Laurie Santos's research explores the evolutionary origins of the human mind by comparing the cognitive abilities of human and non-human primates. Her experiments focus on non-human primates (in captivity and in the field) incorporating methodologies from cognitive development, cognitive science, and animal learning. Santos's research examines the following broad questions: what domains of knowledge are unique to the human mind? Given that human infants and non-human primates both lack language, what similarities and differences do we see in the expression of non-linguistic domains of knowledge?
Her current work explores whether primates possess precursors to a theory of mind, how primates reason about different kinds of things (foods, artifacts, and animals), and whether primates share human-like decision-making biases.