School of Psychology - Research & Industry - Featured Researchers - Nik Steffens

Featured Researcher - Nik Steffens

Dr. Nik Steffens investigates leadership processes in people’s health and well-being

Nik Steffens

How did you get into psychology? 

As I grew up I became interested in the subject through my father who is a psychologist and who liked to talk about psychological matters and told me many interesting stories from his work. At school I also very much liked Maths and Economics. In order to make up my mind about what to study at university, I talked to a couple of people and friends in order to get an idea of what the life of someone in these areas would actually look like and what they actually do. Although I really liked Maths and Economics, I felt that there was a chance that I might miss the ‘human’ aspect in either of these (and focus more on numbers than on people). I was more keen on doing something that I knew would matter to people. I loved to learn about psychology and in the course of my studies, I was fascinated by the classical (social) studies by people like Asch, Milgram, Tajfel, Festinger that have shaped the field. Since then I have become intrigued by the profound impact that social factors exert on our behaviour. Throughout my development, I also had the chance to work with, and learn from, great friends and colleagues who inspired my thinking and further fuelled my interest in these issues. 

What do you think makes a good psychology researcher? 

I think good psychology researchers are curious about what and why people feel, think, and behave the way they do. They are enthusiastic about the subject matter and do not take things for granted but like to ask questions and to re-evaluate given explanations. I think good researchers also try to get to ‘the bottom of things’, and to find out about nuanced details. At the same time, they never lose sight of the ‘big picture’, that is, the connections between their field of expertise and other areas of psychology and science. Moreover, I have always been inspired by psychological researchers who studied not only one single narrow phenomenon but a whole variety of different psychological issues.

What are you researching at the moment?

I am a social and organizational psychologist and I am broadly interested in group dynamics, identity, leadership, followership, social influence, health and well-being. In my PhD, I have examined the ways in which leaders’ performance and group representativeness (i.e., their capacity to embody typical characteristics of a group) determine followers’ responses to them. 

In my current research projects I am interested in the social underpinnings of people’s feelings of (apparent) personal connections to leaders and the ways in which leaders portray, and talk about, their group determines the degree to which they are perceived to be ‘one of us’. Other projects investigate processes through which leaders’ identification with a group transfers to that of other group members and the ways in which leaders perceive themselves to follow their own followers. 

I am also in the process of running novel projects that explore the role of social dynamics in people’s health and well-being. In these projects I am looking into at the ways in which health care providers exert influence on patients (and whether patients’ are satisfied with, and follow, advice). In other projects I explore the ways in which leadership in organizations can make use of its members’ multiple identities to promote their health and well-being in the workplace. 

Tell us something that people might be interested to know about you? 

When I was a teenager I was always keen on leaving my hometown Cologne in Germany (although it’s a fantastic town and I knew I would miss its jovial Karneval festivities!) in order to explore and get to know a different country and learn another language. I then moved around a bit — I went to college in St. Albans in England, studied in Dresden in the east of Germany and, spent some years in Madrid in Spain before I came back to the UK in order to do my PhD at Exeter. In my leisure time, I enjoy playing the drums (in particular soul, jazz, and funk) and reading fiction (I am a particular fan of Paul C. Doherty’s detective stories in the ‘dark’ medieval times, René Goscinny’s series ‘Little Nicholas’, and Martin Suter’s thrilling, quirky stories such as ‘The Last Weynfeldt’). I am also a sports enthusiast — in the past I have represented university teams in basketball, football (I mean soccer), and tennis — and I enjoy playing most sports for fun (I have just joined a netball team).

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Created: Thursday, 30th August 2012 by paulj
Modified: Tuesday, 1st April 2014 by uqpjack1
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