Lecturers and  Abstracts  

Lecturers and

Lecturers and abstracts

PD Dr. Tobias Grossmann

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences Leipzig, Max Planck Research Group "Early Social Development"

2012 Habilitation in Psychology, Heidelberg University;

2006 Doctor rerum naturalium University of Leipzig/Max-Planck-Institut for Evolutionary Anthropology/Max-Planck-Institut for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences


The early development of the social mind - A neuroscience perspective

One major function of our brain is to enable us to recognize, manipulate, and behave with respect to socially relevant information. Much research on how the adult human brain processes the social world has shown that there is a network of specific brain areas, called the social brain, preferentially involved during social cognition and interaction. Studies on the adult social brain have provided important insights into the fully developed brain machinery that deals with our social world. However, we know very little about the early development of the social brain. In order to fill this gap, I will present work that investigates the developmental emergence of brain processes that are critical for facial and vocal social interaction. Moreover, I will talk about work that looks at how certain gene variants impact social brain processes in infancy, specifically the responding to facial and vocal emotional expressions, and thereby give rise to individual differences in emotional sensitivity and temperament. This multi-method examination employing behavioral, neuroscientific (fNIRS and EEG), and genetic analyzes paints an integrative and rich picture of the early development of the social mind.

Dr. Daniel Haun

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics Nijmegen/Niederlande, Max Planck Research Group for Comparative Cognitive Anthropology

2002 – 2006 Doktorand, Language and Cognition Group, Max-Planck-Institut für Psycholinguistik

2003 – 2004 Marie Curie Stipendiat, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London

Social motivations in early childhood: Comparative and cross-cultural studies

Some of the most intriguing differences between humans’ and other great apes’ social behaviour can be found not in the things humans can do, but in the things humans prefer to do. For example, I have recently shown that children prefer to cooperate with another child over achieving an identical outcome by themselves. Furthermore, children show strong preferences with whom to cooperate, preferring similar over dissimilar others. Because of the resulting social benefits to being like others, children follow the majority, sometimes even against their better judgement. I find these social preferences are shared across a wide variety of cultures but vary in their local instantiation. For example, self-similarity preference is cross-culturally common, but the dimensions along which similarity is evaluated vary across populations. Finally, my studies showed that some of these preferences, like preferring to learn from the majority, are shared across several great ape species and therefore likely inherited. Others, like following the majority against better judgement, appear to be found only in humans. These kinds of patterns of variation across human and non-human populations are key in our attempt to understand the interaction between inherited predispositions and the acquisition of population-specific behaviours during early childhood. Future research in this area should (i) further investigate the physiological mechanisms underlying children’s social motivations and link them to the variation within and between cultures and (ii) investigate the interaction between early social motivation and the development of social cognitive skills. Social motivations in early childhood might determine exposure to essential input for the development of social cognition, providing a lever for early intervention.

PD Dr. Stefan Heim

Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, and Psychosomatics, Medical School, RWTH Aachen University; Clinical and Cognitive Neurosciences at the Department of Neurology, Medical School, RWTH Aachen University; Institute for Neuroscience

05/2010 Habilitation Medizinische Fakultät RWTH Aachen; Promotion zum Dr. rer. nat, Universität Leipzig/Max-Planck-Institut für Neuropsychologische Forschung, Leipzig

Fingerprints of childhood dyslexia: Reading acquisition from a pedagogical neuroscience perspective

Developmental dyslexia is a frequent childhood reading disorder, which is usually identified only after the child enters primary school. Recent theories propose phonological processing, auditory processing, visual processing, automaticity, or attention as potential causes of reading difficulties. This heterogeneity of positions has led to the identification of subtypes of dyslexia with individual cognitive profiles, or “fingerprints”. At least three subtypes with phonological, visual, and mixed difficulties could be distinguished. Linking these profiles to brain activation during reading, phonological processing, or attention reveals a repercussion of these fingerprints in neurophysiological activation patterns. These data suggest that subtypes of dyslexia recruit different brain systems for reading-related functions, which thus may be targeted by specific trainings. From a pedagogical perspective, the identification of cognitive fingerprints of dyslexia may serve as a guideline to improve diagnostics and intervention for reading problems. Considering individual deficit patterns helps to optimise the outcome of intensive trainings. As a consequence, a pre-school perspective on dyslexia may incorporate cognitive fingerprints of dyslexia as potential predictors of impaired reading acquisition in the first years of primary school. Relationships to more general pre-school assessment of language abilities and the impact of multilingual backgrounds on performance and diagnostics are discussed in conclusion.

Prof. Dr. Joscha Kärtner

nifbe Niedersächsisches Institut für frühkindliche Bildung und Entwicklung, Osnabrück/Universität Münster

03/2008 Promotion in Psychologie an der Universität Osnabrück

The autonomous developmental pathway: The primacy of subjective mental states for human behavior and experience

I argue that the sociocultural context is constitutive of developmental processes from birth onwards. After introducing the ecocultural model of development, I focus on two guiding themes that are differentially emphasized in different sociocultural contexts, namely sensitivity to subjective mental states and social responsiveness, i.e., sensitivity to the social context. Depending on the sociocultural context and the associated social experiences, these general human experiential processes are differentially accentuated and, as a consequence, fundamentally shape human behavior and experience in that they lay the ground for culture-specific developmental pathways. Based on recent results, I argue that one key feature of early mother-infant interaction that sensitizes infants for own mental states is visual contingent responsiveness. This has important implications for infants’ concurrent and subsequent development. Concurrently, it leads to culture-specific manifestations of the 2-month shift, i.e., a qualitative shift in infants’ communicative competencies. In the second year, this differential emphasis has implications for toddlers’ sense of themselves and others as autonomous intentional agents. Later in ontogeny, the model predicts effects on such diverse processes as person perception, explaining and predicting own and others’ behavior, prosocial behavior, and moral reasoning. In consequence, the suggested theoretical model requires a culture-sensitive approach for explaining the context-specificity of developmental processes. It identifies several fields for future research while Leipzig would provide an ideal intellectual environment to meet this challenge from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Dr. Bettina Lamm

Universität Osnabrück, Fachbereich Humanwissenschaften, Institut für Psychologie

04/2008 Promotion im Fachbereich Humanwissenschaften, Universität Osnabrück

Developmental research: How natural observation and experimental studies meet

Development can only be understood as interplay between biology and culture, because culture selects and reinforces biological predispositions and thus informs developmental pathways. Therefore the study of development always requires the consideration of the eco-cultural context. However, the vast majority of studies on infant or early child development have been conducted in highly educated, industrialized, urban, Western middle-class communities, representing less than five percent of the world’s population. In this presentation, empirical examples will be given, how the cultural focus on specific forms of autonomy and relatedness influences the accomplishment of universal developmental tasks. Special emphasis is put on culture-specific parenting strategies and their influence on learning and memory development of infants and preschoolers in two prototypically different cultural contexts, German middle-class and rural Nso, a traditional farming community in Northwestern Cameroon. Since research methods are also developed in the Western contexts, methodological challenges of developmental research in different eco-cultural contexts are reflected. The planned Centre for Early Childhood in Leipzig will constitute an excellent infrastructure to combine the research traditions of naturalistic observations of every-day life, standardized experimental settings, and neuropsychological research, which is proposed as the only way to understand developmental trajectories and systematically include culture in the study of development.

Prof. Dr. Katja Liebal

Freie Universität Berlin, Languages of Emotion, Department of Educational Science and Psychology, Evolutionary Psychology, Berlin/University of Portsmouth

2005 Promotion zum Dr. rer. nat. (Biologie), Universität Leipzig

A comparative approach to human communication

To answer the questions if, how, and to what extent humans are unique in comparison to other animals, a comparative approach usually contrasts humans usually children from Western societies with their closest relatives, the great apes mostly adults in captive settings. My research centers on an evolutionary approach to primate communication and the question if a comparison with other species offers conclusions about possible scenarios of language evolution. I pursue a multimodal approach that integrates different modalities in order to develop objective methods that enable the systematic comparison of nonhuman primates and children with different cultural backgrounds. My research shows that individual communicative repertoires of great apes are shaped in interactions with others and are changing with increasing age and depending on the group’s social circumstances. Similarly, the communicative skills of children are shaped by their interactions with their parents, which in turn are influenced by cultural practices and socialization values that differ between cultural groups. Therefore, by following the developmental trajectories of both children and young apes, I investigate which communicative skills are shared across groups and which are unique to one of them, with special focus on how these similarities and differences develop over time. By using such a comparative approach, I want to offer new insights into how the social environment influences the communicative skills of human children, with the perspective to extend such research to the investigation of clinical populations.

Dr. Jutta L. Mueller

Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Department of Neuropsychology

1/2002 – 03/2005 Doktorandin am Max-Planck-Institut für Kognitions- und Neurowissenschaften, Leipzig

First steps into language: Rule learning and its perceptual roots

The last decades brought substantial progress in the demonstration of infants’ early language learning capacities. Artificial grammar learning experiments have shown that infants use statistical as well as acoustic information to extract the relevant units from ambient speech. While grammars containing adjacent dependencies between linguistic units are robustly learned from birth onwards, this is not the case for grammars containing non-adjacent dependency rules, which are the foundation of complex human grammar. Behavioral studies indicate that non-adjacent dependency learning develops later and remains more difficult. I will present a series of experiments tackling infants’ and adults’ ability to learn non-adjacent dependency rules between syllables and how this ability relates to basic perceptual skills. As indicated by event-related potentials, infants successfully extract non-adjacent dependency rules already at the age of 3 months, while adults seem to partly loose this ability. Further, basic auditory mechanisms seem to be linked to rule learning across development. I will discuss the possible impact of auditory skills and neurocognitive development on grammar learning and how this relation may be generalizable to domain-general perception and learning. Finally, I will point out implications for applied research aiming to optimize the learning environment starting from an early age.

Dr. Markus Paulus

Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Fakultät für Psychologie und Pädagogik, Entwicklungspsychologie und Pädagogische Psychologie

6/2011 Promotion in Psychologie an der RU Nijmegen

The early development of prosocial behavior

Early prosocial development has become a topic of great interest in recent years as experimental studies have provided evidence that instances of prosocial action, such as helping, sharing, and comforting, can already be found in the second year of life. Yet, the developmental trajectories as well as the social-cognitive and neurocognitive mechanisms subserving these behaviors have remained a topic of vivid theoretical discussion. This talk presents a series of studies employing longitudinal, experimental-behavioral, and neurophysiological approaches designed to examine the early development of prosocial action and its underlying psychological mechanisms. The longitudinal and cross-sectional developmental studies provide evidence for a growing differentiation and integration of prosocial behavior over the first years of life. Furthermore, the neurocognitive findings suggest that prosocial action is a heterogeneous concept and that – in its early origins – the different instances of human prosocial behavior have qualitatively distinct roots. The results inform current debates on early prosocial development and point to possibilities to foster the development of prosocial behavior.

last update: 01.11.2012 


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