Neurobiological evidence supports Sigmund Freud’s assumption that conscious processes are merely the tip of the iceberg,
and that human behavior is strongly influenced by unconscious affective processes.
We investigate determinants, concomitants and consequences of implicit affect as well as how implicit and explicit affect
are integrated to construct conscious experiences of emotion (Quirin & Lane, 2012).
To do so, we developed the so-called Implicit Positive and Negative Affect Test (Quirin, Bode, & Kuhl, 2011; IPANAT; Quirin, Kazén, & Kuhl, 2009; Quirin et al., 2014), which is the first standardized and reliable procedure for the assessment of implicit (or even unconscious) affect. By now the IPANAT has been translated in more than ten languages and is currently used worldwide by more than a hundred universities.
My colleagues and I were among the first to find that the need for power is predominantly supported by left brain circuits,
whereas the need for affiliation (“love” in a broader sense) is predominantly supported by right brain circuits
(Kuhl & Kazén, 2008; Quirin, Gruber, Kuhl, & Düsing, 2013; Quirin et al., 2013).
This compartmentalization of the two needs into opposite hemispheres can be assumed to be far-reaching. For instance, it probably constitutes a major reason for the difficulty to integrate both needs in everyday life. It also might influences societal issues: For example, a relative dominance of the power motive might make capitalistic and pro-war decisions more likely, whereas a relative dominance of the affiliation motive might make prosocial and pro-peace decisions more likely.
My colleagues and I were one of the first to investigate neural mechanisms of death thought awareness (Quirin et al., 2011);
in the media, for example:
By doing so, we bridged a gap between experimental neuroscience and the philosophical school of existentialism. Since the publication of our first manuscript, several articles have appeared that used the expression “existential neuroscience”. A review of research on Existential Neuroscience (Quirin & Klackl, 2014) will be published in a volume of the series of books entitled Frontiers of Social Psychology (see also Jonas et al., 2014).
How and under which conditions do individuals bring their intentions and explicit goals in line with their deeper needs and wishes? How do they bring their behavior in line with their needs or intended goals? What are the neural and endocrine mechanisms of self-congruent or “self-determined” as compared to heteronomous goals and decisions? While trying to find answers to these questions we consider a number of different variables as potential moderators, such as affect, emotion regulation abilities, and self-access (e.g., self-awareness, emotional awareness vs. alexithymia) (Kuhl, Koole, & Quirin, 2014).
Throughout the history of psychology the explanation of why people experience and behave the way they do was guided by a number of putatively
incommensurate paradigms. For example, behaviorism explained human personality and motivation by means of habits formed via conditioning processes
(e.g., B. F. Skinner, J. Watson).
Some personality psychologists followed the Ancient Greeks in using temperaments (roughly corresponding to arousal and activity) as an explanation
for interpersonal differences in behavior (e.g., H.-J. Eysenck).
While emotion researchers highlighted affectivity (e.g., J. Gray), motivation researchers considered individual differences in needs such as for sex, affiliation, power, or achievement as the crucial variables (e.g., S. Freud, D. McClelland, J. Atkinson). Not least, cognitivists explained behavior by concepts like perception and reflection (e.g., J. Anderson), whereas humanists explained behavior on the basis of the integrative, individual self or concepts like free will or meaning (C. Rogers, V. Frankl, A. Antonowsky, E. Deci).
Because all of these theories convey some truth, an attempt was made to integrate these paradigms into a theory called Personality Systems Interactions (PSI) Theory (Kuhl, 2000; 2001; see also Quirin & Kuhl, 2009 and Kuhl, J., Koole, S., & Quirin, M. (2014)). This systems-theoretical approach assigns processes and phenomena proposed by different paradigms to different levels of personality. These personality levels, which are described in psychological terms, are likely to correspond with different neural networks and layers of brain organization that have differentially evolved throughout both human ontogenesis and phylogenesis.
PSI theory suggests that these levels and their subsystems interact in a particular way to compose human personality, motivation, and behavior. These interactions have been postulated on the basis of enormous empirical evidence. On the basis of recent neuroscientific research (e.g. reviewed in (Tops, Boksem, Quirin, & Kent, 2015; Tops & Quirin, 2014), we are currently engaged in more closely elaborating on the relevant brain mechanisms and networks postulated to underlie personality systems and their interactions.