How the brain’s blue spot helps us focus our attention

How can we shift from inattentiveness to highest attention? The locus coeruleus, the “blue spot,” is a tiny cluster of cells at the base of the brain. As the main source of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline, it helps us control our attentional focus. Researchers at the MPI for Human Development have now developed a framework describing the way the blue spot regulates our brain’s sensitivity to relevant information in situations requiring attention.

Fluid Feelings

Gender and emotions are all too often thought of in stereotypical images. Against such a background, this issue deals with ambiguities and deviations, that is, with the dynamic interplay of gender and emotion. In five contributions, researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development conceive neither gender nor emotion as consistent categories, but rather as phenomena in motion that are constantly being created anew.

"Each individual child around the world is given the opportunity to acquire new skills"

How can you explain the goal of the Jacobs Foundation to a child? Ulman Lindenberger, Director of the Center for Lifespan Development, talks about his work in the Jacobs Foundation Board of Trustees. His key priorities are: creating evidence-based ideas for improved learning, offering quality education, and transforming education systems. Read his interview with the Jacobs Foundation.

The power of learning from experience: How we can become better intuitive statisticians

Why do babies and chimpanzees seem better able to deal with probabilities than adults, and what are the implications for statistics education? Researchers at the MPI for Human Development and the University of the Balearic Islands have investigated these questions in two studies now published in the journals Cognition and Psychological Bulletin.

Emotions in History

Ute Frevert’s groundbreaking publications represent a vital contribution to social and gender history. Early in her career, she mapped the history-making power of individual emotions and explored their historical roots. Her new book presents a carefully curated selection of key essays, unique case studies, and previously unpublished lectures from the last three decades that testifies to the power of emotions in history and the value of the history of emotions.

How can we get better at detecting microtargeted advertising?

Online platforms collect large amounts of information about us and our behavior. This information is used to tailor advertising to our needs, but also to our personal vulnerabilities. If this happens without our knowledge, online advertising can become manipulative. In a new article in Scientific Reports, researchers from the Center for Adaptive Rationality show how simple interventions can improve people’s ability to detect microtargeted advertising.

Searching for the origins of COVID-19

Clarifying the origin of the coronavirus is not only in the scientific interest but also in the geopolitical interest. But so far, there is a lack of reliable results. In an article in Nature Electronics, Manuel Cebrian, Leader of the Digital Mobilization Group at the Center for Humans and Machines, offers some technical considerations that could help get to the bottom of its origin. Investigating a twenty-first-century catastrophe, he says, requires a twenty-first-century technological response.

Taking the brain out for a walk

During the Corona pandemic, walks became a popular and regular pastime. Now a neuroscience study suggests: If you’re regularly out in the fresh air, you’re doing something good for both your brain and your well-being. This is the conclusion reached by researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and the Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE). The longitudinal study using magnetic resonance imaging of brains recently appeared in The World Journal of Biological Psychiatry.

Caution – toxic green!

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 is investigating which behaviors protect children from dangerous plants and how they learn from adults which plants are safe to eat. Read more about this in the current MaxPlanckResearch.

The Institute

The Max Planck Institute for Human Development is dedicated to the study of human development and educational processes across the lifespan and historical time. Researchers from diverse disciplines—including psychology, sociology, history, computer and information science, medicine, mathematics, and economics—work together on interdisciplinary projects. An overview of all research centers and groups can be found here.

Are you looking for a specific contact? Some 350 people from over 30 countries work at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. The institute comprises four research centers, three Max Planck Research Groups, one Emmy Noether Group, one Lise Meitner Research Group, and several service departments. The contact details of all staff members are listed here.

Are you interested in participating in a study? We are always looking for men, women, and children of various ages who are interested in participating in psychological or neuroscience studies. Here you can find out which projects are currently looking for participants and read up on the conditions for participation and study methods used.

Current Research Results


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How can we shift from a state of inattentiveness to one of highest attention? The locus coeruleus, literally the “blue ...

Why do babies and chimpanzees seem better able to deal with probabilities than adults, and what are the implications ...

It remains a central challenge in psychiatry to reliably judge whether a patient will respond to treatment. In a new ...

The Max Planck Institute for Human Development is committed to promoting equal opportunities for women and men. We take both organizational and personnel measures to facilitate the reconciliation of work and family life and to promote women’s careers. Our aim is to ensure a positive environment that promotes and supports excellence.

The MPI for Human Development provides several working opportunities for Predocs.
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