Laurie Santos Professor of PsychologyDirector of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory, Yale University
Laurie Santos researches the evolutionary background of the human brain by studying non-human primates in her Comparative Cognition Lab at Yale. In a series of fascinating experiments, Santos’ team has investigated economic decision making in capuchin monkeys. Researchers created a form of money: tokens that the monkeys could trade for food. They found that the monkeys made consistently irrational decisions, mirroring the same bad financial choices that people make. For example, the monkeys demonstrate the same loss-aversion behavior—treating losses as more important than gains— as human beings. This suggests that some of the core biases of the brain that shape human behavior were also present in our remote pre-human ancestors, and have been maintained through evolution. Santos believes that understanding the built-in biases of the human brain is crucial to encouraging rational behavior. As she puts it, “...the irony is that it might only be in recognizing our limitations that we can really actually overcome them.” She is currently researching whether primates have a precursor to theory of mind, the ability to imagine the thoughts and feelings of others. In 2012, she spoke at the Being Human conference in San Francisco.
The Origins of Object Knowledge (co-edited with Bruce Hood)