Max Planck Research Group "Naturalistic Social Cognition"

The Max Planck Research Group "Naturalistic Social Cognition" 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. For many of us today, plants are peripheral to our everyday lives. However, across evolutionary time, learning which plants could be eaten and which plants were dangerous would have been critical to human survival. Its research examines the ways in which this ancient problem has left its mark on our modern minds.

Dr. Wertz’s previous research provided the first evidence that human infants do indeed possess behavioral and social learning strategies that are selective to plants (e.g., infants avoid plant dangers and selectively learn that plants are edible). The Max Planck Research Group will continue this work by further investigating plant-relevant learning rules in human infants and across the lifespan using a combination of laboratory studies and naturalistic observations of young children and their parents. Throughout this work, the group will examine to what degree the findings are plant-specific or apply to a broader class of entities (e.g., other natural kinds, animals, artifacts, etc.). This research will provide a basis for cross-cultural and comparative investigations of these selective social learning strategies.

Investigating how infants use social information to learn about plants provides a window into the complex interplay of evolutionary and developmental factors that allow human beings to accumulate cultural knowledge. This type of intergenerational knowledge transfer enables us to survive and thrive in environments across the world.

The Max Planck Research Group "Naturalistic Social Cognition" will use an interdisciplinary approach to examine social learning and social cognition in naturalistic contexts by combining theory and methodologies from cognitive science, developmental psychology, evolutionary theory and biological anthropology.

The research group started its work in January 2015.


Research Group Leader:
Annie E. Wertz
Annie E. Wertz | Group Leader MPRG "Naturalistic Social Cognition"
wertz [at] mpib-berlin [dot] mpg [dot] de