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Humboldt laureate works for one year at the DPZ

In cooperation with the DPZ ethologist Julia Fischer, the developmental psychologist Alexandra Freund will research the age-related development of social relations in primates.
Alexandra M. Freund, Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Zurich and Humboldt Award Winner 2015. Photo: Private, DPZ
Guineapaviane (Papio papio) aufgenommen an der Feldstation Simenti im Senegal. Foto: Julia Fischer
Guinea baboons (Papio papio) at the DPZ field station Simenti in Senegal. Photo: Julia Fischer
Prof. Dr. Julia Fischer ist Leiterin der Abteilung Kognitive Ethologie am Deutschen Primatenzentrum. Foto: Oliver Mölst
Prof. Dr. Julia Fischer is the head of the Cognitive Ethology Laboratory at the German Primate Center. Photo: Oliver Mölst
Julia Fischer, Leiterin der Abteilung Kognitive Ethologie am Deutschen Primatenzentrum (DPZ) in Göttingen, beobachtet einen Berberaffen (Macaca sylvanus) im Tierpark „La Forêt des Singes“, Rocamadour, Südwestfrankreich. Foto: Kurt Hammerschmidt
Julia Fischer, Head of the Cognitive Ethology Laboratory at the German Primate Center in Göttingen, watches a Barbary macaque (Macaca sylvanus) in the zoological garden of „La Forêt des Singes“, Rocamadour, southwest of France. Photo: Kurt Hammerschmidt

Alexandra M. Freund is a professor for developmental psychology at the University of Zurich and the winner of the Humboldt Award. On 28 September 2015, she will start her period of research at the German Primate Center. Since the scientist is the recipient of an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Award, she will visit the DPZ on a regular basis for multi-week research trips over a period of one year. The scientist has received the award in April of this year. In addition to the 60,000 euros prize money, the award enables foreign scientists to conduct a research project of their choice with their German colleagues. In cooperation with the ethologist Julia Fischer, Alexandra Freund will conduct her research in the Cognitive Ethology Laboratory. The research will deal with the age-related development of social relations in primates. This includes particularly the motivation of the animals to either maximize resources or to minimize losses during their development.

Alexandra Freund (50) is currently engaged in research on development processes in adulthood. The focal point of her research is the theory that humans actively influence their development through selection and the pursuit of goals. Goals, such as short-term projects, which could for example include the passing of an important examination or long-term plans, such as purchasing a house or starting a family, could have an effect on human development. Alexandra Freund adopts a lifespan perspective assuming that individuals actively shape the direction and level of their development, which enables us to add direction and structure to our lives.

"The personal goals that you set in life and how they are pursued, are age-related and dependent on the available resources," explains Alexandra Freund. "Temporal and health components play important roles. People in their early 20s are physically more efficient, less busy and have a different time perspective than older people and therefore have different goals. "Depending on the age, the primary orientation of the goals changes from the achievement of gains (young people) to the maintenance of functioning (middle-aged people) up to the mere avoidance of losses (old people). The elderly put a stronger focus on their social ties, which plays a relatively minor role in the lives of younger people with regard to the achievement of goals.

The research on resource-dependent development processes is also an important aspect in behavioral sciences. Julia Fischer, head of the Cognitive Ethology Laboratory at the DPZ, researches the evolutionary development of the social behavior of primates. Freund's expertise in the field of adult development and aging in humans should, from a psychological point of view, contribute to the understanding of social interactions in non-human primates. "We would like to find out whether monkeys, much like people, differentiate between gains when achieving a goal and avoiding losses and whether this behavior is age-dependent", says Julia Fischer. "If Ms. Freund’s observations in humans are also applicable to non-human primates, then older animals should rather focus on maintaining the resources available to them, for example their social status within the group. That would in turn have implications on the choice of social partners."

To investigate this, the two scientists will first develop a theoretical model in the coming year, on the basis of which empirical behavioral studies can be conducted in the future on Guinea baboons at the DPZ field station in Senegal and on Barbary Macaques in the primate park "La Forêt de singes" in Rocamadour, France. “I am very much looking forward to working with Ms. Fischer”, says Alexandra Freund. "The work at the DPZ will allow me to expand my psychological research on age-related development processes to a stronger evolutionary and behavioral biological perspective."

CV of Alexandra Freund

Alexandra M. Freund is a psychology professor at the University of Zurich since 2005. After receiving her PhD, which she wrote under the supervision of Prof. Paul Baltes at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University in California. Subsequently, she headed a project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and with the results of the project her habilitation was awarded at the Free University Berlin. She continued as an assistant professor followed by an associate professorship at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, USA and a was visiting scholar at the University of Florida as well as the Columbia University in New York City. Since 2008, Alexandra Freund is the co-spokeswoman of the International Max Planck Research School on the Life Course (LIFE), a graduate school for lifelong development.

In addition to her research activities, Alexandra Freund is active as an editor and member of the editorial boards of leading psychology journals and as a consultant for major funding organizations. She was a founding member of the Young Academy of the Berlin Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the Academy of Scientists Leopoldina.

The research award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

The Humboldt Research Foundation grants up to 100 awards to internationally successful scientists in recognition of their current research achievements. The award is endowed with 60,000 euros and enables scientists to pursue additional research projects of their own choice in cooperation with specialist colleagues in Germany. Resulting joint publications are appreciated.