Markus Paulus


Research focus
Markus Paulus is a developmental psychologist who focuses on the development of social-cognitive abilities and social behavior in early childhood. In particular, his main interests are how young children come to understand other people’s behavior and thoughts, how they are able to learn through observation, and how they learn to cooperate with others. One recent focus is on the early ontogeny of prosocial and moral behavior in young children. His research draws on behavioral observation, eye-tracking and neurocognitive methods.

What have I achieved during my fellowship?
The period of my Jacobs Foundation Fellowship coincided with the move to a novel position and the buildup of a new lab and research group. We successfully implemented a new lab structure that allowed us to run extensive and time-consuming longitudinal studies (inter alia the project founded by the JF). At the same time, several new project lines have been established. For example, in 2018 we started a new interdisciplinary DFG-priority program on “The active self” (SPP 2134) in which developmental psychologists, cognitive psychologists, and researchers from informatics/artificial intelligence investigate the origins of the human minimal self.

Through the JF-fellowship, novel cooperation have been established. For example, we are cooperating with Laura Di Giunta on an ongoing study on emotion regulation and prosocial behavior in adolescents. Recently, in a cooperation with JF-scholar Niko Steinbeis and a colleague from Canada (Kristen Dunfield), we obtained an international ORA-Grant for a joint study on prosocial development.

In terms of the JF-project, we were able to implement a longitudinal study on the early development of imitation and empathy. We investigated more than 100 children at 6 months, 10/14 months, 18 months and now again with 30 months. We are currently analyzing the data and are expecting to present first results early next year. One Ph.D. thesis on this project is in progress and aims to finish by the end of next year.

My plans for the future
My future plans are threefold. I would like to gain a deeper understanding of the emergence of prosocial and moral behavior in human development. In other words: How do humans become “moral beings” who care about good and bad, have empathy for others in need, and try to realize human values. To this end, I will further pursue the longitudinal study started with JF-funding. Second, I would like to explore the social basis of human development in greater detail. That is, pursuing the idea that human development is based on social interactions, I would like to develop more specific models on how exactly developmental changes are achieved by social interactions. This will also be the basis for possibilities to foster early development. Third, I would like to apply developmental insights into applied contexts. In the last years, I developed a deeper interest in “early intervention” (Frühförderung) for children with disabilities and special needs and I am currently considering how to realize this aspect in my work.