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 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] Singer's Caring Economics: Conversations on Altruism and Compassion, Between Scientists, Economists, and the Dalai Lama ' was published in 2015.[3] She is the daughter of the world famous neuroscientist Wolf Singer.

Education and academic career[edit]

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. 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 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.

Research focus[edit]

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.[4]

Singer is a directors board member at the Mind and Life Institute[5] and has worked with the French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard to investigate brain activity during meditation.[6]

Since 2013 she is the principal investigator of the ReSource Project on neural plasticity after mental training.[7] She investigates with a longitudinal design whether mental training has neural, behavioral, and hormonal effects and whether the subjective well-being and health is changed in participants.

Another research focus is on how social cognition and motivations can explain human social interaction and human economic decision making. The new research programme, funded by the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) in cooperation with Professor Dennis J. Snower, president of the Kiel Institute of World Economy, explores new avenues of how psychological and neuroscientific knowledge about human motivation, emotion, and social cognition can inform models of economic decision making in addressing global economic problems.[8][9]

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.[10] 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.[11]

Awards and selected memberships[edit]

  • 2000: Otto Hahn Medal of the Max Planck Society
  • 2011: Honorary Research Fellow at the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research at the University of Zurich, Switzerland
  • Since 2014: Vicepresident of the Board, Mind & Life Europe, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Since 2013: Member, Young Academy of Europe (YAE), Europa
  • Since 2012: Board Member, Mind & Life Institute (MLI), Hadley, MA, USA
  • Since 2011: Member, European Initiative for Integrative Psychological Science, Association for Psychological Science (APS)


A complete publication list of Tania Singer can be found on her website.[12]


External links[edit]