The department has three main areas of research:
1. The Ontogeny of Human Social Cognition
in which we investigate the social-cognitive skills of children from around 9 months to around 4 years of age. Topics of recent interest include: collaboration, helping, prelinguistic communication, normativity, imitation, theory of mind, and perspective-taking.
2. The Acquisition of Language
in which we investigate the ontogeny of this most distinctive of human cognitive skills. Taking a usage-based theoretical approach derived from Cognitive-Functional Linguistics, we investigate the nature of children's early grammars and how children use language to inform others and to understand their communicative intentions. We conduct cross-linguistic studies of children's input and the different syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic cues used to understand simple and complex sentences.
3. Primate Cognition
in which we investigate how the four great ape species (and sometimes other primates) understand their physical and social worlds. Comparisons between different species can offer important evidence concerning the evolutionary origins of human cognition.
The Wolfgang Köhler Primate Research Center (Pongoland) is a project of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. It is operated in collaboration with the Leipzig Zoo. Research focuses on the behavior and cognition of the four species of great ape.
In an additional line of research, we investigate the physical and social cognition of dogs, as dogs have evolved various skills for functioning effectively in human society. This research contributes to a fuller picture of cognition by exploring the contrast between homologous and analogous cognitive mechanisms among species (i.e., those resulting from a common ancestor versus those resulting from similar evolutionary pressures).