International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course (LIFE)

Studying the development of human behavior from infancy to old age is at the heart of the LIFE graduate program. LIFE takes an integrative and interdisciplinary approach to identifying, understanding, and improving the mechanisms and conditions that shape the human life course. It actively promotes international networking and communication as an integral part of graduate training. The Berlin-based fellows are recruited from all over the world (e.g., Iran, India, Italy, Lebanon, Turkey, etc.). In addition, four LIFE sites in three countries (Germany, the United States, Switzerland) located on either side of the Atlantic guarantee a graduate education with a strong emphasis on international exchange and collaboration.

Co-Speakers: Ulman Lindenberger, MPI for Human Development; Clemens Tesch-Römer, German Centre of Gerontology (Associate Co-Speaker); Toni C. Antonucci, University of Michigan; Jacqui Smith, University of Michigan (Associate Co-Speaker); Steven M. Boker, University of Virginia; Angeline M. Lillard, University of Virginia (Associate Co-Speaker); Moritz Daum, University of Zurich; Alexandra M. Freund, University of Zurich (Associate Co-Speaker)

Program Manager: Imke Kruse, MPI for Human Development

Coordinators: Silke Schäfer, MPI for Human Development; Karen Johnson, University of Virginia

Newsletter Editor: Julia A. M. Delius, MPI for Human Development

LIFE is all about the development of human behavior from infancy to old age. LIFE is a joint international PhD program of the MPI for Human Development, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, and the University of Zurich. LIFE was established in 2002 and reached the nominal maximum period of 18 years of funding by the Max Planck Society in 2019. Upon positive review, a new six-year funding period started in 2020, with continued involvement of all four sites.

LIFE takes an integrative and interdisciplinary approach to identifying, understanding, and possibly ameliorating the mechanisms and conditions that shape the human life course. LIFE unifies a wide range of disciplines from the behavioral, computational, social, and neurosciences. The research of individual fellows is anchored within specific disciplines and their training is enriched by exposure to an international and interdisciplinary context that actively promotes the lifespan perspective.

The target groups of LIFE are graduate students who have completed their M.A. or a comparable degree, share an interest in the human life course, and intend to pursue a doctorate in one of the disciplines represented in LIFE (computer science, economics, educational science, neuroscience, psychology, and sociology). As a collaborative research school, LIFE offers students a unique educational experience: academic training in their area of specialization that is enriched by interdisciplinary and international perspectives.

Collaboration among the participating institutions has been close and extensive since the program’s inception. The semiannual academies, in which fellows and faculty from the four LIFE sites participate, are the beating heart of the international LIFE program. About 40 fellows typically attend the academies, and most of them present their dissertation research either as a poster or in a talk, with ample time for discussion with faculty and co-fellows. In addition, roughly 35 faculty members from all sites and a few local alumni, as well as one or two guest speakers from other institutions, participate in each academy. Each time, the graduating alumni also join the group to celebrate their LIFE Commencement. Each fellow participates in four academies.

The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated several adaptations of the standard LIFE curriculum; four academies were carried out virtually and one semi-virtually before a fully in-person event could be held again in Berlin in October 2022. The opportunity was taken to celebrate the 20th LIFE Anniversary with fellows and faculty as well as members of the first LIFE cohort, who started the program in 2002 (see Figures 1 & 2).

The LIFE exchanges, or research stays at a LIFE site abroad, are usually the other core element of international collaboration. Over the years, these exchanges have triggered an impressive number of collaborative research projects among fellows as well as fellows and faculty members from different sites and institutions. In the reporting period, the pandemic obviously limited the opportunities for exchanges, but three fellows were able to visit another LIFE site.

LIFE fellows in Berlin normally participate in a special program of weekly seminars each semester. On a rotational basis, the topics are designed to give a broad overview of research and theory in the biology, psychology, sociology, and education of the life course. The seminars are usually held at the MPI for Human Development, taught throughout the academic year by a varying team of faculty from the three Berlin institutions, and also include invited lectures by external faculty. Again, several seminars needed to be held online, and a new format was established, namely the LIFE Theory Lab, an open lecture series on contemporary theorizing, methodological advancements, and future challenges for lifespan developmental science. The lectures were given by invited international experts and were open to a wide audience across the academic community.

Table 1. LIFE Academies 2020–2022

Spring Academy 2020, 
27.05 2020
University of Virginia Virtual event
Fall Academy 2020,
MPI for Human Development Virtual event
Spring Academy 2021,
University of Michigan Virtual event
Fall Academy 2021,
University of Zurich In-person and virtual event
Spring Academy 2022,
University of Virginia Virtual event
Fall Academy 2022 and 20th LIFE Anniversary Celebration
MPI for Human Development In-person event

Table 2. International LIFE Community (as of 03/2023)




Faculty 34 26 25 26
Fellows 25 6 7 15
Alumni 117 65 50 49

Table 3. LIFE Seminars and Workshops 2020–2023, Berlin

Semester Topic Instructor(s)
Summer 2023 Introductory Workshop on the Foundations of Lifespan Research Berlin LIFE faculty and guests
Summer 2020 The LIFE Theory Lab: Open Lecture Series* Ulman Lindenberger (MPIB) and guests
Winter 2020/21 Seminar: Education Across the Lifespan* Martin Brunner (University of Potsdam) and guests
Winter 2020/21 Presentation Training* Steve Weir (FU)
Winter 2020/21 Lectures on Multivariate Methods* Timo von Oertzen (MPIB/Universität der Bundeswehr)
Summer 2021 Seminar: Fellows’ Project Presentations* Chaired by Berlin LIFE alumni
Summer 2021 Git Workshop* Antonio Amaddio (FU)
Summer 2021 Workshop on Good Scientific Practice* Uwe Czienskowski (MPIB)
Summer 2021 Workshop: From Data to Causes* Manuel Voelkle (HU) and guests
Winter 2021/22 Introductory Workshop on the Foundations of Lifespan Research Markus Werkle-Bergner (MPIB)
Winter 2021/22 Seminar: Decision Making Nicolas Schuck (MPIB) and guests
Winter 2021/22 Workshop on Academic Writing Ulman Lindenberger
Winter 2021/22 Lectures on Data Mining* Timo von Oertzen (MPIB/Universität der Bundeswehr)
Winter 2021/22 Workshop on Research Data Management Maike Kleemeyer (MPIB)
Summer 2022 The LIFE Theory Lab: Open Lecture Series* Wiebke Bleidorn (UZH) and guests
Winter 2022/23 Seminar: Methods in Research on Human Development Ulman Lindenberger (MPIB) and guests
Winter 2022/23 Presentation Training Steve Weir (FU)
Winter 2022/23 Class on Dynamical Systems Analysis* Steven Boker (UVA)
Summer 2023 Introductory Workshop on the Foundations of Lifespan Research Berlin LIFE faculty and guests

Freie Universität Berlin (FU), MPI for Human Development (MPIB), University of Virginia (UVA), University of Zurich (UZH). Events in italics were optional.
* Virtual events

Table 4. Berlin LIFE Fellows’ Dissertation Projects (as of 03/2023)

Name Institution Dissertation Project
Muna Aikins MPIB Biosocial pathways of racialized inequalities in children‘s and adolescents‘ mental health
Warsha Barde DZNE The role of learning in the emergence of individuality
Elisa Buchberger MPIB The process architecture of memory in early to middle childhood
Laura Buchinger DIW The interplay of life goals, personality, and well-being: A lifespan perspective
Hannes Diemerling MPIB Machine learning methods to determine the correlation between partially or completely missing variables
Michael Geers MPIB Rebalancing human and algorithmic decision making
Urmimala Ghose HU Contextual effects on adaptation to major life events
Andrea Hasl University of Potsdam Time matters: Adopting a lifespan developmental perspective on individual differences in skills, cumulative advantages, and the role of dynamic modeling approaches
Marlene Hecht MPIB Social sampling from online and offline contacts: Information search, adaptive use and developmental differences
Maike Hille MPIB Training-induced brain changes during motor skill learning in humans and mice
Neda Khosravani MPIB The effects of task-switching training in childhood: Individual differences in performance change
Michael D. Krämer DIW Social relationships, personality, and subjective well-being: Investigating social processes across different methods and temporal resolutions
Toni Muffel HU Modulating and assessing plasticity after stroke and across the lifespan
Jannik Orzek HU Statistical learning in psychological research: Methods and applications
Eleftheria Papadaki MPIB Experience-dependent plasticity in the auditory domain: Effects of expertise and training on functional brain organization
Claire Pauley MPIB Age differences in memory representations
Sina A. Schwarze MPIB Mechanisms of cognitive control plasticity during childhood
Alexander Skowron MPIB The role of neural and behavioral variability in learning and decision-making across the lifespan
Sophie Stallasch University of Potsdam Multilevel design parameters and effect size benchmarks for students’ competencies
Sonja Sudimac MPIB Neural correlates of beneficial effects of a one-hour walk in natural vs. urban environments
Sarah Swanke MPIB On the origin of risk preferences
Nour Tawil MPIB Affective and behavioral mechanisms underlying the response to architectural stimuli
Anna Thoma MPIB Ecological rationality of repeated choice under uncertainty: A developmental perspective
Luianta Verra MPIB Mechanisms of aversive generalization and replay and its relationship to transdiagnostic psychiatric measures
Dilara Zorbek MPIB Task-dependent representational dynamics of working memory

German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen, Dresden (DZNE), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin (HU), MPI for Human Development (MPIB).

Table 5. LIFE Faculty Members at the MPIB or With MPIB Affiliation (as of 02/2023)

Name Center/Research Group Position
Douglas D. Garrett Lifespan Neural Dynamics Group & Lifespan Psychology Senior Research Scientist
Ralph Hertwig Adaptive Rationality Director
Simone Kühn Lise Meitner Group for Environmental Neuroscience Group Leader
Ulman Lindenberger Lifespan Psychology Director
Laurel Raffington Max Planck Research Group Biosocial Group Leader
Iyad Rahwan Humans and Machines Director
Naftali Raz Lifespan Psychology Research Scientist
Azzurra Ruggeri Max Planck Research Group iSearch Group Leader
Myriam C. Sander Minerva Group, Lifespan Psychology Group Leader
Nicolas W. Schuck Max Planck Research Group NeuroCode Group Leader
Christin Schulze Adaptive Rationality Senior Research Scientist
Bernhard Spitzer Research Group Adaptive Memory and Decision Making Group Leader
Timo von Oertzen Lifespan Psychology Associate Research Scientist
Gert G. Wagner Max Planck Fellow
Markus Werkle-Bergner Lifespan Psychology Senior Research Scientist
Annie E. Wertz MPRG Naturalistic Social Cognition Group Leader
Dirk Wulff Adaptive Rationality Senior Research Scientist

Note that Nicolas W. Schuck and Markus Werkle-Bergner are LIFE alumni, that is, they completed their graduate training within LIFE.

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