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A conversation with the EAPP award winners

An interview

This year in Zadar, Croatia, EAPP career awards were presented to four influential researchers in the field of personality psychology. René Mõttus and Christian Kandler both received an early achievement award, Vassilis Saroglou received the mid-career award, and Jüri Allik was presented the life-time achievement reward. We had the opportunity to talk to these great researchers about their research, winning an EAPP award, and the future of personality research. 

Check out the clips below and read on to learn more about René Mõttus, Christian Kandler (left picture), Vassilis Saroglou, and Jüri Allik (right picture)!

Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself and your work?

Christian: I was born in 1982. I’m happily married and a father of two lovely sons. I started my PhD in 2007 at the Bielefeld University and finished it in 2010. I have been a post doc researcher with different academic functions at the Bielefeld University until I reached the venia legendi for psychology in 2017. Then I moved to the Medical School Berlin for a professorship position in psychology of personality and individual differences.

My research topics are primarily related to two basic questions of personality research: What is personality and what are the patterns and sources of its development? I have a broad perspective on personality, which includes more than temperament-related and descriptive concepts such as the Big Five. I wanted to find out which the necessary characteristics are that define our relatively stable and heritable core of our personality. Nevertheless, I often use basic descriptive concepts to investigate the patterns and sources of personality development. Here, I’m trying to develop designs and models to capture the interplay between genetic factors and environmental circumstances accounting for the development, stability, and change of personality differences. Beyond these major themes, I am interested in the study of the sources of differences in life chances and the assessment of leisure interests as well as the role of its realization in leisure time for well-being.

Jüri: I was born and spent the first two decades of my academic career in what Ronald Reagan called the “Evil Empire”. When Hans Eysenck tried to convince people that the left-wing authoritarianism is not much different from the right-wing one, many liberals thought that he was out of his mind. In his autobiography Rebel with a Cause (1997) he wrote: “It is almost impossible for anyone who has not lived in totalitarian society to imagine what life is like” (p. 50). As an example, two of my closest friends Jaan Valsiner (now at the University of Aalborg) and Ehtibar Dzhafarov (Purdue University) managed to defect from the Soviet Union which gave to the KGB, the secret police, an idea, and they were right, that I would follow their example if an opportunity would open to me. They did everything to keep me from this temptation until the largest geopolitical tragedy entered its final days and my own first 40 years of life vanished into the past.

The same year as my graduation from the high school, psychology teaching was restored at the University of Tartu. Because the main Soviet dogma was an unquestionable superiority of the Marxist psychology over a mindless fact collection in the degraded Western psychology, I looked for an area as far as possible from the political rhetoric which I despised. Fortunately, Vladimir Zintchenko (1931-2014), who later became my supervisor and mentor, was invited to Tartu for a course of lectures about his recent studies on visual perception. Many of his brilliant experiments were described in his Russian book, which was soon translated into English (Formation of Visual Images, Springer, 1972). My soul was sold to this area when I learned that stabilized retinal image vanishes from perception but can nevertheless be prevented from disappearing by changing the color which switches from one type of receptors to another.

Probably my first success was developing a new electromagnetic eye movement recording method, with my good friend Aavo Luuk and colleagues from Lithuania and Russia, which remains the only one allowing to record eye movement behind the closed eyelids [1]. We were first to measure precisely what is known as the Bell’s reflex—upward movement of the eye during the eyelid closure. This was not a ground-breaking discovery, but we enjoyed ourselves moving on an uncharted territory.

I hesitate to say what my best study on visual perception is. It is easier to say what the most cited paper is. This is a paper with a funny name “Occupancy model” describing why and how perceived numerosity of a collection of elements depends on their spatial distribution [2]. According to Google Scholar this paper was cited 160 times (July 31, 2018). This is an excellent example of a task for which the visual system is not adapted because the perceived number of elements is determined not by their counting, but by computing area apparently occupied by these elements collectively. Please also note that this paper was written and published before the Soviet Union collapsed finally.

There were several reasons for expanding the area of my interest. It was the beginning of an intellectual journey with my best friend and wife Anu Realo, who was more interested in personality and cross-cultural research. Personality, about which I knew next to nothing, looked enigmatic. I picked a recently published article from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology almost randomly and read it twice with devastating consequences. I was unable to understand a single word or concept from what I had just read. Later becoming familiar with Eysenck’s autobiography, I learned that he was overwhelmed with very similar feelings: “I found my work in psychology … excessively easy. Much of it seemed to me purely semantic and I noticed a clear-cut difference between students in the hard science, who used to spend the day in the laboratory, and students in psychology …, who spent the day drinking coffee and talking.” (Eysenck, 1997, p. 52). Nevertheless, I apparently managed to work through and learned to separate purely semantic from real problems, something which many practitioners in the field simply prefer to ignore.

Obviously, we needed an instrument for measuring personality. It was easy to establish that the NEO Personality Inventory constructed by Paul Costa and Robert McCrae was by far the best measuring instrument. We translated and adapted NEO-PI into Estonian and Finnish. This was also the beginning of my most interesting collaboration with Jeff McCrae. In 2002 we edited a book, “The Five-Factor Model of personality across cultures”, which summarized NEO-PI translations into different languages and cultures. So far, we have co-authored approximately 30 papers in journals and books and this has been the most rewarding experience. Nobody from personality psychology impresses me more than Jeff with the deepness of his thoughts.

My most cited personality paper, however, was written together with David Schmitt (Brunel University London), who managed to collect Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale data from 53 nations [3]. According to Google Scholar this is my most cited paper which was cited 1,241 times (August 1, 2018). Interestingly, as the RSES behaved as a genuine facet of Neuroticism, an obvious conclusion was that the RSES has practically no unique content beyond being a good facet of neurotic tendencies.

Surprising results are one of the best criteria of the scientific progress achieved. Very few papers published in personality journals contain anything surprising. Nevertheless, nobody expected that personality differences between women and men increases with the human development [4]. Another example, it was always believed that individualism is an enemy of social capital which core meaning is trusting other people. We surprised ourselves discovering that individualism is not a poison for interpersonal trust but a necessary ingredient which makes individualism possible [5].

In general, I cannot complain about being neglected by my colleagues. According to my Google Scholar profile my works were cited more than 18,000 times, of which more than 10,000 citations came during the last five years. According to the Essential Science Indicators (Clarivate Analytics) I belong to the top 1% of the most cited researchers in the psychiatry/psychology category. This is perhaps nothing special but enough for me to believe that I have left my mark.

Q: What does winning this award mean to you?

Christian: It is a great honor for me to get this prize from this very prestigious association. It is a great pleasure for me and tells me that I’m on the right track regarding my research and motivates me not to lose this track.

Jüri: If you think about previous award winners – Alois Angleitner, Jan Strelau, and Jens Asendorpf, in addition to Ian Deary and David Magnusson who won this prize under a different name – then you start to understand what a great honor it is to me. I feel terribly humbled to receive this award which I certainly share with my great teachers and mentors (who may not know their role), over 4,000 coauthors, and especially my close colleagues and friends with whom I have had the pleasure to think, feel, and work together!

Q: Where do you see yourself and the field going in the next years?

Christian: I will move to the University of Bremen because I was offered a full professorship on Personality Psychology and Psychological Assessment. As a full professor, my research functions and tasks will change a bit and of course the number and diversity of tasks will increase. A couple of years ago, I have been supervised. And now, I supervise young and talented researchers and I wanted to fulfil this responsibility as good as possible. Furthermore, I wanted to increase my input to interdisciplinary and international research and of course to important scientific societies such as the EAPP.

Based on a broad concept of what personality is, how it develops, and what the sources of intra- and interindividual personality variation are, personality psychology will increase its interdisciplinary and integrative influence in the field of psychology and beyond. I will try to contribute my part to this development and I hope that our current project (SPeADy) on the personality architecture and dynamics ( can enrich the field as one of many other inspiring contributions of my colleagues.

Jüri: As I wrote in a recent paper [6], the field is still suffering from self-inflicted retardation by failing to abandon certain dogmas. Although the founding fathers of personality psychology erected personality to a central position among other fields of psychology, it was found among losers, at least from the point of view of some social psychologists [7]. However, we are probably witnessing a renaissance of personality psychology. It is difficult to imagine that anything else could rise to the significance and prestige of personality psychology than Cambridge Analytica and 2016 presidential elections did. If before personality psychologists and journal editors were mainly interested in all sorts of judgement errors, mistakes and biases then, suddenly, it occurred that based on a person’s electronic footprint alone it is possible to predict what that person may feel, think, or even elect. We need to be thankful for this unexpected opportunity and meet the challenge (hopefully with additional money) with dignity and cool head.

Q: Thank you so much for the chat!


1. Allik, J., Rauk, M., & Luuk, A. (1981). Control and sense of eye movement behind closed eyelids. Perception, 10, 39-51. doi:10.1068/p100039
2. Allik, J., & Tuulmets, T. (1991). Occupancy model of perceived numerosity. Perception & Psychophysics, 49(4), 303-314. doi:10.3758/BF03205986
4. Schmitt, D. P., & Allik, J. (2005). Simultaneous administration of the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSES) in 53 nations: Exploring the universal and culture-specific features of global self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 623-642. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.89.4.623
5. Schmitt, D. P., Realo, A., Voracek, M., & Allik, J. (2008). Why can't a man be more like a woman? Sex differences in big five personality traits across 55 cultures. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94(1), 168-182. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.94.1.168
6. Allik, J., & Realo, A. (2004). Individualism-collectivism and social capital. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35(1), 29-49. doi:10.1177/0022022103260381
8. Allik, J. (2018). The Almost Unbearable Lightness of Personality. Journal of Personality, 86(1), 109-123. doi:10.1111/jopy.12329
7. Baumeister, R. F. (2016). Charting the future of social psychology on stormy seas: Winners, losers, and recommendations. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 66, 153-158. doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2016.02.003]

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