Max Planck Institute for Human Development

Max Planck Institute for Human Development

The Max Planck Institute for Human Development is dedicated to the study of human development and education. Researchers of various disciplines – including psychology, education, sociology and medicine, as well as history, economics, computer science and mathematics – work together on interdisciplinary projects at the Berlin Institute. The research questions they examine include how people make effective decisions even under time pressure and information overload, which effects the institution of school has on students’ development and learning processes, how the interaction between behaviour and brain function changes over a person’s lifespan, as well as how human emotions change in a historical context and how they have affected the course of history itself.


Lentzeallee 94
14195 Berlin
Phone: +49 30 82406-0
Fax: +49 30 8249939

PhD opportunities

This institute has several International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS):

IMPRS on Adapting Behavior in a Fundamentally Uncertain World
IMPRS on the Life Course: Evolutionary and Ontogentic Dynamics
IMPRS for Moral Economies of Modern Societies

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

Obesity seen as self-inflicted

Obesity seen as self-inflicted

February 05, 2018

Representative survey in Germany, the UK, and the US

Frequent family meals promote good nutritional health in children

Meta-analysis of 57 studies with more than 200,000 participants worldwide

Risk preference is a relatively stable personality trait

Large-scale study casts light on the nature of risk preferences

Life in the city: Living near a forest keeps your amygdala healthier

MRI study analyzes stress-processing brain regions in older city dwellers

Memory for details matures gradually

High-resolution imaging provides new insights into the development of the human brain


Rituals of degradation have been used throughout the ages as a means of exercising authority. Judges made a public show of people by having them placed in the pillory, teachers made unruly pupils the object of ridicule with dunce caps. Such practices have been consigned to the past, but modern society has developed new methods for publicly stigmatizing outsiders, as our author describes.

Decisions follow a script all their own. Sometimes current facts play a role, sometimes utility is the driving force – and sometimes they are rooted deep in human evolutionary history. Ralph Hertwig, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, studies the dynamics of choice, uncertainty and risk. And he advises grandparents to help look after their grandchildren.

Music arouses emotions. But exactly what people feel when listening to a piece of music and how they express these feelings is influenced mainly by the times they live in and their culture. A research group led by Sven Oliver Müller at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin has carried out research on the changing emotions in Europe’s musical life, focusing in particular on the impact of music’s communal spirit.

“I think, therefore I am” – René Descartes’ thinking gave him the certainty that he did, in fact, exist. At the same time, he was aware that he was thinking, and he was able to contemplate his own thoughts. Scientists call this reflection on one’s own thinking “metacognition” – a skill that so-called lucid dreamers have, as well. Elisa Filevich and Simone Kühn at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin are studying which brain regions are particularly pronounced in lucid dreamers, and whether it is the same ones that are also related to metacognition.

Shooting sprees shock us and spark bewilderment and fear. At the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, a Minerva project is examining the link between possession of firearms, violence and emotions, based on the example of shooting sprees. Historian Dagmar Ellerbrock has already addressed the controversial topic of “youth and weapons” in previous studies.

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The R factor: Is risk preference a personal trait?

2018 Hertwig, Ralph

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

People differ widely in their willingness to take risks. Moreover, an individual’s propensity for risk taking can vary across domains. But new research shows that – akin to the general factor of intelligence – there appears to be a general factor of risk preference, which remains relatively stable over time. Importantly, this factor cannot be assessed by conventional behavioral tests, which often yield contradictory results. The new findings cast light on the nature of human risk-taking propensity.


Brain plasticity and the inverted U: On the time course of experience-dependent plastic brain changes in humans

2017 Wenger, Elisabeth; Lindenberger, Ulman

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development investigate the time course of plasticity. Results show an initial increase followed by decrease of gray matter volume during skill acquisition. These plastic changes would have gone unnoticed, had a standard pretest-posttest design been employed. Such two-occasion designs are inadequate to identify the time course of plastic changes. Future research on human neuroplasticity needs research designs and theories that take the nonlinear dynamics of behavioral and cerebral variability and change into account.


Informed patients through distribution of fact boxes

2016 Gigerenzer, Gerd; Rebitschek, Felix G.

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

Many doctors do not understand health statistics sufficiently, thus lacking basic knowledge and facts to perform crucial tasks such as properly discussing potential treatment plans with their patients. The current system of training health professionals unfortunately does not aim at rectifying this deficit. An evaluation study has proven the effectiveness of fact boxes, as developed by the Harding Center, in imparting knowledge to patients as a basis for informed decisions. Patients, doctors, and the health care system as a whole benefit from understanding the data provided by fact boxes.


A transnational history of emotions

2015 Pernau, Margrit

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

Emotions are not the same for all people at all times. They have a history. In the Research Group for the History of Emotions at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, researchers come together to investigate the history of Europe and India – not only to compare regions, but also to study what is called the provincialisation of Europe: overcoming the perception of Europe as universal, as the norm from which all other regions represent, to a greater or lesser extent, deviations.


What children read – cognitive consequences and pedagogical challenges

2014 Schroeder, Sascha

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Linguistics Social and Behavioural Sciences

The ability to read is a fundamental prerequisite for participation in modern, information-based societies. Learning to read is a long and complex process, however, and one that not all students master with ease – as studies such as PISA have shown. Individuals with functional illiteracy can find themselves excluded from many areas of life and work. The Max Planck Research Group REaD investigates the underlying structure of students’ reading skills as well as the development of these skills during childhood and adolescence. It aims to find out how reading deficits can be addressed effectively.

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