Psychology for everyone

21.10.2020 von Katrin Löwe in Featured, Science, Research
Psychologist Dr Annegret Wolf conducts research on topics such as the fear of crime and the credibility of witness statements in court. However, her work produces more than just scientific publications. For years the scientist has also been sought-after by the media for her expertise.
Annegret Wolf in the studio - the psychologist now has experience working in front of the camera.
Annegret Wolf in the studio - the psychologist now has experience working in front of the camera. (Foto: Maike Glöckner)

Dr Annegret Wolf still remembers the first time she was contacted. Parking - and the supposed differences between men and women - was the topic on the Morning Show of the radio station MDR Sputnik and she, as a psychologist, was brought on to explain. That was five years ago. Since then, the now 32-year-old has been repeatedly contacted by the press, radio and television - by regional newspapers as well as by MDR, Deutschlandfunk or ZDF – in order to give a science-based explanation of human behaviour. The corona pandemic has meant that she has been in greater demand than ever. Why do people hoard toilet paper? What are the effects of quarantine and self-isolation? Does the crisis make people more open to conspiracy theories? These are some of the many questions that Wolf has answered, for example, in an MDR podcast alongside moderator Raimund Fichtenberger – first on a daily basis, then weekly, and later on a case-by-case basis.

Researcher and service provider

The involvement of researchers in conveying knowledge to the general public has been scrutinised for years, and in crisis situations, such as the corona pandemic, this debate has certainly intensified. Arguments such as the lack of systematic incentives or even disapproval by the scientific community due to the alleged profanation of research have played a role in this. Nevertheless, Annegret Wolf is at no loss to explain why she is undeterred about communicating science: “I regard myself as a type of service provider.” As a researcher of human behaviour, it makes logical sense not to be doing this somewhere hidden away. Instead it is important to provide psychological findings to those who are affected by them. Moreover, she believes knowledge transfer is by no means one-sided. Thanks to the media inquiries as well as the feedback on her podcasts, she herself has learned what motivates people - and what other perspectives research could take, says Wolf.

Media inquiries about the events on New Year’s Eve in 2015 in Cologne or the phenomenon of “angry citizens” have also prompted two of her recent studies on the fear of crime in Germany. With the help of an online survey, Wolf investigated the role a person’s overall feeling of dissatisfaction plays. She found that people who are dissatisfied with politics, who feel that East Germany has been “left behind”, or who are less well-off economically are more afraid of becoming victims of crime. The researcher concluded that statistics on falling crime rates are therefore not the only deciding factor when it comes to perceived safety.

Wolf studied psychology in Halle until 2012 and in 2019 she received her doctorate from MLU. Topics of her final dissertation included aggressiveness and aggression, for example the question of how certain personality traits influence how information is processed. “People who are more confrontational themselves are quicker to perceive anger and aggression in other people and misinterpret these in their facial expressions,” she explains. In her dissertation, the psychologist extended this to include the question of when this distorted perception leads to physical aggression.

Wolf’s general focus is on legal psychology, also in her own career. In preparation for becoming a legal psychologist, she studied legal topics as part of her minor at university. Now she plans to become a therapist, studying part-time for at least three years while working. This qualification will optimally prepare her for her role as an expert consultant. And, finally, she is committed to establishing a new psychotherapy study programme at the university.

Yin and Yang

The researcher from Halle has also examined the psychology of testifying and the credibility of what people say in court. “We are terrible at recognising lies,” she says. This raises the question of whether there are people who are better at distinguishing between the truth and a lie due to their own personality traits. In this line of research, Wolf, a research associate in the Department of Psychological Diagnostics and Differential Psychology, has even found links to positive psychology and playfulness, topics studied by Professor René Proyer. At first glance, these seem incongruous with her rather negative research topics. Wolf jokingly calls it the “department’s yin and yang”. She has discovered that playful people are less inclined to be truthful and consider themselves to be convincing liars. In court this would mean “that you have to look at more than just the testimony,” says Wolf, but also at personality.

Her ability to communicate all this and more about her subject in a relaxed and practical manner to non-scientists is what has made Wolf the media’s go-to person in recent years. She has since developed her own routines. These include polling the target group for whom the article or radio feature is being produced, as well as discussing the topic in detail in advance. And when there are phenomena that she hasn’t studied herself, she prepares herself by reading existing studies. “It can be exhausting, but it’s also fun,” she says. Science has never suffered from her efforts – if anything, it’s been her free time. But these efforts have also “paid off” in a private sense: she is now in a civil partnership with MDR presenter Raimund Fichtenberger. And the production of the corona podcast has recently even shifted to their own home at the weekends.

Dr Annegret Wolf
Psychology Department
Telephone +49 345 55-24323
Mail: annegret.wolf@psych.uni-halle.de

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