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Department of Psychology The Life Course: Evolutionary and Ontogenetic Dynamics


The goal of the International Max Planck Research School LIFE is the study of systematic changes in human behavior over evolutionary and ontogenetic time. Aspects of these changes have been taught to students around the world from the point of view of one or another sub-discipline. In contrast, the goal of the International Max Planck Research School «The Life Course: Evolutionary and Ontogenetic Dynamics (LIFE)» is to take an integrative and interdisciplinary approach to understanding human development in a changing world, connecting evolutionary, ontogenetic, historical, and institutional perspectives.

The Research School offers students unique training in the dynamics of human behavior on different time scales. These include long-term changes, such as in the evolution of culture and emergence of institutions of learning, and short-term changes, such as in individual education processes, lifespan development, and institutionally regulated life-course processes.


Since the inception of the notion of human development in the 18th century, researchers have wrestled with the relationship between processes of evolution and processes of ontogenesis. Earlier attempts, such as the classical «ontogenesis as recapitulation of evolution» hypothesis, were typically one-sided in emphasis. Work in recent decades, however, with advances in evolutionary anthropology, cultural psychology, evolutionary psychology, developmental behavior genetics, gerontological biology, developmental, and life-course psychology, as well as historical sociology, suggests a new and more integrative orientation. Theories and methods have become available that permit a more systematic analysis of the evolution-ontogeny interface in human development.

An additional emergent property of the human sciences is to view human development as a field that considers the life course as a whole. This expansion of the age foci is evident in most disciplines of the behavioral and social sciences. It is also spurred by the extended longevity and aging of populations witnessed in industrialized countries.

The International Research School LIFE aims to make an innovative contribution to these new transdisciplinary developments and continuing changes in historical and social conditions.