ACT: Why are the Big Two of Agency and Communion so Fundamental to Human Psychology? An Agency-Communion Theory (ACT) and its Novel Account of Social Influence

Research question/goal: 

Agency (influence, resourcefulness, authority) and communion (benevolence, prosociality, honesty) are fundamental dimensions of human social cognition, the self-concept, and personality. These ‘Big Two’ must serve a tremendously important function for humans, otherwise they would not be that fundamental. Yet, what is this function? State-of-the-art answers explain the function of the Big Two either in social cognition or the self-concept or personality, and these answers contradict each other in critical ways. Here, I propose the first all-encompassing answer to the question of what function the Big Two have in social cognition and the self-concept and personality. It comes in the form of a novel theory: Agency-Communion Theory (ACT). ACT’s new perspective on the Big Two entails a wide variety of previously unforeseen behavioural consequences, including a novel conceptualization of social influence. Current theories assume that people have an innate tendency to conform to majority norms. ACT questions the existence of such an innate tendency and offers an alternative with far-reaching implications for many theories across the social sciences and urgent societal challenges in the sphere of social influence. My interdisciplinary team will empirically test ACT and its novel concept of social influence. We will use new, tailor-made methodology in laboratory experiments, formal evolutionary models, Big Data, and panel studies.

Current stage: 

The project comprises four different work packages: experiments, agent-based models, panel data, and Big Data. We are still in the first year of this five-year project, and we have already started working on the first three of those four work packages. Among other things, we are designing the experiments, have started to acquire the necessary skills for agent-based modelling, and are about to pilot the questionnaire for our panel data collection in Denmark.

Fact sheet

2022 to 2028
in preparation
Data Sources: 
Lab experiments at the MZES lab, Danish Register data, BBC dataset
Geographic Space: 
Germany, Denmark, UK