychosocial aspects of human behaviour and decision making in the Bachelor in Global Studies. Also, we organise the annual Intervention Mapping summer course for a broad audience of health professionals and academic researchers from across the world. Finally, we teach on invitation at research institutions and professional organisations on our research themes and the application of psychological theory in understanding and changing human behaviour.


Academic staff

Junior researchers

  • Liana Aphami
  • Lisan Braas 

Administrative staff

PhD Candidates