Postdoctoral researcher, Project: 'Collective spatial search in human groups: taming uncertainty together'

(salary grade E13 TVöD Bund, under the reserve that funds are granted, starting not later than from 1.10.2021 / for 3 years / closing date for applications 20.11.2020, Ref SCIoI-C3-34a).

The Center for Adaptive Rationality at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany (Director: Prof. Dr. Ralph Hertwig) invites applications for a Postdoc position for the Cluster of Excellence “Science of Intelligence”.
Postdoctoral Researcher – E 13 TVöD Bund, 39 hours/week

What are the principles of intelligence, shared by all forms of intelligence, no matter whether artificial or biological, whether robot, computer program, human, or animal? And how can we apply these principles to create intelligent technology?

Answering these questions – in an ethically responsible way – is the central scientific objective of the new Cluster of Excellence Science of Intelligence (, where researchers from a large number of analytic and synthetic disciplines – artificial intelligence, machine learning, control, robotics, computer vision, behavioural biology, psychology, educational science, neuroscience, and philosophy – join forces to create a multi-disciplinary research program across universities and research institutes in Berlin. Interdisciplinary research projects have been defined (, which combine analytic and synthetic research and which address key aspects of individual, social, and collective intelligence.


Working field

Weighing personal and social information in cooperative problem solving

A fundamental challenge in collective decision making is the integration of personal and social information. Relying too heavily on personal information prevents the spread of information among group members, whereas relying too heavily on social information may hamper profitable personal exploration. This project investigates this key process by studying how collectives of different complexities dynamically balance personal and social information use across different levels of environmental complexity to achieve collective intelligence. This is a joint research project in which we will study these processes in human groups and robotic swarms simultaneously using similar experimental paradigms: collective spatial search tasks. In human groups, we plan to use immersive reality: humans will control avatars in the virtual work and collectively search for resources. This approach allows full experimental control, providing an ideal testbed for studying cooperative problem solving in human groups. For robotic groups, we plan to use swarms of Thymio II robots, performing collective spatial search tasks. Both systems will be probed with collective search tasks of increasing complexity, starting with simple binary resources, and working towards more complex probabilistic resource environments (e.g. spatial multi-armed bandits). Human and robotic experimentation will continuously interact aided by agent-based modeling and robotic simulators.


Postdoctoral project “Collective spatial search in human groups: taming uncertainty together”

This postdoctoral project focuses on the human collective decision making experiments of this project. We plan to use the online, spatially-explicit, Minecraft environment to study the mechanisms of human collective problem solving across different environments. Human participants will control an avatar and collectively perform tasks in online environments. We recently developed a first implementation of this paradigm. Uniquely, this approach allows a high control of the problem structure, and players’ abilities, and a detailed quantification of individuals’ incoming visual information. Having access to the visual input of each individual will allow us to employ visual sensory networks to study visual connectivity and information transfer between participants. We will study how their social information use, and spatial and visual organization change across different levels of environmental complexity. We will use agent-based modeling to generalize derived insights from human experimentation and compare human performance to optimal agents. Core tasks of the candidate constitute programing, conducting and analyzing the human decision making experiments, and performing agent-based simulations. The postdoc will work closely together with a PhD student who, in parallel, will investigate similar processes in robotic swarms.


Applicants must hold a PhD (or be close to completion) in Psychology, Biology or related disciplines and should have proven skills/background in the following topics:

  • conducting human collective behaviour experiments
  • statistical data analysis of interdependent data (mixed model approaches, conventional statistics, Bayesian statistics)
  • programming skills (for example in Java, MATLAB, Python, R)
  • a strong record of publication, reflecting the career stage, in internationally leading journals
  • experience in working in collaborative research activities including multidisciplinary teams
  • preference for candidate with experience in spatial modelling, genetic algorithms, agent-based models and/or models of collective behaviour

Application procedure

Candidates should upload their application preferably via the portal in order to receive full consideration.

Applications should include: motivation letter, curriculum vitae, transcripts of records (for both BSc and MSc), copies of degree certificates (BSc, MSc, PhD), abstracts of Bachelor-, Master- and PhD-thesis, list of publications and one selected manuscript (if applicable), two names of qualified persons who are willing to provide references, and any documents candidates feel may help us assess their competence.