Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

The aim of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig is to investigate human cognitive abilities and brain processes. The main focus of the research is on the neuronal basis of higher functions of the brain such as speech, music, and action. To this end, the scientists’ primary interest focuses on how these are perceived, processed, planned, and generated, as well as how perception and generation influence each other. They also investigate the plastic changes to the brain after strokes, and how these affect different cognitive abilities. The Department of Neurophysics, which was established in early 2007, is specifically concerned with the use and development of imaging methods for the neurosciences.


Stephanstr. 1 a
04103 Leipzig
Phone: +49 341 9940-00
Fax: +49 341 9940-221

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS on Cognitive NeuroImaging

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

A new method could help with early detection of Parkinson’s


Researchers visualize connections in the chimpanzee brain


Researchers investigate the universe of emotions


In most decision-making situations we need to plan well ahead as values of choice options often change over time


Learning a second language strengthens neural connections in the language network in the left hemisphere of the brain

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Finding yourself in a foreign city, you quickly feel lost in the maze of unfamiliar buildings and streets. But after a short time, you can find your way even without a city map or navigation system. Christian Doeller from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and his team are researching how this is possible for us. The researchers also want to understand how the navigation system is used for other brain functions, such as memory, knowledge acquisition or abstraction.

When the human body is exposed to stress, it goes into the very same emergency mode that it used in the Stone Age. However, that reaction is not nearly as well suited to our way of life today. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences are studying what happens in the body during stress, who is particularly susceptible to stress, as well as when it is an especially bad time to have to deal with a large amount of stress.

What holds matter together? What binds the universe? What is the nature of human thought? Charlotte Grosse Wiesmann of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences has always been interested in the big questions. Grosse Wiesmann, who originally studied physics, now investigates which developments in the brain enable children to empathize with others.

Operatic singing. Birdsong. Loud shouting. An off-pitch violin. We instinctively find some sounds pleasant, others unpleasant. But how do we decide whether something sounds good or bad? And how is sound actually processed within the brain? In an attempt to answer these questions, a team led by David Poeppel at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt is trying to break down speech and music into their most elementary components. And at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, researchers are investigating the secret of super-hits.

For us, it appears natural that children should start to speak at some point. Yet learning language is a major feat, which is still not fully understood even today. The Departments led by Caroline Rowland at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen and Angela Friederici at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig are using a wide range of methods to investigate how children learn this complex system of communication with seemingly no effort.

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How neural maturation shapes language acquisition 

2023 Menn, Katharina 

Cognitive Science Linguistics Neurosciences

Our brain is not yet fully developed at birth. One manifestation of this is that it is still quite slow. Faster brain activity only matures gradually, and so does the ability to process fast signals, such as the speech signal. Isn‘t it amazing how effortlessly babies usually master language acquisition? In our new study, we were able to show that the gradual acceleration of the baby‘s brain is crucial for language acquisition.


Language and action are of different kinds

2022 Zaccarella, Emiliano; Papitto, Giorgio; Trettenbrein, Patrick C.; Friederici, Angela D. 

Cognitive Science Linguistics Neurosciences

From childhood, our active vocabulary grows to about 20,000 words, which we link together according to certain rules to form an infinite number of linguistic expressions. Since sentences are superficially just strings of words, similar to the sequence of motor actions, it has been argued that the processing of language and actions share a common cognitive lineage in the form of overlapping neural resources. Our work challenges this parallelism and instead demonstrates the independence of language and action processing. 


Hair analysis shows: Meditation training reduces long-term stress

2021 Engert, Veronika

Cognitive Science Linguistics Neurosciences

Mental training that promotes skills such as mindfulness, gratitude or compassion reduces the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol in hair. The amount of cortisol in hair provides information about how much a person is burdened by persistent stress. Earlier positive training effects had been shown in acutely stressful situations or on individual days – or were based on study participants’ self-reports. The current study thus provides the first objective evidence that mental training reduces physical signs of long periods of stress, even in healthy people.


What lies between grey and white in the brain

2020 Kirilina, Evgeniya; Helbling, Saskia; Morawski, Markus; Pine, Kerrin; Reimann, Katja; Jankuhn, Steffen; Dinse, Juliane; Deistung, Andreas; Reichenbach, Jürgen R.; Trampel, Robert; Geyer, Stefan; Müller, Larissa; Jakubowski, Norbert; Arendt, Thomas; Bazin, Pierre-Louis; Weiskopf, Nikolaus

Cognitive Science Linguistics Neurosciences

Superficial white matter (SWM), a less than 1 mm thick interface between grey and white matter, contains most cortico-cortical white matter connections encompassing the short U-fibers. We developed an advanced neuroimaging method for SWM mapping in living individuals. Thereby we were able to show that the SWM contains significant amounts of iron. It is assumed that this iron is required for the myelination of the U-fibres. Our SWM mapping approach paves for systematic studies in the inter-individual differences, brain plasticity and pathologies in the human brain.


Memories of the future

2019 Benoit, Roland

Cognitive Science

Humans are capable of transcending beyond the here and now. Our memory systems allow us to vividly remember previous experiences. However, recent years have seen accumulating evidence that our memories are not just made for the past. Instead, they also allow us to mentally travel into the future by imagining prospective events. Such imaginings foster more farsighted decisions. They also allow us to learn much the same way that we learn from real experiences.

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