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 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.

Protecting ourselves against Internet manipulation

Tips from a behavioral science perspective

We wouldn’t be able to control superintelligent machines

According to theoretical calculations of computer scientists, algorithms cannot contain a harmful artificial intelligence

No false certainty

Germans want open communication of uncertainty in the coronavirus pandemic

Forming beliefs in a world of filter bubbles

Study examines how people deal with diverging information

When artificial intelligence creates art

A study asks who deserves the most recognition in the process of creating AI art and examines what role the humanization of AI plays in this


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.

Max Planck scientists travel to all the continents in the world to conduct research. Here they write about their personal experiences and impressions. Lou Marie Haux from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin spent three months on Ngamba Island in Uganda studying the risk-taking behavior of chimpanzees. In this article, she reports on her behavioral studies, everyday life on a small island and her most cherished moments.

Children explore their environment with all their senses, and their curiosity knows no bounds. From a certain age onwards, they never seem to stop bombarding adults with questions. Many people consider this form of active learning to be ideal. Until now, however, almost nothing has been known about the strategies that children use on their own initiative. At the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Azzurra Ruggeri and her team are developing sophisticated tests in order to understand the way children learn.

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.

No job offers available

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.


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

2016 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

2015 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.

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