My interest is in the evolutionary 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 and 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 determine which cognitive and motivational traits make the human mind unique and which are shared with other species through homology as well as evolutionary convergence, and (3) to understand how these capacities evolved.
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. These studies reveal the phylogenetic distribution of social cognition, and whether specific traits are unique to humans or shared more broadly. 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.