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Ulrich Von Hecker  Diploma Hamburg, PhD Habilitation Berlin

Dr Ulrich Von Hecker

Diploma Hamburg, PhD Habilitation Berlin


School of Psychology

+44 29208 76639
Tower Building, 70 Park Place, Cardiff, CF10 3AT
Available for postgraduate supervision


Research summary

I am interested in how we represent the social world around us. This involves the way our cognitive system uses spatial processes to subserve abstract reasoning. This addresses the representation of orders and categories.    In social contexts, how do we create a comprehensive picture of our social group or network, how do we perceive ourselves in the context of other people? How do we use analog dimensions, such as the up vs. down  dimension, or spatial distance, to represent differences in social status, or  friendship and affiliation relationships? I am also interested in cognitive fluency phenomena and implicit verb causality.

Teaching summary

I am currently teaching undergraduate modules in Introduction to Psychology, Social Psychology, and decision making, alongside supervising postgraduate projects. I have also taught undergraduate statistics, social psychological theory, emotion, and selected topics in Social Cognition.















  • Klauer, K. C. and Von Hecker, U. 2009. Gedächtnis und emotion [Memory and emotion]. In: Brandstätter, V. and Otto, J. H. eds. Handbuch der Allgemeinen Psychologie: Motivation und Emotion. Handbuch der Psychologie Vol. 11. Göttingen: Hogrefe, pp. 661-667.















Book sections



Research topics and related papers

Spatial processes and abstract reasoning. 

In this project, we are interested in the way spatial representations may underpin abstract reasoning. We test the hypothesis that, for example, order hierarchies are represented by a spatially extended dimension.  We further assume that the construction of such a representation follows the guidance of the learned reading/writing direction (RWD). This means, we would represent the maximum of the dimension on the left for Westerners, but on the right when trained on a right-to-left RWD background, e.g., in the Middle East or Iran. This follows extant results demonstrating the horizontal number line, time-line, and related phenomena. We also extend this research to the understanding of category representations.  

In social contexts, we are interested in understanding how social hierarchies, including the Indian Caste system, might be underpinned by spatial representations, in this case using the vertical dimension as related to status and power.

von Hecker, Klauer, Wolf, & Fazilat-Pour (2016), von Hecker, Klauer, & Aßfalg (2019), von Hecker & Klauer (2020), von Hecker, Klauer, & Sankaran (2013), Sankaran, Sekerdej, & von Hecker (2017).

Also, we are interested in the way spatial processes can support the representation of coherence, von Hecker, Hahn, & Rollings (2016).

Constructive mental processes: Social mental models. When we move into a new environment, start a new job, join a leisure group, or, in general, meet new people in  new social contexts, we must try to get oriented  within the new context. This involves forming an impression about what kind of  group it might be, how homogeneous it seems to be, e.g., whether there are any  subgroups or hierarchies in it. It is of equal importance, of course, to find  an appropriate position in that group for ourselves. This is the basic  psychological situation studied in this project. The general idea is that, in  the process of doing all of the above, one  attempts to construct a  so-called mental model of the new social environment. Such a model represents  the group as a whole and, at the same time, contains information about pairwise  relationships between members in an integrated, highly connected fashion. We  are interested in finding out how the constructive process unfolds, and, specifically,  to what extent it is based on logical inference rules. Assuming  that such rules work on the basis of specified antecedent knowledge, we ask  what specific information is selected and seen as diagnostic when a rule is  applied to establish a common, global representation of  subgroups and  factions. Are there perception biases which lead to overemphasize or to neglect  observed boundaries or polarizations within a group? Under  what  conditions does one assume reciprocity for sympathy relations, i.e., assume to  be liked by  someone whom one finds likeable? What is the role of   the context, e.g., social background information, or stereotypes, in which the  group is placed? In this project, these and similar questions are examined  experimentally.

Research on topics within this area has been funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Polish   Committee for Scientific Research   (KBN), and the Russell Sage Foundation, USA   (Sectarian Conflict and Cross-Community Trust in Northern Ireland).

See  von Hecker (1997), von Hecker & Sedek (1999), Hewstone et al. (2008), Dutke et al.   (in press), Dutke & von Hecker (in press).

Cognitive symptoms in depression. Besides their well-known affective disturbances, depressed persons show a number of cognitive   symptoms as well. Depressed individuals are often very diligent and accurate in their attempts to work on intellectual tasks. They are meticulous in processing   information at the detail level and perform very well in simple tasks requiring   effort or vigilance. On the other hand, depressed mood is associated with   impairments in generating a clear picture of an overall situation, in gaining an   overview about a problem at a large scale, or in constructing a clear representation of a decision or a social situation. Depressed individuals   sometimes "don't see the wood for the  trees". The basic assumption in this   research is that one of the main cognitive deficits in reactive depression can   be seen as a specific impairment in generating mental models. In order to examine this idea, we are developing experimental settings that permit (1) to     trace different cognitive operations that occur during the learning and memorizing of different sorts of materials, social and   non-social; (2) to   distinguish between genuinely cognitive and genuinely motivational/emotional   components of the observable deficits. The aim is to better understand how   processes of thought and memory might be altered in depression. Recently,   processes of active deployment and control of attention tend to be in the focus   of interest. Scientific knowledge of this kind is of central importance for   successful approaches to treatment as well as therapeutic intervention.

Research on topics within this area has been funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), and the   Polish Committee for Scientific Research (KBN).

See von Hecker & Sedek (1999), Sedek & von Hecker (2004), von Hecker & Meiser (2005), von Hecker, Sedek & McIntosh (2015)

Mental control and inhibition.  Highly overlearned, deeply   entrenched knowledge may exert an automatic influence on responses, and such   influence is hard to overcome. Research on thought suppression has identified   attentional processes that help to concentrate on desired contents while keeping   unintended contents out of concern. This research project examines the ability   of experimental participants to give random "yes" / "no" – answers to trivia   questions. According to earlier findings, this is a very difficult task to do,   since automatized knowledge drives a tendency to respond in the correct   direction. We are interested in developing an experimental setting to study this   type of task, and we explore potential ways how to improve participants' ability   to inhibit unwanted associations in their thought, and to direct their responses   towards the generation of "true randomness". Research on mental control and inhibition is relevant to a number of applications, including commitment in social relationships and   the treatment of reactive depression.  In this context, we are also interested in phenomena of "negative priming", that is,   situations   in which a previously presented stimulus can lead to a delay (instead of   acceleration) in   response when this stimulus is shown again Soon afterwards.

Research on topics within this area has been funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). See von Hecker & Conway (2010).

Research group

Jin Zixi (PhD student), Maohua Nie (incoming MSc student)

Research collaborators

Geoffrey   Haddock (Psychology, Cardiff University)
Simon Dymond (Psychology, Swansea   University)
Ana   Guinote
(Psychology, University College London)
Elanor   Hinton (Psychology, University of Bristol)
Michael   Conway (Psychology, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada)
Stephan Dutke (Psychology, University   of Muenster, Germany)
Karl   Christoph Klauer (Psychology, University of Freiburg, Germany)
Marcin Bukowski (Psychology, Jagiellonian   University, Krakow, Poland)
Izabela   Kreijtz (Psychology, Warsaw School of Social Sciences and Humanities,   Poland)
Grzegorz   Sedek (Psychology, Interdisciplinary Center for Applied Cognitive Studies, ICACS, Warsaw,   Poland)
Caterina Suitner (University of Padova, Italy)
Piotr Winkielman (University of California at San Diego, USA)
Paul Hanel (University of Bath, UK)
Sindhuja Sankaran (University of Krakow, Poland)
Malgosia Kossowska (University of Krakow, Poland)
André Aßfalg (University of Freiburg, Germany)
Caterina Suitner (University of Padova, Italy)
Piotr Winkielman (University of California at San Diego,  USA)
Paul Hanel (University of Bath, UK)
Sindhuja Sankaran (University of Krakow, Poland)
Malgosia Kossowska (University of Krakow, Poland)
André Aβfalg (University of Freiburg, Germany)

Meena Dhanda (University of Wolverhampton)


Undergraduate education

1986: Diploma in Psychology, University of Hamburg

Postgraduate education

1992: Ph.D., Psychology, Free University Berlin
1999: Habilitation, Free   University Berlin


2010-present: Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychology, Cardiff University.

2000 (September) to 2009: Lecturer at the School of Psychology, Cardiff   University.

1996 (August) – 2000 (August): Lecturer at the Institute of Psychology, University of Potsdam,   Department of Social Psychology

1994 (February) - 1996 (July): Lecturer at the Institute of Psychology, Free   University Berlin

1993 (August) -1994 (January): Scholarship at the University of Kansas,   USA

1988 - 1993: Lecturer at the Institute of Psychology, Free University Berlin,   Department of Social Psychology

1986 - 1988: Lecturership, funded by Research Project Attitudes and Behavior, Department of Social Psychology,   University of Hamburg

Honours and awards

Awards/external committees

2010-2012: Nomination and empanelment for ESRC Peer Review   College.
2009-2011: Empanelment as Research Guide at the Centre for Research   of Christ University, Bangalore, India.


Postgraduate research interests

My current interests are in social psychology, in particular social  cognition and the link between cognition and  emotion. I study how social schemata shape the way we perceive groups and social relations around us and involving us, and how social perception is  affected by states of dysphoria and  depression. For example, I have found that  sad mood influences cognition in highly specific ways, impairing us in  situations when we have to process and integrate novel stimuli into mental  models and global representations. My recent research focuses on attentional  control and embodiment, that is, to what extent physical dimensions and bodily  experiences shape the formation of abstract ideas and concepts.

If you are interested in applying for a PhD, or for further information  regarding my postgraduate research, please contact me directly (contact details available on the 'Overview' page), or submit a formal application.

Current students

Lukas Wolf (2nd year), Embodiment of social values.