Annie E. Wertz

Annie Wertz

Photo by Gesine Born

Assistant Professor

Research Area

Developmental and Evolutionary Psychology


Annie Wertz received her B.A. in Psychology from Boston University (2003) and her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara (2009). She then worked as postdoctoral researcher in the Infant Cognition Center at Yale University, where she began developing a novel research area exploring the cognitive systems infants use to learn about plants. In 2014, she was awarded funding from the Max Planck Society to pursue this novel research program as an independent Research Group Leader (equivalent to Assistant Professor) at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Dr. Wertz’s work has won several awards, including the Human Behavior and Evolution Society’s Margo Wilson Award for the best paper published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in 2021 and an inaugural Don Symons Adaptationism Award in 2023. She will join the faculty in March 2024.


Annie Wertz investigates cognitive development from an evolutionary perspective. Her primary interest is in the cognitive systems infants and young children use to learn about plants—an important and often overlooked aspect of the natural world. Her work provided the first evidence that human infants possess behavioral and social learning strategies that are selective to plants (e.g., infants avoid plant dangers and selectively learn that some plants are edible). The research projects in her lab aim to elucidate the underlying structure of cognitive systems for learning about the natural world in infancy and early childhood, and understand how those systems contribute to early development in related areas, including social learning, food learning, threat avoidance, and cultural acquisition. Dr. Wertz conducts studies with infants and young children in the lab and in naturalistic outdoor settings, and engages in collaborative cross-cultural projects and comparative studies. Her research provides a window into the complex interplay of evolutionary and developmental factors that allow humans to learn from others and flexibly adapt to varied and changing environments.

Selected Publications

Pietraszewski, D. & Wertz, A. E. (2022). Why evolutionary psychology should abandon modularity. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 17, 465-490.

Gerdemann, S. C., & Wertz, A. E. (2021). 18-month-olds use different cues to categorize plants and artifacts. Evolution & Human Behavior, 42, 304-315.

Rioux, C., & Wertz, A. E. (2021). Avoidance of plant foods in infancy. Developmental Psychology, 57, 609-624.

Wertz, A. E. (2019). How plants shape the mind. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 23, 528–531.

Elsner, C., & Wertz, A. E. (2019). The seeds of social learning: Infants exhibit more social looking for plants than other object types. Cognition, 183, 244–255.

Oña, L., Oña, L. S., & Wertz, A. E. (2019). The evolution of plant social learning through error minimization. Evolution & Human Behavior, 40, 447–456.

Wertz, A. E., & Wynn, K. (2019). Can I eat that too? 18-month-olds generalize social information about edibility to similar looking plants. Appetite, 138, 127–135.

Wertz, A. E., & Moya, C. (2019). Pathways to cognitive design. Behavioural Processes, 161, 73–86.

Włodarczyk, A., Elsner, C., Schmitterer, A., & Wertz, A. E. (2018). Every rose has its thorn: Infants' responses to pointed shapes in naturalistic contexts. Evolution & Human Behavior, 39, 583–593.