S.P.H. (Sebastian) Speer MSc

Sebastian Speer
Rotterdam School of Management (RSM)
Erasmus University Rotterdam
ERIM PhD Candidate
Field: Marketing
Affiliated since 2016

Sebastian’s core research interest is in the area of consumer’ perceptual decision making. In order to interact with our environment effectively, it is crucially important that our brain efficiently processes the information in our surroundings and identifies objects of interest rapidly and accurately. For instance, imagine the situation of shopping in a modern supermarket. Most shops sell sometimes more than 50.000 items, representing numerous product categories and brands. Commonly, consumers are under time pressure and their budget is limited. In order to make successful decisions the consumer has to engage in a dynamic search over the set of available products under conditions of time pressure and choice overload. This scenario poses several intriguing questions: What are the neural mechanisms that underlie the visual search and decision processes? How do these mechanisms change with varying degrees of complexity and consumer motivation? Do these underlying processes manifest systematic biases that can be utilized by sellers to influence consumer choices? Sebastian’s project aims at answering these questions by means of investigating the underlying psychological and neural processes related to visual search and decision making. In order to do so, he will apply a newly developed behavioral paradigm, targeted at creating situations in which participants have to engage in visual search, in combination with brain imaging.                                                                   

Based on recent advances in neuroimaging methods, multi voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) will be applied to identify neural processes involved in perceptual decision making. MVPA has been one of the major advances in cognitive neuroscience methodology in the past decade. It assesses activation beyond single voxels and is targeted at locating activation patterns in a subset of voxels. It is a predictive method that can be used to decode and classify the content of cognitive processes from neural activation patterns (Norman et al., 2006). Stated differently, MVPA can determine whether patterns of brain activity are predictive of decisions and preferences (Tusche et al., 2010). Sebastian will apply MVPA in order to decode the neural activity underlying perceptual decision making.                                              

In summary, this project will inform us about the neural activity related to visual search and the influence of motivation on accuracy and reaction time of visual searches. The findings will be useful in providing insights into efficient product and shelf design to ensure heightened attention to these marketing stimuli.

PhD Track The (dis)honest and (un)fair brain Investigating the neural underpinnings of moral decisions

Our lives abound with situations that confront us with a conflict between selfish urges and virtuous alternatives that benefit others. Not everyone solves this conflict in the same manner. While highly virtuous individuals may devote their lives to improve the condition of the oppressed or the less fortunate, more selfish individuals, tend to focus on maximizing their own gains and in some cases even exploit others. These large differences in how individuals weigh their own benefits against moral standards and social norms that may benefit the welfare of others, are pivotally important in understanding moral decision-making that is the fundament of cooperation in organizations and society at large. This dissertation provides three contributions to better understanding the neurocognitive underpinnings of individual differences in moral decision-making. First, it provides reconciliation of a long-standing debate in the literature on the role of cognitive control in (dis)honesty, by showing that the role of cognitive control depends on a person’s moral default: cognitive control helps cheaters to be honest, but also helps honest people cheat. Second, this dissertation contributes by identifying stable neural markers that can be used to predict individual differences in (dis)honesty. Stronger connectivity between brain regions associated with self-referential thinking and reward are predictive of honesty. Lastly, the dissertation provides a behavioral paradigm that can be used to inconspicuously measure voluntary, spontaneous and repeated cheating on a trial-by-trial basis in the MRI scanner or while recording EEG.

Morality, fairness, honesty, neuroimaging, fMRI, individual differences, social norms, cognitive control, EEG
Time frame
2016 -


  • Academic (5)
    • Speer, S. P., Smidts, A., & Boksem, M. A. S. (2021). Cognitive control promotes either honesty or dishonesty, depending on one's moral default. Journal of Neuroscience, 41(42), 8815-8825. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0666-21.2021

    • Speer, S., Smidts, A., & Boksem, M. (2021). Different neural mechanisms underlie non-habitual honesty and non-habitual cheating. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 15, [610429]. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2021.610429

    • Speer, S., Smidts, A., & Boksem, M. (2020). Cognitive control increases honesty in cheaters but cheating in those who are honest. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of Ame, 117(32), 19080-19091. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2003480117

    • Voigt, K., Murawski, C., Speer, S., & Bode, S. (2020). Effective brain connectivity at rest is associated with choice-induced preference formation. Human Brain Mapping, 41(11), 3077-3088. https://doi.org/10.1002/hbm.24999

    • Voigt, K., Murawski, C., Speer, S., & Bode, S. (2019). Hard decisions shape the neural coding of preferences. Journal of Neuroscience, 39(4), 718-726. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1681-18.2018

  • Academic (1)
    • Speer, S., & Boksem, M. (2020). Decoding fairness motivations from multivariate brain activity patterns. In Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsz097

  • Internal (1)
    • Speer, S. P. H. S. (2021). The (Dis)Honest and (Un)Fair Brain: Investigating the Neural Underpinnings of Moral Decisions. Erasmus University.

  • Professional (2)
    • Speer, S. (Author), Smidts, A. (Author), & Boksem, M. (Author). (2020). Why honest people cheat. Web publication/site, RSM Discovery.

    • Speer, S. (Author), & Boksem, M. (Author). (2020). How brain measures can help to understand fairness. Web publication/site, RSM Discovery.


Visiting address

Office: Mandeville Building T10-08
Burgemeester Oudlaan 50
3062 PA Rotterdam

Postal address

Postbus 1738
3000 DR Rotterdam