Humans are social creatures. From early on, our development is shaped by uniquely social motivations, including a desire to help one other, cooperate with one another, and be part of a larger collective. Yet, human history and everyday life are full of examples of failed cooperation, betrayal, and even war. To understand this discrepancy, my research investigates humans‘ natural desire to affiliate with each other, and how this drive affects our cognition and behavior. Taking a developmental approach, I investigate the fundamental mechanisms that underlie cooperation as well as conflict, with the ultimate goal to identify strategies that foster positive human relationships.


Group life is incredibly important for humans. We lived in groups throughout human evolution, and even today we depend on one another and are voluntary or involuntary members of our families, clubs, societies, cities, and countries. But groups can only be successful, if group member can trust and rely on each other. Every member is expected to contribute their share, even if it is costly and defection or free riding would be more beneficial for the individual sometimes. Together with my collaborators I have shown that at least by age 5, children clearly understand and value loyalty to the group [1], and that they themselves are able to show loyalty to their own minimal groups [2]. Furthermore, from age 4 on children are sensitive to free riding behavior and sanction free riders [3].

[1] Misch, A., Over, H., & Carpenter, M. (2014). Stick with your group: Young children’s attitudes about group loyalty. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 126, 19-36.doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.02.008
[2] Misch, A., Over, H., & Carpenter, M. (2016). I won’t tell: Young children show loyalty to their group by keeping group secrets. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 142, 96–106. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.09.016
[3] Yang, F., Choi, Y., Misch, A., Dunham, Y. (submitted). Young children negatively evaluate and sanction free riders. [email for manuscript]

Group-based Concerns and Morality

Sometimes it is not easy to decide what is right and what is wrong, namely when group-based considerations conflict with moral concerns. In this line of research I investigate what happens when children are prompted to tattle on their group members‘ moral transgression (the so-called whistleblower’s dilemma) [4], and how their group members‘ pro- and antisocial behavior affects their own behavior [5].

Furthermore, I am investigating whether and from what age on children, or better, infants, draw inferences about an angent’s moral behavior based on the moral behavior of that agent’s group members.

[4] Misch, A., Over, H., & Carpenter, M. (in press). The whistleblower’s dilemma in young children: When loyalty trumps other moral concerns. [email for manuscript]
[5] Misch, A., & Dunham, Y. (in prep). Conform or contrast? The influence of group members‘ prosocial and antisocial examples on children’s sharing behavior.
[6] Misch, A., & Wynn, K. (in prep). Infants‘ expectation of moral conformity in social groups.

The Origins of Ingroup Bias and Cooperation

In this line of research I investigate to what extent ingroup bias – humans‘ natural tendency to prefer others who belong to the same social category – is shaped by the expectations of future collaboration, as well as toddlers‘ understanding of the obligation to reciprocate previous favors.

[7] Misch, A., & Dunham, Y. (in prep). Expectations of future collaboration overrides minimal ingroup bias in children.
[8] Misch, A., & Wynn, K. (in prep). Toddlers‘ expectations of reciprocity in first-person