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THE 1960s
The Institute was founded in 1963 on the initiative of Hellmut Becker – at a time when the public and policy-makers were beginning to realize that education, if it was to meet the demands of a rapidly changing society, was in need of new impulses from scientific research. In the first decade of its existence, the development of educational research and educational policy was emphasized. Becker was subsequently joined by Friedrich Edding, Dietrich Goldschmidt, and Saul B. Robinsohn (1964) as the first generation of scientific directors.

THE 1970s
The appointment of a second generation of directors – Wolfgang Edelstein (1973, initially as a member of the management board and from 1981 as a director) and Peter M. Roeder (1973) – added a commitment to basic research in human development and educational processes to this framework.

THE 1980s AND 1990s
Since the 1980s and with the appointment of a third generation of senior fellows and scientific directors – Paul B. Baltes (1980), Karl Ulrich Mayer (1983), Jürgen Baumert (1996), Gerd Gigerenzer (1997) – research at the Institute has increasingly concentrated on questions of basic research associated with the nature of human development, education, and work in a changing society. At the same time, lifespan developmental and life-course research were added as a signature profile of the Institute's research program.

SINCE 2000
Latest developments in the succession of generations were marked by the appointment of Ulman Lindenberger as new director (2004), adding an emphasis on neural correlates of human behavior and cognitive plasticity, and by the appointment of Ute Frevert (2007), adding perspectives from cultural history to the Institute's research agenda on human development. The appointment of Ralph Hertwig (2012) has further enriched the Institute’s research on human decision-making processes, with a special focus on the social environment and changes across the lifespan.