Research Interests: The development and evolution of human cooperation; comparative studies of great apes; cross-cultural comparisons.
Dr. Felix Warneken is the Director of the Social Cognitive Development Group where he conducts research on cooperation and social cognitive development in children and great apes. He studied in Germany and the United States, receiving his doctoral degree from the Universität Leipzig while working at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. His most significant contributions have been on the origins of cooperative behaviors in young children and chimpanzees. His study demonstrating altruistic helping in children and chimpanzees was named one of the 100 most important science stories in 2007 by Discover Magazine. Dr. Warneken has received several awards, including an Early Career Research Award from the Society for Research in Child Development, the Janet Taylor Spence Award for Transformative Early Career Contributions from the Association for Psychological Science, a National Science Foundation CAREER award, and the Boyd McCandless Award by the American Psychological Association. In 2014-15, he was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
Dr. Warneken’s research focuses on the foundation of human social cognition and cooperative behaviors. Are humans initially driven by purely selfish motives and must be taught to be altruistic, or do we have a biological predisposition for altruism? What enables teamwork and division of labor? How do we decide what we consider ‘fair’? To address these questions, Dr. Warneken’s lab integrates three lines of work, encompassing developmental studies with children, cross-cultural comparisons, as well as comparative studies with chimpanzees. Research on the development of children aims to yield insight into the early states of social cognition and behavior, as well as the factors that allow these foundational behaviors to develop into their mature forms. Cross-cultural comparisons illuminate the cultural and societal factors shaping children’s emerging cooperation. Last but not least, the comparison of human behaviors with those of chimpanzees helps to disentangle aspects of human psychology that are evolutionarily ancient from aspects that are unique to humans.