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The Relational Grammar of Social Life

How do we know how, when and where to relate to others?

About the project

Humans are an ultra-social species. All children must learn and everybody must track which people are friends or foes, peers, leaders or subordinates; and what kinds of likely and normative actions this signifies: When to share (or not), take turns (or no t), take directions and follow orders (or not). These social rules are rarely discussed explicitly in, and before, everyday social interactions. Yet we usually apply them seamlessly, even when generating new social relationships. How do we know how, when and where to relate to others?


The present research program investigates whether we co-ordinate social life using a relational grammar that consists of

1) universal, core kinds of relations (communion, hierarchy, and equality, represented image-schema tically as overlap, pyramidal, and level structures);

2) innate or very early-developing attention to / understanding of these kinds of relations and their cues;

3) a proto-syntax for interpreting their (recursive) combinatorics (e.g. the difference between communal hierarchy and hierarchical communion).

The research program will also investigate

4) the neural implementation in the brain of these relational core concepts and motives.


5) a 3-wave, fully-funded panel (N=2000) will test how basic relational motives and perceptions relate to social and political attitudes across 4 years, including democratic challenges such as xenophobia and support for terror, as well as how psychological and physiological health relates to elementary relat ional perceptions and motives, matching this data to very high-quality, Danish registry records.


The Research Council of Norway (FRIHUMSAM - Research project) 2014 - 2020.


  • Janis Heinrich Zickfeld; Jonas R. Kunst & Sigrid Møyner Hohle (2018). Too sweet to eat: Exploring the effects of cuteness on meat consumption. Appetite.  ISSN 0195-6663.  120, s 181- 195
  • Milan Obaidi; Robin Bergh; Jim Sidanius & Lotte Thomsen (2018). The Mistreatment of My People: Victimization by Proxy and Behavioral Intentions to Commit Violence Among Muslims in Denmark. Political Psychology.  ISSN 0162-895X.  39, s 577- 593
  • Jonas R. Kunst; Fischer Ronald; Jim Sidanius & Lotte Thomsen (2017). Preferences for group dominance track and mediate the effects of macro-level social inequality and violence across societies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.  ISSN 0027-8424.  114, s 5407- 5412
  • Ingvild Haugen & Jonas R. Kunst (2017). A two-way process? A qualitative and quantitative investigation of majority members’ acculturation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations.  ISSN 0147-1767.  60, s 67- 82
  • Marie Helene Eikemo; Guido Biele; Frode Willoch; Lotte Thomsen & Siri Leknes (2017). Opioid modulation of value-based decision-making in healthy humans. Neuropsychopharmacology.  ISSN 0893-133X.  42, s 1833- 1840
  • Jonas R. Kunst; Nour Kteily & Lotte Thomsen (2017). “You Little Creep”: Evidence of Blatant Dehumanization of Short Groups. Social Psychological and Personality Science.  ISSN 1948-5506.
  • Jonas R. Kunst; Talieh Sadeghi; Hajra Tahir; David Lackland Sam & Lotte Thomsen (2016). The vicious circle of religious prejudice: Islamophobia makes the acculturation attitudes of majority and minority members clash. European Journal of Social Psychology.  ISSN 0046-2772.  46, s 249- 259
  • Sasha Kimel; R. Huesmann; Jonas R. Kunst & Eran Halperin (2016). Living in a Genetic World: How Learning About Interethnic Genetic Similarities and Differences Affects Peace and Conflict. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.  ISSN 0146-1672.  42, s 688- 700
  • Jonas R. Kunst & Sigrid Hohle (2016). Meat eaters by dissociation: How we present, prepare and talk about meat increases willingness to eat meat by reducing empathy and disgust. Appetite.  ISSN 0195-6663.  105, s 758- 774
  • Jonas R. Kunst & Lotte Thomsen (2015). Prodigal Sons: Dual Abrahamic Categorization Mediates the Detrimental Effects of Religious Fundamentalism on Christian–Muslim Relations. The international journal for the psychology of religion.  ISSN 1050-8619.  25, s 293- 306
  • Jonas R. Kunst; Lotte Thomsen; David Lackland Sam & John W. Berry (2015). “We Are in This Together”: Common Group Identity Predicts Majority Members’ Active Acculturation Efforts to Integrate Immigrants. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.  ISSN 0146-1672.  41, s 1438- 1453
  • Jonas R. Kunst; Lotte Thomsen & David Lackland Sam (2014). Late Abrahamic reunion? Religious fundamentalism negatively predicts dual Abrahamic group categorization among Muslims and Christians. European Journal of Social Psychology.  ISSN 0046-2772.  44, s 337- 348
  • Lotte Thomsen & Susan Carey (2013). Core Cognition of Social Relations, In Susan A. Gelman & Banaji Mahzarin R. (ed.),  Navigating the Social World: What infants, children and other species can teach us.  Oxford University Press.  ISBN 9780199890712.  1.4.  s 17 - 23
  • Hans IJzerman; Johan Karremans; Lotte Thomsen & Thomas Schubert (2013). Caring for sharing: How attachment styles modulate communal cues of physical warmth. Social Psychology.  ISSN 1864-9335.  44, s 160- 166

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  • Claire Nicole Prendergast & Lotte Thomsen (2017). ‘Selvations’ in Social Motivation. Social justice research.  ISSN 0885-7466.  30, s 1- 8
  • Ashley J. Thomas; Meline Abramyan; Angela Lukowski & Lotte Thomsen (2016). Preferring the Mighty to the Meek: Toddlers Prefer Novel Dominant Agents.
  • Lotte Thomsen; Milan Obaidi; Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington; Nour Kteily & Jim Sidanius (2014). Individual differences in relational motives interact with the political context to produce terrorism and terrorism-support. Behavioral and Brain Sciences.  ISSN 0140-525X.  37, s 377- 378

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Published Oct. 21, 2016 2:17 PM - Last modified Oct. 16, 2017 7:41 PM



Detailed list of participants