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   International Junior Research Groups

Developmental Origins of Human Normativity

LMU Munich

Children and Rules[Bildunterschrift / Subline]: Children and Rules

International Junior Research Group
at the intersection of natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities

Head:  Prof. Dr. Marco Schmidt

Contact: marco.schmidt@psy.lmu.de

Duration: 5 years

Affiliated Program within the Elite Network of Bavaria:

International Doctorate Program REASON – Scientific Reasoning and Argumentation


  • Department of Human Development & Quantitative Methodology, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig
  • Department of Philosophy, University of Duisburg-Essen
  • Department of Psychology, Harvard University
  • Department of Psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz
  • Department of Psychology, University of los Andes, Colombia
  • Institute of Educational Sciences, University of Leipzig
  • School of Psychology, University of Kent, UK

All human societies have, and heavily depend on, social norms and rules that prescribe or proscribe certain actions under certain circumstances. Norms are like “social glue” that binds together group members and thereby fosters group cohesion, cooperation, and collaboration. But norms, such as “One ought to stand in line at the grocery store”, are not embedded in our genetic code – rather, humans establish, transmit, learn, and enforce such norms. How do human infants and young children learn and come to understand norms? What are the psychological foundations that allow us to differentiate between “right” and “wrong”, that is, to appreciate normativity and thus build complex moral systems and social institutions? These are the central questions that guide the research of our group.

Importantly, however, we do not conceive of normativity as an isolated domain, but as fundamentally intertwined with theory of mind and, more broadly, with epistemology. This is because what we see in our everyday life are not “norms” – an abstract notion – but particular actions by particular individuals with particular beliefs, desires, and intentions in the here and now. That is to say, the young learner needs to solve a knowledge problem: to infer whether a specific action is subject to a generic norm or not. More fundamentally, beyond inferring the existence of a standard or norm, understanding normativity also means grasping that normative phenomena are human-made social facts that can be changed or brought into existence under certain conditions (e.g., by aligning our beliefs, desires, and intentions). But something is missing. We not only understand normativity theoretically, but we also care about normativity practically. Most strikingly, we are motivated to act in accord with norms, to correct or punish others who violate norms, and so to uphold common practices and values, even at a personal cost. That is, normativity – most evidently morality – is also interrelated with prosociality. Our research group, therefore, intends to approach the developmental emergence of our “norm psychology” by relating it to theory of mind, epistemology, and prosociality. We employ a range of different empirical methods (e.g., eye-tracking and interactive tasks simulating real-life situations) to tackle a number of important and interrelated questions about the origins of human normativity.

Hence, the goal of the International Junior Research Group is to provide the foundation for developing an integrative theoretical framework of human normativity including ties to epistemology and prosociality, which is to spur further integrative research. Such a framework may improve our understanding of the psychological foundations that are essential to the human capacity to cooperate, build social institutions, learn from others, and co-construct cultural knowledge. Our research is inherently interdisciplinary and thus sits at the nexus of the social sciences, humanities (in particular philosophy), and natural sciences. The International Junior Research Group is  affiliated with the Department of Psychology and the International Doctorate Program REASON (Scientific Reasoning and Argumentation) at LMU Munich.

Prof. Dr. Marco F. H. Schmidt
Department of Developmental and Educational Psychology
University of Bremen
Hochschulring 18
28359 Bremen, Germany

Funded by:
  • Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts
  • Elite Network of Bavaria:
  • since October 1, 2015