My interest is in the nature and origins of social intelligence, in humans and other animals. Humans exhibit a remarkable propensity to understand the thoughts and emotions of others and to track social relationships between third parties. Humans then use this social information to adeptly navigate a dynamic landscape of cooperative and competitive relationships. My research investigates these cognitive abilities in humans across the lifespan and in other animals, especially our closest phylogenetic relatives--bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). My work aims (1) to clarify the cognitive mechanisms underlying social behavior in humans and other species, (2) to discriminate cognitive and motivational traits that make the human mind unique from those that are shared with other species through homology as well as evolutionary convergence, (3) to understand how these capacities evolved, and (4) how they develop during human ontogeny.
My research takes several forms. Using diverse methods--from behavioral decision-making tasks to touchscreen and eye-tracking paradigms--I conduct non-invasive cognitive experiments with primates at zoos and sanctuaries and with humans across the lifespan. These studies reveal the phylogenetic distribution of social cognition, whether specific traits are unique to humans or shared more broadly, and how they develop. I complement this work by exploring the behavior and cognition of animals living in natural populations. My aim in doing so is to characterize the natural ecology, and proximate and ultimate benefits, of social cognition in the wild.