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.

Children growing up in under-resourced families have epigenetic profiles associated with worse health

Cell phone with The Face Game home page in woman's hand

The Face Game is a new online experiment that explores how chatbots will choose to appear to humans

Symbol image with a hand holding a money envelope from the right and a defensive hand from the left

Anti-corruption can start with education about stereotypes, an international study shows

Plate with bite-sized pieces of fruits

Study examines influence of longer family meals on children's eating behavior

14 cute monsters arranged irregularly inside a circle

Scientists have investigated the underlying mechanism in the brain when we apply stored knowledge to new decision-making situations.

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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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On the way to brain-friendly urban planning 

2022 Kühn, Simone 

Cognitive Science Cultural Studies Social and Behavioural Sciences

The Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development investigates how our environment influences our behaviour and our brain. It has been known for some time that our behaviour, and especially factors such as sport, diet and hobbies like video games, can alter our brains. Until now, however, the question of whether the environment that surrounds us on a daily basis also influences the human brain has remained largely unanswered. 


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.

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