Farewell: Prof Dr Höger: "In a friendly way".

2023-01-04 Rainer Höger, Professor of Experimental Business Psychology at Lünelab is retiring. His specialty is industrial and engineering psychology at the interface of psychology and technology. He tells us in an interview how noise affects cognitive processes, why a business psychologist is concerned with art, and what he plans now as emeritus professor.

Prof. Dr. Rainer Höger ©Leuphana
"It's also about emancipation and not always bringing out the surveillance club right away. It's about trying to inspire people to change their behavior on their own."
Your first research project in Lüneburg dealt with human errors in industry. What was it about exactly?
 At the time, it was about the following question: How can we get problems out of the way so that occupational accidents don't occur, especially in hazard-intensive workplaces. The classic is the metal punching press. The people who operate them have to press a button on the left and right so that they don't get their hand caught in the punch.
What does that have to do with psychology?
There are always individuals involved. And they act according to psychological principles. One example would be shift handovers: If people don't inform each other properly about what's going on, misunderstandings arise. Communication training can help. It's all about psychology and communication.
You did something on taste in 2008. What was that about?
In a joint project with my colleague Prof. Friedrich Müller, we came up with the idea that facial expressions can be used to identify at least rudimentary taste sensations. When someone is disgusted, for example, they contort their face in a characteristic way. Or when something is sour. This is familiar. Then the mouth contracts.
How did you then capture these emotions?
To get a better handle on facial expressions, we colored the subjects' faces black and stuck white dots on critical areas. At the corners of the mouth and around the eyes, for example. If you then illuminate the face, you only see a field of dots and no facial features. And when someone is given a taste sample, the dots begin to move toward each other in a characteristic way. And we evaluated the changes in that dot configuration. Interestingly, you don't notice until the dots move, there must be a face behind it.
 We asked subjects to identify such moving dot configurations. And we wondered how that comes about, that you can identify the movements of facial expressions better when you use such dots. And that's because other things on the face, for example, a mole or a pimple, are distracting. And so we know that the pure information of facial expression change is visualized particularly effectively by these points. We would not have expected that. And that's the core of experimental psychology, that you develop hypotheses and try things like that.
Toward the end of your research career, you had a lot to do with art. That's surprising at first glance. How did it come about?
There was a cooperation between the Ottersberg Art Academy, the traffic sciences department of the University of Hamburg and myself. At the time, there was a speeding problem in the model areas. People were driving into the town much too fast. That was related to the straight road layout. There were no barriers, no visual cues to reduce speed. And then we came up with the idea of creating that with art.
How can art help with that?
There were a few interesting pilot projects on the subject in Switzerland, Great Britain and Germany. In Göppingen, for example, people tried to slow down traffic in their side street by laying carpets on the road. As a driver, you no longer see asphalt or markings. It's carpet. The result is that you feel as if you're driving through your living room. And that means that art can create an atmosphere that you can use to slow down. We then, that was quite nice, put sunshades made of dyed aluminum with slats on the street. We created - that's a bit of an exaggeration, of course - a Caribbean feeling there. And then residents actually put chairs there. And people slowed down. So in the end, by changing the atmosphere, you could actually calm the traffic.
Why art and not just a sign?
That came from the village renewal project "Our village shall become more beautiful". It was important to us, and also to the speaker from the ministry, that you don't plaster everything with signs or with some kind of surveillance radar traps. It was more important to try to do it in a friendly way. By working on the village character a bit. By setting accents through such art installations.
Are you also concerned with voluntariness?
Yes, exactly. It's also about emancipation and not always bringing out the surveillance club. It's about trying to inspire people to change their behavior on their own initiative.
One last question: Now that you've retired, what are your plans?
I'm committed to the energy transition and am on a real energy turnaround kick. I placed a photovoltaic system on my roof 10 years ago. Which is benefiting me now. Three years ago, I bought an e-car as a pioneer. Which was a bit more expensive at the time. But today I can make good use of both: When the sun shines, I can charge my e-car climate-neutrally via the photovoltaic system. That's nice, of course. I will now get more involved again with ways to advance the energy transition.

Thank you very much, Prof. Höger!

Rainer Höger completed his studies in psychology at the TU Berlin with a diploma in 1982. At the Ruhr University of Bochum, Höger received his doctorate in 1986 on acoustic perception research. In 1994 followed a habilitation on the topic of spatiotemporal processes of visual information processing. He held various chairs in Konstanz, Leipzig and Eichstätt and undertook a research stay in Glasgow. In 2003 he came to Lüneburg. First to the University of Applied Sciences Northeast Lower Saxony and in the course of the merger in 2004 to the Leuphana University. There he taught industrial and engineering psychology and received the "Knowledge Transfer Award" for the "Psychonics" project in 2011.