Research Centers

The Center for Adaptive Rationality (Director: Ralph Hertwig) investigates how simple decision-making strategies—also known as heuristics—and cognitive search and learning help people to navigate the twilight of uncertainty in a constantly changing world. The Center further explores how these cognitive processes develop over the lifespan. The insights from this research feed into conclusions and recommendations on heuristics and environmental changes that can empower citizens, patients, doctors, and policy makers to make better decisions.

Do emotions have a history? And do they make history? These are the questions that the Research Center History of Emotions (Director: Ute Frevert) seeks to answer. To explore the emotional orders of the past, historians work closely with psychologists and education specialists. In addition, they draw on the expertise of anthropologists, sociologists, musicologists and scholars working on literature and art. Our research rests on the assumption that emotions – feelings and their expressions – are shaped by culture and learnt/acquired in social contexts. Research concentrates on the modern period (18th to 20th centuries). Geographically, it includes both western and eastern societies (Europe, North America and South Asia).

The Center for Lifespan Psychology (Director: Ulman Lindenberger) is characterized by a lifespan perspective and a concern with the optimization of human potential. The studies of children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly concentrate primarily on the development of cognition, memory, sensorimotor functions, intelligence, motivation, personality, and self-hood, as well as on prominent contextual factors of life-long socialization, such as interpersonal action coordination and co-development. In each of these areas, plasticity of human behavior and successful development, including their societal and neural causes and effects, play an important role in the conceptual and methodological design of the studies. Theory, methodology and history of developmental psychology define an additional area of interest.

Max Planck Research Groups

The Max Planck Research Group iSearch – Information Search, Ecological and Active learning Research with Children – (Head: Azzurra Ruggeri) investigates theoretically and empirically how children actively seek information in their physical and social environments as evidence to test and dynamically revise their hypotheses and theories over time. The iSearch research program explores the development of active learning across the life span. In particular, it analyzes the effectiveness and flexibility of children’s information search and hypothesis testing strategies as well as the possible benefits of active learning.

The Max Planck Research Group Naturalistic Social Cognition (Head: Annie Wertz) investigates how infants and young children think about and learn from other people in naturalistic circumstances. The primary focus of its research is the selective social learning strategies that humans use to acquire information about plants over the course of development. The group uses an interdisciplinary approach by combining theory and methodologies from cognitive science, developmental psychology, evolutionary theory and biological anthropology.

The Max Planck Research Group NeuroCode - Neural and Computational Basis of Learning, Decision Making and Memory – (Head: Nicolas Schuck) investigates the way the human brain supports decision making on the basis of previous experience. In his previous research Nicolas Schuck was able to show that the interactions between learning, memory, and decision processes involve specific signals in a part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. Now the group focuses on the brain’s algorithms during decision-making based on previous experience. The group uses specifically designed behavioral experiments, recording of brain data via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and mathematic models.

The Otto Hahn Research Group on Associative Memory in Old Age (led by Yvonne Brehmer) aims to extend our knowledge about inter-individual differences in older adults’ associative memory. The cognitive, social, and lifestyle factors, structural and functional brain correlates as well as genetic markers that predict inter-individual differences in associative memory functioning are of particular interest. In addition, the group focuses on the relationship between associative memory and successful aging. Data from large-scale population-based datasets from Sweden and Germany are used to answer the group’s research questions.

The multicenter collaboration „Socioemotional Development and Health“ is a joint research agenda of scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, the Freie Universität Berlin, and at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (Head: Michaela Riediger). The collaboration conducts longitudinal studies to investigate if and why people of different age groups differ in socio-emotional experiences and competencies, and how these differences are related to their health development. To address these questions, we combine methods of mobile-phone based experience-sampling with psychophysiological measurements and experimental paradigms.


The International Max Planck Research School COMP2PSYCH is part of the Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research located in Berlin and London. The program combines and integrates training in computer science, applied mathematics and statistics, psychology, and psychiatry with the goal to enable fellows to adapt and develop computational and statistical tools.


The International Max Planck Research School The Life Course: Evolutionary and Ontogenetic Dynamics (LIFE) is part of the Max Planck Society's framework of International Max Planck Research Schools. The goal of the Research School is advanced research training in the study of human behavior and institutional systems over evolutionary and ontogenetic (life cycle) time. LIFE takes an integrative and interdisciplinary approach to understanding human development in a changing world, connecting evolutionary, ontogenetic, historical, and institutional perspectives.

IMPRS Moral Economies

The IMPRS Moral Economies explores the “Moral Economies of Modern Societies” by identifying values, emotions and habits that inform and inspire social formations which have emerged since the eighteenth century, in Europe, North America, and South Asia. Research and the curriculum focus on the interlocking of new modes of feeling and the definition and justification of new social values.


IMPRS Uncertainty

The goal of The International Max Planck Research School Adapting Behavior in a Fundamentally Uncertain World (Uncertainty School) is to study cognitive, social, and organizational adaptations in uncertain and changing situations that involve individuals, groups, and institutions. The program combines a strong theoretical focus with practical applications.

Harding Center

How do I make decisions in our modern, technological world? Questions like these are the research focus of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy (Director: Gerd Gigerenzer). The researchers will conduct studies and experiments and carry out surveys in the general population. Their findings and training seminars shall aid in assessing risks competently and correctly.