Tania Singer

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Tania Singer
Tania Singer's talk at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 2015

Tania Singer (born December 8, 1969 in Munich ) is a German neuroscientist and psychologist . Since 2019 she has been the scientific director of the Social Neuroscience Research Group in Berlin . Singer's research focus is human social behavior . With an interdisciplinary research approach, she examines the neural, hormonal and developmental foundations of human social behavior as well as social and moral emotions (e.g. empathy , compassion , envy , revenge and fairness ).

Life and accomplishments

From 1989 to 1992 Singer studied psychology at the Philipps University of Marburg , then from 1992 to 1996 psychology and the postgraduate course in media consulting at the Technical University of Berlin . She completed her psychology studies in 1996 with a diploma. Between 1996 and 2000 she worked as a doctoral candidate at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. In 2000 she did her doctorate in psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. After receiving her doctorate from the Free University of Berlin , she returned there in 2000. As a postdoctoral researcher, she did research with Chris Frith at the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience and with Uta Frith at the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London, before moving to Switzerland as an assistant professor at the University of Zurich in 2006 . From 2007 to 2009 she was co-founder and co-director of the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems in Zurich , and in 2008 she received the founding chair for Social Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics at the University of Zurich. From 2010 to 2018 she was Director of the Department of Social Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig . From 2011 to 2019, Singer was also honorary professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin and the University of Leipzig. In 2001 Singer received the Otto Hahn Medal from the Max Planck Society. From 2014 to 2018, Singer was Vice President and since 2018 she has been an honorary member of the Board of Mind and Life Europe.

Singer is the daughter of the neurophysiologist Wolf Singer . Singer's mother Francine is French and worked as an editor for Bayerischer Rundfunk . Singer's twin sister Nathalie Singer is professor of experimental radio art at the Bauhaus University Weimar .

Research priorities

Her research focus is the investigation of the neural and hormonal mechanisms that underlie human social behavior.

In particular, Singer explores the fundamentals of social cognition and social emotions such as empathy, compassion, envy and fairness, as well as social decision-making and communication . She also examines the fundamentals of cooperation and altruistic behavior and their breakdown under certain conditions. Her interdisciplinary approach combines neuroscience , psychology, bio-psychology , biology , economics , philosophy and anthropology . The aim is to better understand the influence of environmental factors on social behavior, the underlying cognitive and neural processes and ultimately the associated neurotransmitter systems , hormones and genes .

Singer is an expert in the field of compassion and empathy research . In a Science article in 2004, Tania Singer showed for the first time that regions in the brain that underlie their own pain processing are also activated if the test subjects only observed their partner's pain in the scanner. Two further studies show that the activation in brain regions that play a role in empathy can be modulated by the fact that people are perceived as belonging or not belonging to their own group or by whether the other person behaves fairly or not.

Singer is the founder and leader of the ReSource project , a large-scale 9-month long-term study funded by the European Research Council on the effects of mental training of mindfulness, compassion and social intelligence on mind, brain, behavior and health. As part of this project , data were collected from more than 300 test subjects between 2013 and 2016 at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig and in Haus 5, the satellite laboratory in Berlin. To date, over 30 scientific articles have been published from this project. Results show, among other things, that certain types of mental training reduce social stress and cause structural plasticity in the brain.

Singer was a board member of the Mind and Life Institute and is an honorary director of Mind and Life Europe. She worked with Matthieu Ricard to research brain activity under different states of consciousness during meditation. As part of this long-term membership, together with Matthieu Ricard, she also organized two large conferences with the Dalai Lama in Zurich in 2010 and in Brussels in 2016, from which two books emerged: Compassion in Business and The Power of Welfare .

From 2013 to 2017 there was a collaborative project funded by the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) by Singer's group with Dennis J. Snower , former president of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy . They investigated how psychological and neuroscientific knowledge about human motivation, emotions, and social cognition can influence economic models for decision-making so that ultimately problems of the global economy can be better addressed.


In August 2018, various media reported that Tania Singer, in her role as head of the Leipzig Institute, had practiced systematic bullying against employees for several years. Singer denied the allegations. In a mediation process scheduled for the end of 2017 , she apologized to the employees for the stress-related difficulties in communicating. The Max Planck Society announced that the mediation process had failed. As a result, Tania Singer and the Max Planck Society mutually agreed that she would suspend her management function in the form of a sabbatical year . An investigative commission convened in September 2018 finally confirmed the allegations as "significant leadership misconduct". The accusation of scientific misconduct raised at the same time was not confirmed. The press release of the Max Planck Society also noted that the anonymity of the charges against Singer was never lifted, "which made it difficult for the director to comment." In order to avoid further escalation of the conflict, Singer resigned from her position as Director of the Department of Social Neurosciences at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig in December 2018 . Singer has been the scientific director of the Social Neurosciences research group in Berlin since 2019 .

Awards and selected memberships

  • 2000: Otto Hahn Medal
  • 2011: Honorary research member at the Laboratory for Research on Social and Neural Systems at the University of Zurich
  • Since 2011: Member, European Initiative for Integrative Psychological Science, Association for Psychological Science (APS)
  • 2012 to 2017: Member of the Board of Directors , Mind and Life Institute , Hadley, MA, USA
  • Since 2013: Member, Young Academy of Europe (YAE), Europe
  • 2014 to 2018: Vice-President of the Supervisory Board, Mind & Life Europe, Zurich, Switzerland
  • Since 2018 honorary member of the Supervisory Board, Mind & Life Europe, Zurich, Switzerland

Selected publications

A full list of Tania Singer's publications can be found on her website.

  • Singer, T & Engert V. (2019). It matters what you practice: Differential training effects on subjective experience, behavior, brain and body in the ReSource Project. Current Opinions in Psychology, 28 151-158. doi : 10.1016 / j.copsyc.2018.12.005 .
  • Engert, V., Kok, BE, Papassotiriou, I., Chrousos, GP & Singer T. (2017). Specific reduction in cortisol stress reactivity after social but not attention-based mental training. Science Advances, 3 (10), e1700495. doi : 10.1126 / sciadv.1700495 .
  • Kok, BE & Singer T. (2017). Effects of contemplative dyads on engagement and perceived social connectedness over 9 months of mental training: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Psychiatry, 74 (2), 126-134. doi : 10.1001 / jamapsychiatry.2016.3360 .
  • Valk, SL, Bernhardt, BC, Trautwein, M., Böckler, A., Kanske, P., Guizard, N. Collins, DL & Singer T. (2017). Structural plasticity of the social brain: Differential change and socio-affective and cognitive mental training. Science Advances, 3 (10), e1700489. doi : 10.1126 / sciadv.1700489
  • Steinbeis, N. Bernhardt, BC & Singer T. (2015). Age-related differences in function and structure of rSMG and reduced functional connectivity with DLPFC explains heightened emotional egocentricity bias in childhood. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 10 (2), 302-310. doi : 10.1093 / scan / nsu057 .
  • Kankse, P., Böckler, A., Trautwein, F.-M., & Singer, T. (2015). Dissecting the social brain: Introducing the EmpaToM to reveal distinct neural networks and brain-behavior relations for empathy and Theory of Mind. NeuroImage, 122 6-19. doi : 10.1016 / j.neuroimage.2015.07.082 .
  • Singer, T. (2012). The past, present and future of social neuroscience: A European perspective. NeuroImage, 61 (2), 437-449. doi : 10.1016 / j.neuroimage.2012.01.109 .
  • 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. doi : 10.1016 / j.neuroimage.2010.10.014 .
  • Singer, T., Seymour, B., O'Doherty, JP, Stephan, KE, Dolan, RJ, & Frith, CD (2006). Empathic neural responses are modulated by the perceived fairness of others. Nature , 439, 466-469. doi : 10.1038 / nature04271 .
  • Singer, T., Seymour, B., O'Doherty, J., Kaube, H., Dolan, RJ, & Frith, CD (2004). Empathy for pain involves the affective but not sensory components of pain. Science , 303 (5661), 1157-1162. doi : 10.1126 / science.1093535 .

Web links


  1. Information on the institute's homepage
  2. Singer, Tania. In: mpg.de. Retrieved March 2, 2019 .
  3. https://www.mindandlife-europe.org/about-us/people/
  4. ^ Munzinger-Archiv GmbH, Ravensburg: Tania Singer - Munzinger biography. In: munzinger.de. December 8, 1969, Retrieved March 2, 2019 .
  5. https://www.social.mpg.de/62758/forschung
  6. https://www.social.mpg.de/62758/forschung
  7. ^ A b Matthieu Ricard: Is Compassion Meditation the Key to Better Caregiving? October 6, 2010 In: The Huffington Post , accessed May 15, 2014.
  8. ^ Daniel Kane: How your brain handles love and pain In: Science , 2004, msnbc.com, accessed May 15, 2014.
  9. Revenge more satisfying for men BBC News, 2006, accessed May 15, 2014.
  10. Home. Retrieved October 14, 2019 .
  11. Publications ReSource Project. Retrieved October 14, 2019 .
  12. Current Opinion in Psychology | Mindfulness | ScienceDirect.com. Retrieved October 14, 2019 (American English).
  13. People. In: mindandlife.org. Archived from the original on June 29, 2015 ; accessed on April 27, 2019 (English).
  14. ^ Publications. Retrieved October 14, 2019 .
  15. ^ Publications. Retrieved October 14, 2019 .
  16. From Homo Economicus towards a Caring Economics. In: ifw-kiel.de. Retrieved April 27, 2019 .
  17. She is the best-known empathy researcher in the world - and is said to have bullied employees for years. In: BuzzFeed . ( buzzfeed.com [accessed August 13, 2018]).
  18. She's the world's top empathy researcher. But colleagues say she bullied and intimidated them . In: Science | AAAS . August 6, 2018 ( sciencemag.org [accessed August 13, 2018]).
  19. She's world-renowned for studying empathy. Her colleagues say she's an intimidating bully. , Washington Post , August 12, 2018 (accessed August 14, 2018)
  20. Abuse of power in science Max Planck researcher calls allegations "unfounded" , Der Tagesspiegel , August 21, 2018 (also called up date)
  21. Thomas Thiel: Excellence and Excess , FAZ, August 22, 2018 (accessed December 6, 2018)
  22. Tania Singer has resigned as Max Planck Director , Der Tagesspiegel , December 5, 2018 (accessed December 6, 2018)
  23. Information on the homepage of the Max Planck Society
  24. ^ Tania Singer - Young Academy of Europe. Retrieved September 4, 2019 (American English).
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