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 Neuroscience of Communication: Funktion, Structure and Plasticity

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

Brain maps time sequence of memories

A virtual treasure hunt shows how test persons remember experiences


A portrait of the first nine Lise Meitner Group Leaders

The power of imagination

How imagined events can change our attitude

Children with cochlear implants learn words faster than hearing children

While children with an artificial cochlea are older when they are first exposed to spoken language, they build up their vocabulary faster than hearing children


Thomas Fritz, Leader of the Music Evoked Brain Plasticity Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, knows how to make people happy and fearless - essentially as a kind of welcome side-effect. He conducts experiments using exercise machines with which you can create music. The experience of exercising with this equipment and simultaneously creating unique sounds not only reduces bodily exhaustion, it also puts the user in a good mood and lowers their anxiety and pain levels - effects that give rise to a range of therapeutic applications.

From a very early age, children exhibit an amazing sense of fairness and justice. The older they get, the more compassion and empathy they develop. Nikolaus Steinbeis from Tania Singer’s department at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig is studying how the social behavior of children changes as they get older, and which of the brain’s networks play a role in this.

Not many Max Planck institutes can claim to have a fitness room – and that for research purposes, no less. But Arno Villringer at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig isn’t interested in hardening muscles. He wants to use the training equipment to study how training motion sequences changes the brain.

When people work together, they have to coordinate their actions very closely. Wolfgang Prinz, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, and his colleagues are investigating precisely what goes on in their heads in the process.

Ina Bornkessel

MPR 4 /2007 Culture & Society

Ina Bornkessel is researching the underlying principles of language processing in the brain. Her interest in this subject was sparked early on – during her childhood in Tasmania.

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A navigation system for our thoughts

2018 Bellmund, Jacob L. S.; Doeller, Christian F.

Cognitive Science Linguistics Neurosciences

How does the brain organize our experiences and our knowledge? A possible answer to this fundamental question: our brain’s navigation system forms so-called cognitive spaces in which we arrange our experience along feature dimensions, so that similar experiences are nearby in cognitive space. We propose this based on the combination of a wealth of findings about the functioning of place cells in the hippocampus and grid cells in the entorhinal cortex, which are central to spatial navigation. These cells also map cognitive spaces, thereby providing a spatial framework for human thinking.


Itsy bitsy spider: Fear of spiders and snakes is deeply embedded in us

2017 Höhl, Stefanie

Cognitive Science Linguistics Neurosciences

Snakes and spiders evoke fear and disgust in many people. Even in developed countries lots of people are frightened of these animals although hardly anybody comes into contact with them. Until now, there has been debate about whether this aversion is innate or learnt. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (MPI CBS) in Leipzig and the Uppsala University have recently discovered that it is hereditary: babies as young as six months feel stressed when seeing these creatures – long before they could have learnt this reaction.


How do sex hormones shape our brain and behavior?

2016 Sacher, Julia; Barth, Claudia; Villringer, Arno

Cognitive Science Neurosciences

Our sense of well-being is linked to our hormones. Nearly twice as many women as men develop depressive illness. While this suggests that sex hormones play a key role in depression, it is not understood how they affect mood. Very little is known about how the brain is influenced by endogenous hormonal changes across the range of days to months. This is a critical gap, because many mental illnesses show large fluctuations over this timescale. Recent evidence suggests short-term changes in neurochemistry and functional and structural networks modulated by physiological sex-hormone fluctuation.


Language acquisition – a long way to go for the brain

2015 Skeide, Michael A.; Friederici, Angela D.

Cognitive Science Linguistics Neurosciences

The timing of developmental trajectories in language acquisition is paradoxical. Some milestones are reached very rapidly. For example, embryos are able to discriminate vowels already in utero [1]. Other milestones, however, like understanding grammatically complex sentences, are not even reached at the primary school age. What is the reason for this? Current neurobiological findings suggest that a brain network involved in processing grammatical information has to reach an adult-level maturity until it can provide its full function.


It’s how you say it: Pathways and mechanisms of prosody perception

2014 Sammler, Daniela

Cognitive Science Linguistics Neurosciences

Speech is more than only words: The vocal tone – the prosody – often reveals more about the speaker’s communicative intention than the words themselves. While the neural networks of the left hemisphere, that decode the words, are already well-known, the description of the networks for prosody perception is comparably sparse. In this description of a project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, the importance of white matter tracts in the right hemisphere will be shown and that also the motor system joins in when it comes to prosody perception.

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