25.11.2020 - 18:51
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Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture

Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig

phone: +49 (0)341 3550 - 315
fax: +49 (0)341 3550 - 333

e-mail: cissewski@eva.mpg.de

Dominik Deffner

Doctoral Student

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture
Deutscher Platz 6
04103 Leipzig

Phone: +49 341 3550 341 
E-mail: dominik_deffner@[>>> Please remove the brackets! <<<]eva.mpg.de

Research Interests
Curriculum Vitae

Research Interests

During my undergraduate and Master's training I studied a wide range of subjects spanning (Evolutionary and Comparative) Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Anthropology and Philosophy.

I am primarily interested in extragenetic inheritance and the role of socially transmitted information (aka culture) in human adaptation and evolution. I want to understand which psychological mechanisms lead to the population-level process of behavioral evolution that allowed humans to become such an adaptable and ecologically successful species.

My PhD project under the supervision of Richard McElreath focuses on the interplay between social learning, demographics and life history dynamics. Specifically, I develop new mathematical and individual-based models exploring the evolution of social learning and culture in age-structured populations. In order to test key predictions of these theoretical models, I will use group experiments with human children and adults in the lab, simple field experiments, as well as ethnographic work and comparative data from non-human animals. This project will contribute to the overarching goal of the department to integrate cultural evolution and life history theory and help us gain a more comprehensive understanding of the evolutionary dynamics underlying human adaptation.

Curriculum Vitae

Current Position

03/2018-presentPhD candidate in Behavioral Ecology
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Department of Human Behavior, Ecology and Culture
Project title: “Social learning in structured populations: Theoretical and empirical approaches”
Supervisors: Prof Richard McElreath, Dr Anne Kandler, Prof Daniel Haun

University Education

09/2016-09/2017University of St Andrews, United Kingdom
M.Sc. (with distinction) Evolutionary and Comparative Psychology: The Origins of Mind
10/2012-08/2016Philipps-University Marburg, Germany
B.Sc. Psychology (final grade: 1.0)
B.A. Comparative Studies in Culture and Religion, Philosophy (final grade: 1.3)


1/2012-03/2018Scholarship student
with the German National Academic Foundation
(Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes)

Academic Experience

11/2016-08/2017  Centre for Social Learning & Cognitive Evolution, University of St Andrews
M.Sc. student
Supervision: Prof Dr Kevin Laland
  • Niche construction and the strength and temporal dynamics of natural selection in the wild
  • Assembly of large dataset of selection gradients and Bayesian mixed-effect meta-analysis
10/2015-08/2016Department of Experimental and Biological Psychology, Philipps-University Marburg
B.Sc. student at the Cognitive Neuroscience of Perception and Action group
Supervision: Prof Dr Anna Schubö, Dipl.-Psych. Dominik Dötsch
  • Experimental research project on cooperation and attention in joint action
  • Training in neuroscientific methods including EEG, eye- and motion tracking
12/2013-08/2016Research Assistant at the Associative learning group
Supervision: Prof Dr Harald Lachnit, Dr Metin Uengoer, Dr Anna Thorwart
  • Conducted and analyzed (bio-)psychological experiments
  • Lab management including participant recruitment and allocation of experimenters 
10/2015-03/2016Department of Comparative Cultural Research at Philipps-University Marburg
B.A. Student at European Ethnology group
Supervision: Prof Dr Karl Braun
  • Conducted research project on Darwin’s role in politics with a focus on Russian anarchism
  • Historical methods and discourse analysis 
04/2015-09/2015Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, University of California, Santa Barbara
Research Intern at Cultural Psychology lab
Supervision: Prof Dr Heejung Kim
  • Experimental study on cultural frame switching in Asian-American biculturals
  • Training in cross-cultural, neuroscientific and genetic methods 

Language, Statistics and Programming skills

  • Fluent in German (native) and English (IELTS Academic overall band score: 8.0), proficient in Latin, Ancient Greek and French
  • Experienced in (Bayesian) generalized mixed models
  • Working knowledge in mathematical and individual-based modelling
  • Experienced in R, SPSS and MPlus statistics
  • Basic programming experience in Python and Matlab
  • Experience with E-Prime, Tobii eye tracking software and PsyToolkit

Teaching experience

04/2018Undergraduate seminar on Cultural Evolution and Social Learning
04/2016-08/2016Introductory seminar in Perception Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience
04/2014-08/2015Tutor in Experimental Methods module


* joint first author
ǂ joint senior author

Deffner, D., Kleinow, V., & McElreath, R. (submitted). Dynamic social learning in temporally and apatially variable environments.
Dötsch, D., Deffner, D., & Schubö, A. (submitted). Color me impressed: A partner’s target and perceptually similar stimuli capture visual attention.
Deffner, D., & McElreath, R. (2020). The importance of life history and population regulation for the evolution of social learning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B: Biological Sciences,375(1803).
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   


Clark, A. D., Deffner, D., Laland, K., Odling-Smee, J., & Endler, J. (2020). Niche construction affects the variability and strength of natural selection. The American Naturalist,195(1), 16-30.
DOI    PubMed    BibTeX   Endnote   
Deffner, D., & Kandler, A. (2019). Trait specialization, innovation and the evolution of culture in fluctuating environments. Palgrave Communications,5: 147.
Open Access    DOI    BibTeX   Endnote   


Smolla, M., Invernizzi, E., Bazhydai, M., Casoli, M., Deffner, D., Faria, G. S., Jones, N., Kanwal, J., Staehler, A., & Uchiyama, R. (2018). Second annual workshop of the Association of Early‐Career Social Learning Researchers in St Andrews, Scotland. Evolutionary Anthropology,27(5): 21746, pp. 184-187.
DOI    BibTeX   Endnote