University of Mannheim: Lorenz von Stein Prize for two outstanding dissertations on authoritarian regimes and the geography of personality

Tobias Ebert (34) completed his doctorate cumulatively, i.e. in the form of several independent publications, in the subject of psychology at the interface to geography (title: The Geography of Personality: On the Consequences of Geographical Personality Differences for Regions and Individuals). All three publications of his dissertation deal with the “geography of personality”, ie the question of how people are shaped by the region in which they live – and how they shape it.

“Recent research shows that, in addition to individuals, geographical areas also have a kind of personality,” explains Ebert. While most people would intuitively agree that areas differ culturally, it is difficult to empirically disclose such cultural differences. Using novel empirical approaches and large-scale online studies, Tobias Ebert succeeded in his dissertation in making these differences empirically tangible.

Tobias Ebert shows in his work, among other things, that the personality trait courage in the population is not only distributed differently regionally, but that regional differences in courage are also related to the economic development of regions. In addition, Tobias Ebert proves that geographical personality differences are relevant for economic behavior and the health of the population. For example, he shows that religious people only live longer in religious areas.

Taken together, Ebert’s dissertation shows the importance of geographic personality differences for understanding serious problems – including the question of why some people live longer than others.

Christian Gläßel: Subversive threats, repression and stability

Christian Gläßel (33) did his doctorate at the Center for Doctoral Studies in Social and Behavioral Sciences (CDSS) at the University of Mannheim on the subject of “Subversive Threats, Repression, and Stability”, also cumulative. With his political science dissertation consisting of four independent publications, he creates in-depth insights into the functional mechanisms of authoritarian regimes then and now.

For decades, democracy seemed to be on the rise almost inexorably. Today it is coming under increasing pressure – and around half of the world’s population lives under authoritarian rule. “With my research I would like to contribute to understanding how authoritarian regimes assert themselves, under what conditions they break up and how the democratic part of the world can deal with them,” explains Gläßel. For this purpose, the political scientist also uses historical data, provided that they allow conclusions to be drawn about today’s regimes.

Gläßel shows, among other things, that censorship does not necessarily stabilize a regime – it can also have the opposite effect. Such effects can be measured using the example of the GDR. Shortly before the fall of the East German state, the masses of people wishing to leave the country were categorically ignored in the GDR media. However, many people were able to find out more about West German television and thus had evidence of the regime’s far from truth – with measurable consequences for attitudes and behavior. Gläßel comes to the conclusion, among other things, that information offers beyond government propaganda can be successful even in highly ideological dictatorships and that regimes can be dangerous. As a current example, he cites the BBC’s offer in Korean,

In another work, Gläßel shows the ease with which dictatorships find willing vicarious agents. Neither fanaticism nor sadistic inclinations are necessary for the willful implementation of brutal state oppression. Decisive are primarily profane career incentives and compulsions. Using the career data of all almost 4,300 officers in the Argentine military dictatorship, Gläßel shows how the poorest performers in particular, threatened with dismissal, tried to save their careers: by becoming involved with the notorious secret police. “Autocrats use career constraints and incentives to create a loyal apparatus of repression and to consolidate their rule,” Gläßel concluded.

Chairman Thomas Gschwend: “Exemplary for the Mannheim social sciences”

In his laudation for the award winners, the chairman of the Lorenz von Stein Society, Professor Thomas Gschwend, emphasized the need to award the award to two scientists, as in 2019. “Both dissertations convinced the board of directors so much that we are happy to share the award. The scientific meticulousness and the sophisticated, innovative methodological approaches of both scientists are absolutely worthy of the award. They understand how to combine theory and empiricism in an impressive way and have both achieved outstanding achievements that are exemplary for the social sciences in Mannheim, ”said Gschwend.

Tobias Ebert is a postdoctoral fellow at the Heisenberg Professorship for Comparative Social and Personality Psychology and an External Fellow of the Mannheim Center for European Social Research (MZES), University of Mannheim.

Christian Gläßel is a postdoctoral researcher at the Center for International Security at the Hertie School, Berlin.

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