Tania Singer

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Tania Singer
Born 1969
Munich, Germany
Residence Leipzig, Germany
Nationality German
Fields Social neuroscience
Institutions Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences (professor, director)
Notable awards Otto Hahn Medal of the Max Planck Society for the best dissertation of the year 2000

Tania Singer (born in 1969 in Munich, Germany) is the director of the Department of Social Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. Her research focuses on the developmental, neuronal, and hormonal mechanisms underlying human social behaviour[1] and she is recognised as a world expert on empathy.[2] She is the daughter of the world famous neuroscientist Wolf Singer.


Singer studied psychology at the Philipps University of Marburg from 1989 to 1992. From 1992 to 1996 she studied psychology, media psychology and media counselling at the Technical University of Berlin, graduating with a M.S. (German: Diplom) in 1996. Between 1996 and 2000, she was a predoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. After receiving her PhD from the Free University of Berlin in 2000, she continued to work at the Max Planck Institute as a research scientist at the Center for Lifespan Psychology.

Academic Career and Achievements[edit]

After a period spent working first at the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience and then at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London, UK, she moved to the University of Zurich, Switzerland, as an assistant professor. From 2007 to 2009, she was co-director of the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research and in 2008 she held the Inaugural Chair of Social Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics at the University of Zurich. In 2010 she became a director at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany. In 2011, she received an honorary professorship from the University of Leipzig, Germany, and the Humboldt University, Berlin. She is also an honorary research fellow at the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research at the University of Zurich.

Tania Singer’s work examines human social behaviour using an interdisciplinary approach. In particular, her work focuses on social cognition, social moral emotions such as empathy, compassion, envy and fairness, social decision making, and communication. She is interested in the determinants of cooperation and prosocial behavior as well as the breakdown of cooperation and the emergence of selfish behaviour. Her research uses a range of methods including functional magnetic resonance imaging, virtual reality environments, biological markers such as cortisol, and behavioural studies.[3]

In a paper published in the journal Science in 2004, Singer showed that some pain-sensitive regions of the brain were also activated when volunteers experienced their partners feeling pain.[4] In follow-up studies, published in the journals Nature and Neuron, she showed that empathy-related brain responses are influenced by the perceived fairness of others, and whether a target belonged to an ingroup or outgroup, respectively.[5]

Singer is a directors board member at the Mind and Life Institute[6] and has worked with the French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard to investigate brain activity during meditation.[7]

Selected Works[edit]

• Steinbeis, N., & Singer, T. (2013). The effects of social comparison on social emotions and -behaviour during childhood: The ontogeny of envy and Schadenfreude predicts developmental changes in equity-related decisions. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2012.11.009.

• Engen, H. G., & Singer, T. (2012). Empathy Circuits. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2012.11.003.

• Smallwood, J., Ruby, F. J. M., & Singer, T. (2012). Letting go of the present: Task unrelated thought is associated with reduced delay discounting. Consciousness and Cognition, 22 (1), 1-7.

• Przyrembel, M., Smallwood, J., Pauen, M., & Singer, T. (2012). Illuminating the dark matter of social neuroscience: Considering the problem of social interaction from philosophical, psychological, and neuroscientific perspectives. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6(190).

• Bernhardt, B. C., & Singer, T. (2012). The neural basis of empathy. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 35, 1-23.

• Klimecki, O. M., Leiberg, S., Lamm, C., & Singer, T. (2012). Functional neural plasticity and associated changes in positive affect after compassion training. Cerebral Cortex. Advanced Online Publication. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs142.

• McCall, C., & Singer, T. (2012). The animal and human neuroendocrinology of social cognition, motivation and behavior. Nature Neuroscience. Review, 15(5), 681–688.

• Singer, T. (2012). The past, present and future of social neuroscience: A European perspective. NeuroImage.

• Steinbeis, N., Bernhardt, B. C., & Singer, T. (2012). Impulse control and underlying functions of the left DLPFC mediate age-related and age-independent individual differences in strategic social behavior. Neuron, 73 (5), 1040-1051.

• Hein, G., Lamm, C., Brodbeck, C., & Singer, T. (2011). Skin conductance response to the pain of others predicts later costly helping. PLoS One, 6 (8).

• Leiberg, S., Klimecki, O., & Singer, T. (2011). Short-term compassion training increases prosocial behavior in a newly developed prosocial game. PLoS One, 6 (3), e17798.

• Lamm, C., Decety, J., & Singer, T. (2011). Meta-analytic evidence for common and distinct neural networks associated with directly experienced pain and empathy for pain. NeuroImage, 54 (3), 2492–2502.

• Bird, G., Silani, G., Brindley, R., White, S., Frith, U., & Singer, T. (2010). Empathic brain responses in insula are modulated by levels of alexithymia but not autism. Brain, 133 (5), 1515–1525.

• Hein, G., Silani, G., Preuschoff, K., Batson, C. D., & Singer, T. (2010). Neural responses to the suffering of ingroup and outgroup members' suffering predict individual differences in costly helping. Neuron, 68 (1), 149–160.

• Singer, T., & Lamm, C. (2009). The social neuroscience of empathy. The Year in Cognitive Neuroscience 2009: Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1156 , 81–96.

• Singer, T., Critchley, H. D., & Preuschoff, K. (2009). A common role of insula in feelings, empathy and uncertainty. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 13 (8), 334–340.

• Singer, T., & Steinbeis, N. (2009). Differential roles of fairness- and compassion-based motivations for cooperation, defection, and punishment. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1167 (1), 41–50.

• Singer, T. (2006). The neuronal basis and ontogeny of empathy and mind reading: Review of literature and implications for future research. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 30 (6), 855–863.

• de Vignemont, F., & Singer, T. (2006). The empathic brain: How, when and why? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10 (10), 435–441.

• Singer, T., Seymour, B., O'Doherty, J. P., Stephan, K. E., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, C. D. (2006). Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others. Nature, 439, 466–469.

• Singer, T., Seymour, B., O'Doherty, J., Kaube, H., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, C. D. (2004). Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components of pain. Science, 303 (5661), 1157–1162.

• Singer, T., Kiebel, S. J., Winston, J. S., Dolan, R. J., & Frith, C. D. (2004). Brain responses to the acquired moral status of faces. Neuron, 41 (4), 653–662.

• Singer, T., Verhaeghen, P., Ghisletta, P., Lindenberger, U., & Baltes, P. B. (2003). The fate of cognition in very old age: Six-year longitudinal in the Berlin Aging Study (BASE). Psychology and Aging, 18(2), 318–331.


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