Webster Psychology Professor's Grant Will Study Muslim, Non-Muslim Interactions in Vienna, Paris

Oct. 23, 2017

Psychology Professor's French-Austrian Grant Will Study Prejudice in Inter-group Relations
Mehu is assistant professor of psychology at Webster's Vienna campus.

Marc Mehu, assistant professor in the Psychology Department at Webster Vienna, has secured a prestigious four-year €640,000 research grant to study nonverbal indicators of implicit prejudice and discrimination in inter-group relations.

Mehu will run the project in collaboration with Martin Aranguren of the Center for Migration Studies at the Marcel Mauss Institute in Paris. Their research in Vienna and Paris will focus on these aspects by observing interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims in field and laboratory observations. 

The project is jointly funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR) and the Austrian Science Fund, with about €340,000 of the funding to be applied for the research conducted by Mehu.

Mehu has been involved in several research projects in relation to nonverbal communication, emotion, and social interaction. He specializes in the study of affective phenomena and social behavior in an evolutionary perspective, with a particular interest in the role of emotion and nonverbal behavior in competitive and cooperative social interactions.

More information about the project can be found below in the abstract, "Exploring and explaining misrecognitive discrimination: field and laboratory experiments (SEDICE)":


Face-to-face interactions between people of different cultures are the theater of complex emotional processes that influence how individuals behave towards each other. Understanding these processes is crucial if we want to address the problems that typically arise from inter-cultural interactions. This research project proposes to study the emotional communication observed during interactions between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Past research on this topic is mostly based on questionnaires (i.e. people report how they would think or act in particular situations), hence it does not really address the communication styles people actually adopt in their relationships with other cultural groups.

The objectives of our project are therefore:

  1. To describe observable communicative behavior (e.g. facial expression, body posture) associated with misrecognitive discrimination against Muslims;
  2. To study the social and emotional bases of these interpersonal behaviors, as well as the social and emotional impact of interpersonal discrimination on the Muslim minority.

We do not expect everyone to react to these situations in the same way and predict that the observed emotional reactions will be moderated by individual variables such as social dominance orientation, authoritarianism, and implicit attitudes towards the out-group. Emotion regulation strategies are also expected to attenuate the subtle emotional reactions.


The methodology utilizes naturalistic observations of nonverbal behavior in public places in Paris and Vienna, in a research paradigm involving help requests between members of different cultural communities. In addition, we plan a series of psychological experiments, in which we combine questionnaires, face-to-face social interactions, and measurements of physiological activity (e.g. heart rate and respiration). The experiments are designed to study the different components of emotional reactivity under tightly controlled conditions, in relation to the behaviors observed in public places.

The combination of field and laboratory experiments in a single project is innovative and is aimed at gaining valid scientific knowledge that can be applied to everyday interactions between people of different cultures. This project is important because it will allow us to discover psychological processes we are not always aware of when interacting with people of different cultures.

These unconscious processes can sometimes prevent the positive unfolding of inter-cultural relationships and therefore undermine attempts at social integration. In addition, this project has the potential to make a scientific breakthrough in the study of inter-cultural relationships because it integrates different measurement techniques (questionnaires, behavioral observations, and physiological measurements), a rare feature in psychological research.

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