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, education, and human-machine interaction. Researchers of various disciplines – including psychology, education, sociology, medicine, 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, how the school as an institution affects students’ development and learning processes, how the interaction between behaviour and brain function changes over a person’s lifespan, how human emotions change in a historical context and how they have affected the course of history itself, as well as what social innovations and challenges digitalization brings with it.


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 for Moral Economies of Modern Societies
IMPRS on Computational Methods in Psychiatry and Ageing Research
IMPRS on the Life Course

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

interactive simulation

Study on the impact of different risk communication formats on the vaccine intentions of 1255 unvaccinated, vaccine-hesitant adults in Germany

Letters spelling the word lockdown

Study on the effectiveness of restrictions takes citizens’ behavioral changes into account

A row of sitting people with smartphones in their hands

Study reveals how people resolve dilemmas in online content moderation

The image shows a tile with pictures of 10 Max Planck researchers who were successful in the 2022 ERC Consolidator Grant award process. They are Annalisa Pillepich, MPI for Astronomy, Philip J.W. Moll, MPI for Structure and Dynamics of Matter, Simone Kuehn, MPI for Education Research, Joshua Wilde, MPI for Demographic Research Meritxell Huch, MPI for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dora Tang, MPI for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Aljaz Godec, MPI for Multidisciplinary Natural Sciences, Stéphane Hacquard, MPI for Plant Breeding Research, Hiroshi Ito, MPI for Brain Research, and Daniel Schramek, MPI for Molecular Genetics.

This result puts Max Planck in second place in a Europe-wide comparison


Anastasia Kozyreva on strategies that help us gain more control over the way we use online media

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According to traditional dogma, political decisions should be rational and sensible. Under no circumstances should they be emotional. However, the reality has always looked somewhat different. What importance did feelings have for political events?

We are increasingly encountering artificial intelligence (AI) in our everyday lives, from bots in call centers and robotic colleagues on assembly lines, to electronically controlled players in computer games. At the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Iyad Rahwan and his team are investigating how people behave when they interact with intelligent machines and what they expect from their artificial counterparts.

Nowadays, political debates often turn into verbal brawls – especially on social media. In order to counteract this, Eckehard Olbrich and Sven Banisch of the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig and Philipp Lorenz-Spreen of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development are investigating how polarization occurs and how opinion formation in groups works.

For humans, plants are a source of food, building material, and medicine. But not everything that green is good. Some plants produce toxins that can make us sick or even kill us. Thus, a wariness of plants makes sense from an evolutionary point of view, especially for infants and toddlers. Annie Wertz from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin is investigating which behaviors protect children from dangerous plants and how they learn from adults which plants are safe to eat.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is always a shock. There is probably no other physical illness that has such a severe psychological impact on the person concerned. For a long time, researchers sought to find the cause of the disease in the personalities of the patients themselves. This was a fatal mistake, as our author shows on the basis of how the issue was treated in the past.

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The science of machine behaviour

2021 Köbis, Nils; Rahwan, Iyad

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

Machines powered by artificial intelligence take on ever more social roles. To study this new class of actors, their behavioral patterns, and ecology, Researchers of the Center for Humans and Machines at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin describe Machine Behavior—an emerging approach that applies concepts and methodologies from across the behavioral sciences to intelligent machines. They review available empirical evidence on how machine behavior can corrupt human morals and evaluate the risks of AI agents acting as bad role models and AI advisors.


What study design has to do with bridge building – and why it is not only sample size that matters

2020 Brandmaier, Andreas M.

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

It is essential to carefully plan a scientific study to maximize the chance of its success. The planning phase typically includes considerations of statistical power, which is the probability that the study will show a hypothesized effect if it exists. Often, sample size is considered as the primary parameter. Particularly in longitudinal studies, however, there are numerous other parameters, such as the number of measurements and their distribution over time, which have a significant impact on the success and also the budget of a study.


Identifying unreliable health information with fast-and-frugal trees

2019 Rebitschek, Felix G.; Jenny, Mirjam A.

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

Consumers need independent health information to evaluate health care services. Fast-and-frugal decision trees can reduce complexity and help consumers identify useful health information. Together with experts and laypeople and based on machine learning methods, we developed a fast-and-frugal tree that warns consumers about unreliable health information. Integrated learning methods, we developed a fast-and-frugal tree that warns consumers about unreliable health information. Integrated into the RisikoKompass-App (RiskCompass-App), the decision tree enhances consumer’s risk literacy.


“You can do it!?” The history of emotions and cancer

2018 Hitzer, Bettina

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

Some assumptions are so widely shared that they are rarely questioned. One such assumption is that positive emotions increase chances of beating cancer. Although researchers have yet to establish a clear link, this assumption continues to define society’s view of cancer. Even in the twentieth century, guides for doctors advised them against revealing a diagnosis of cancer to their patients in the belief that feelings of fear might negatively influence the recovery process. How did these assumptions gain broad acceptance? This text looks at the history of how emotions can influence cancer.


The R factor: Is risk preference a personal trait?

2017 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.

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