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Cluster of Excellence Science of Intelligence 

Reference number: SCIoI-C5-51A

starting at 01/06/23; limited for 3 years;  applications deadline 24/11/22; salary grade E 13 TV-L



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 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, behavioral 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

Collective behavior, predator-prey interactions, human decision making


Title of the postdoctoral project

Collective search and collective avoidance in the wild. Tracking icefishers and their prey.


Description of the proposed project

One of the key drivers of collective intelligence in natural and artificial systems is an increased ability to locate, track and exploit dynamic environmental gradients. This process of collective search is present across biological and synthetic systems, from microbes, to ants, humans and robots. A key trade-off in collective search is the explore-exploit trade-off. Too much exploration comes at the expense of exploitation. Too much exploitation may result in reduced ability to track changing fields or more specifically their gradients, as the fields themselves are typically not generated by passive but rather complex active and collective processes (e.g., animal prey groups escaping predation). Here we will investigate the interplay of collective search and collective avoidance, to understand the temporal and spatial dynamics of two interacting collectives with diverging goals. On the one hand, we will study how collectives of different complexities can successfully navigate the explore-exploit trade-off during collective search. On the other hand, we will study how collectives can avoid being exploited. On the analytic side, we will investigate this by tracking human groups collectively searching for fish schools in the wild, while simultaneously tracking the movement dynamics of the fish schools. On the synthetic side, we will use spatially explicit agent based modeling (ABMs) and robotic groups. The ABMs will be fed with the collective search and collective avoidance behavior from the analytical system, to study the interplay between both collectives more mechanistically and across a broader range of interaction settings. This will allow us to study the optimality and robustness of the collective strategies (and their interplay) across different environments. On the robotic side, we will work with swarms of Thymio II robots, performing collective spatial search tasks tracking mobile targets. Studying the interplay between collective search, and collective avoidance is an important step towards integrating the collective example behavior of cooperative shepherding on synthetic agents.


Project Leads

Ralf Kurvers, Pawel Romanczuk, Heiko Hamann


Description of the postdoctoral project

This postdoctoral position focuses on the human collective decision making experiments of the project, studying the interplay between human collective search and the collective prey avoidance of fish schools in the wild. The diversity of foraging styles across environments and social systems is one of the key drivers of human evolution. Humans have evolved sophisticated collective search strategies across a variety of landscapes. Though a large body of research has studied individual human search in the wild, very little work has studied human collective search in the wild. And even less has studied how collectives respond to human exploitation in real time. This is mainly due to the challenges of simultaneously tracking human collectives and their prey. The goal of this project is to do exactly this, asking how human collectives navigate the explore-exploit trade-off across different environments, using a novel study system that largely overcomes previous constraints, namely ice fishing. Ice fishing is an excellent candidate to study human collective search. The resource is both unpredictable and dynamic and each agent only has local knowledge, as active sampling is needed to infer patch quality. By pooling local knowledge, groups are expected to locate, track and exploit prey more successfully. Moreover, they fish on mobile prey schools, allowing to simultaneously study the collective avoidance response. The candidate will lead the fieldwork in Finland where we will simultaneously track groups of icefishers searching for prey (using GPS and head cameras), and film the responses of the prey schools (using underwater cameras). This will take place in close collaboration with a second postdoc who, in parallel, will investigate similar processes in agent based models and robots.


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 collective behavior experiments

·       Experience in spatial modelling, agent-based models and/or models of collective behavior

·       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

Our Offer

The successful applicant will be working in an interdisciplinary, integrative research team consisting of researchers from cognitive and information sciences. The Max Planck Institute for Human Development ( offers an excellent infrastructure including support staff and equipment for conducting research (incl. computer cluster). It provides an international research environment, with English being the working language of the Center for Adaptive Rationality.

The Max Planck Society strives for gender and diversity equality. We welcome applications from all backgrounds. The Max Planck Society is committed to increasing the number of individuals with disabilities in its workforce and therefore encourages applications from such qualified individuals.

Application procedure

Applications should be uploaded 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.

Click here for the official announcement on the MPIB website.