Psychological Assessment, Cultural Diversity, and Emotion (PACDE)

Members of our research group


Post-doctoral researcher

Teaching assistant & PhD canditate

PhD candidate

Description of research group

Psychological Assessment

Psychological Assessment – the scientifically-based identification of behavioural and mental characteristics of human functioning in concrete situations, of stable human characteristics, and of human groups (ranging from dyadic relationships, over organizations to cultural groups) – plays a key role in the development of psychology as a science and the evidence-based application of psychological knowledge in society. Paraphrasing lord Kelvin: “Measuring is knowing”. Sound psychological assessment is needed to properly evaluate what is going on, select the most adequate advice and interventions, and evaluate their effectiveness. Therefore, psychological assessment is a key resource in the toolbox of the scientist-practitioner. The PACDE research group develops assessment tools that contribute to fundamental psychological research and its societal applications, specifically in the domains of cultural diversity and emotion.

Cultural Diversity

The world is becoming culturally hyperdiverse and the economy is more and more characterized by internationalization. The successfulness of our societies depends more and more on handling this cultural diversity adequately. It poses very interesting challenges to psychological assessment. There is not only the question about the specific psychological factors that play a role in human functioning within a culturally diverse context, but the very identification of psychological characteristics of humans with culturally diverse backgrounds is complex. As Przeworski and Teune expressed it already in the seventies: “For a specific observation a belch is a belch and nepotism is nepotism. But within an inferential framework, a belch is an ‘insult’ or a ‘compliment’ and nepotism is ‘corruption’ or ‘responsibility’.” Observations using assessment methods developed in western contexts with people from other cultural backgrounds cannot just be taken at face value. Psychological assessment in a culturally diverse context is susceptible to all kinds of bias, which – if going undetected – can have all kinds of adverse effects. Cultural equivalence of psychological assessment instruments, and thus the absence of bias, is to be scientifically demonstrated, rather than assumed. The PACDE research group has two lines of research related to cultural diversity. The first addresses methods for assessing  psychological characteristics that are particularly relevant for culturally diverse contexts (such as psychological acculturation and cultural competence). The second is focused on the assessment of emotion and emotional competence that can be applied in culturally diverse groups.


After the behavioural, and later the cognitive, we are now witnessing the affective turn in psychology with emotional processes becoming the focus of both fundamental and applied research. Emotions are relevance detectors which indicate that something is happening in the situation that can affect one’s values, goals, needs, and in extreme cases even one’s survival, and emotions prepare us – at least from an evolutionary perspective – for adequate action to deal with the situation. Emotions play a role in all life domains, as well as in very different contexts, both personal and professional. They influence what we do in specific situations and have an impact on how successful we are in the different roles we take up. The PACDE research group develops procedures for both assessing emotion processes in specific contexts and for assessing systematic interindividual differences in emotional competencies and emotional intelligence. The emotion assessment research is embedded within the componential emotion approach which forms the most comprehensive framework up to date to conceptualize emotions. According to this approach, emotions are processes that are elicited by goalrelevant events and consist of an interplay of five components – a cognitive component (appraisal), a motivational component (action tendencies), a bodily component (psychophysiological reactions), an expressive component (facial, vocal, and gestural expressions), and a subjective experience component (feelings) – that are open to regulation processes. Johnny Fontaine developed a psycholinguistic assessment instrument to assess the meaning of emotion terms based on the componential emotion approach together with Prof. Dr. Klaus Scherer and Dr. Cristina Soriano from the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Extensive cross-cultural research with this instrument in 34 samples, stemming from 27 countries, and representing 23 languages demonstrated that the components identified by the componential emotion approach are universally encoded in language [Fontaine, J. R. J., Scherer, K. R., & Soriano, C. (Eds.). (2013). Components of emotional meaning: A sourcebook. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199592746.001.0001]. This research forms the foundation of the ongoing PACDE emotion research projects.

Current research topics

An emotion perspective on moral distress (Céline Baele)
Moral distress – a state of emotional dissonance arising when one feels constrained to act ethically – is concept that was developed in the nursing literature to refer to the moral challenges due to institutional constraints that are inherent to the nursing profession. While in the literature convincing evidence has been found for the relevance of this construct in nursing and other professions, as well for its possible detrimental impact on well-being, substantial challenges with the conceptualization and assessment of this construct have emerged. The aim of this project is to develop a deeper understanding of the phenomenon by systematically studying moral distress from an emotion perspective. Based on these insights, new assessment instruments for identifying the experience of moral distress are being developed and the relevance of this ‘nursing’ concept for the broader domain of work and organizational psychology is investigated.

Assessing emotional intelligence: Conceptualization and scoring issues (Johnny Fontaine)
In the wake of the affective turn in psychology the concept of “emotional intelligence” has become very popular, especially in applied fields and among the broad public. While the idea that individuals differ in how well they deal with their own and others emotions is very appealing and makes intuitive sense, its scientific development turns out to be very challenging, especially its conceptual delineation with respect to existing personality constructs, as well as its assessment. In this line of research new emotional intelligence instruments are developed on the basis of the componential emotion theory. Moreover, new methods are developed to score maximum emotional intelligence measurements.

Cross-cultural assessment of emotion understanding (Eva Sekwena)
Emotion understanding forms a core component of the emotional intelligence construct. The better people understand how emotion processes function for themselves and for others, the better they are expected to identify when these processes emerge and the more likely they are to regulate these emotion processes, which should be beneficial for their own and for other’s psychological functioning. The question of this research project is whether and to which extent emotion understanding can be assessed and interpreted in the same way across cultural groups. This research project contributes to the ongoing debate between universalist and relativist approaches in cross-cultural psychology with the former assuming psychic unity of mankind and the latter assuming a deep cultural impact in how emotion processes are constructed. The research project focuses on Black, Coloured, and White people in South-Africa.

ECoWeB: Assessing and Enhancing Emotional Competence for Well-Being in the Young: A principled, evidence-based, mobile-health approach to prevent mental disorders and promote mental well-being (Veerle Huyghe)
The PACDE research group contributes to a European HORIZON2020 project focused on emotional competences. In this project a mobile phone app has been developed for training emotional competences among young adults and is currently being tested within an extensive randomized control trial (RCT). PACDE contributes in three ways to this project: (1) it plays an important role in the development and validation of assessment instruments to empirically investigate the effectiveness of the training (e.g., instruments for emotion understanding and emotion regulation), (2) it developed and piloted the psychoeducation component of the training in which participants learn about emotions on the basis of the componential emotion approach, and (3) it contributes to the extensive RCTresearch (see website).

Cocoon: Emotion Psychology meets Cyber Security (Sanja Budimir) 
The PACDE research group forms a part of a European CHIST-ERA project focused on psychological reactions to cyber security breaches. With the advent of the internet, and more recently of the Internet of Things, the possibilities for remote communication with people and with devices has and still is exponentially growing, opening a whole new world of possibilities. This increasing interconnectedness, however, has also an important downside. With this ever expanding interconnectedness not only organizations, but also individual persons are increasingly vulnerable for cybersecurity breaches which can heavily impact their professional and personal life. The PACDE research group contributes in two major ways to this research project: (1) it takes the lead in the development of new psychological assessment instruments to identify the emotional reactions people can have when confronted to cybersecurity breaches and (2) it actively contributes to experimental research that investigates the effects of cybersecurity breaches of IoT-devices both from an engineering and a psychological perspective. 

Guilt and shame cultures: Science or chimera? (Johnny Fontaine and Mia Silfver for the University of Helsinki, Finland)
Ever since Ruth Benedict has defined Japan as a shame culture and the USA as a guilt culture in 1946, the idea that cultural groups differ in the relative salience of these two self-conscious emotions has attracted scientific interest. Despite the long-standing interest, however, there is no cumulative theory development, nor is there a construction of a cumulative database on this intuitively appealing idea. In its long history conflicting hypotheses have been formulated and theoretical justifications have dramatically shifted without strong scientific empirical evidence falsifying former hypotheses. For example, Hofstede (1980) claimed that guilt was typical for individualistic cultural groups, while Eid and Diener (2001) hypothesized that guilt was typical for collectivistic cultural groups. Through extensive empirical research rooted in the componential emotion approach more than 10000 selfconscious emotion episodes stemming from 20 western and non-western cultural groups are being studied with the aim to empirically investigate (1) the defining and differentiating characteristics of guilt and shame, and (2) whether these emotion processes differ in salience between cultural groups.