Laurie R. Santos's research while affiliated with Yale University and other places

Publications (150)

Article
Theory of Mind (ToM) — the ability to infer others’ mental states — is a fundamental part of human social cognition. For decades, researchers have studied whether nonhuman primates have similar representational capacities. While the majority of studies investigating nonhuman primate ToM have been conducted with captive populations, this review focu...
Preprint
Theory of Mind—the ability to infer others’ mental states—is a fundamental part of human social cognition. For decades, researchers have studied whether nonhuman primates have similar representational capacities. While the majority of studies investigating nonhuman primate Theory of Mind have been conducted with captive populations, this review foc...
Article
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Psychoeducational courses focused on positive psychology interventions have been shown to benefit student well-being. However, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying social restrictions, many educators have had to deliver their courses online. Given that online teaching presents a very different university experience for students...
Article
Our human capacity to efficiently learn from other individuals is unparalleled in any nonhuman species. Some scholars argue that our propensity to learn socially is supported by an early-emerging expectation that communicative cues will convey generic information (Csibra & Gergely, 2011). In the current 2 studies, we examine whether this expectatio...
Article
This response argues that when you represent others as knowing something, you represent their mind as being related to the actual world. This feature of knowledge explains the limits of knowledge attribution, how knowledge differs from belief, and why knowledge underwrites learning from others. We hope this vision for how knowledge works spurs a ne...
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Much of human experience is informed by our ability to attribute mental states to others, a capacity known as theory of mind. While evidence for theory of mind in animals to date has largely been restricted to primates and other large-brained species, the use of ecologically-valid competitive contexts hints that ecological pressures for strategic d...
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It has been suggested that over the course of domestication, dogs developed the propensity to "look back" or gaze at humans when they encounter a challenging task. Unfortunately, little work to date has addressed the question of why dogs look back. To explore this issue, we conducted 3 experiments in which dogs had the option of doing something oth...
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To promote collaboration across canine science, address reproducibility issues, and advance open science practices within animal cognition, we have launched the ManyDogs consortium, modeled on similar ManyX projects in other fields. We aimed to create a collaborative network that (a) uses large, diverse samples to investigate and replicate findings...
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A growing body of work demonstrates that a species’ socioecology can impact its cognitive abilities. Indeed, even closely related species with different socioecological pressures often show different patterns of cognitive performance on the same task. Here, we explore whether major differences in social tolerance in two closely related macaque spec...
Article
Although non-human primates (NHPs) generally appear to predict how knowledgeable agents use knowledge to guide their behavior, the cognitive mechanisms that enable this remain poorly understood. We assessed the conditions under which NHPs' representations of an agent's awareness break down. Free-ranging rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) watched as a...
Preprint
Psychoeducational courses focused on positive psychology interventions have been shown to benefit student well-being. However, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying social restrictions, many educators have had to deliver their courses online. Given that online teaching presents a very different university experience for students...
Chapter
Humans effortlessly infer the mental states of other agents, spontaneously making swift and accurate predictions about how others will act based on these inferences. These theory of mind capacities are early emerging, with human infants beginning to make accurate predictions about how other agents should act based on the other agent’s mental states...
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Courses that teach evidence-based interventions to enhance well-being are a public health tool that could be used to improve mental health in the population. We compared the well-being of six cohorts of adult students before and after they completed one of two massive open online courses: The Science of Well-Being ( N = 581; 441; 1,228) and a contr...
Preprint
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Scholars have long debated whether animals, which display impressive intelligent behaviors, are consciously aware or not. Yet, because many complex human behaviors and high-level functions can be performed without conscious awareness, it was long considered impossible to untangle whether animals are aware, or just conditionally or non-consciously b...
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Significance Many animals perform complex intelligent behaviors, but the question of whether animals are aware while doing so remains a long debated but unanswered question. Here, we develop a new approach to assess whether nonhuman animals have awareness by utilizing a well-known double dissociation of visual awareness—cases in which people behave...
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We tested whether a psychoeducational course improved well-being in three cohorts. Study 1 found significantly higher mental well-being in first year undergraduates who took the course compared to a waiting-list control. Study 2 revealed that students taking the course when COVID-19 restrictions began did not experience increases in mental well-bei...
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Humans evaluate other agents’ behavior on a variety of different dimensions, including morally, from a very early age. For example, human infants as young as 6-months old prefer prosocial over antisocial others and demonstrate negative evaluations of antisocial others in a variety of paradigms (Hamlin et al. in Nature 450(7169):557, 2007; Dev Sci 1...
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Research on the capacity to understand others' minds has tended to focus on representations of beliefs, which are widely taken to be among the most central and basic theory of mind representations. Representations of knowledge, by contrast, have received comparatively little attention and have often been understood as depending on prior representat...
Article
Metacognition refers to the ability to monitor one's own mental states. In the current study, we investigate whether domesticated dogs (Canis familiaris) and nondomesticated dingoes (Canis dingo) demonstrate metacognition by seeking information to remedy their own ignorance. In 2 studies, we used a naturalistic information-seeking paradigm in which...
Article
Over two decades of research have produced compelling evidence that non-human primates understand some psychological states in other individuals but are unable to represent others’ beliefs. Recently, three studies employing anticipatory looking (AL) paradigms reported that non-human primates do show hints of implicitly understanding the beliefs of...
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Ambiguity aversion–the tendency to avoid options whose outcome probabilities are unknown—is a ubiquitous phenomenon. While in some cases ambiguity aversion is an adaptive strategy, in many situations it leads to suboptimal decisions, as illustrated by the famous Ellsberg Paradox. Behavioral interventions for reducing ambiguity aversion should there...
Article
Humans undergo robust ontogenetic shifts in the theory of mind capabilities. Are these developmental changes unique to human development or are they shared with other closely related non-human species? To explore this issue, we tested the development of the theory of mind capacities in a population of 236 infant and juvenile rhesus macaques (Macaca...
Article
Non-human primates can often predict how another agent will behave based on that agent's knowledge about the world. But how do non-human primates represent others' knowledge states? Researchers have recently proposed that non-human primates form "awareness relations" to attribute objectively true information to other minds, as opposed to human-like...
Data
Video clip of helping, hindering and choice events.
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Social evaluative abilities emerge in human infancy, highlighting their importance in shaping our species' early understanding of the social world. Remarkably, infants show social evaluation in relatively abstract contexts: for instance, preferring a wooden shape that helps another shape in a puppet show over a shape that hinders another character...
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Interactions with animals represent a promising way to reduce the burden of childhood mental illness on a large scale. However, the specific effects of child–animal interactions are not yet well-established. This study provides a carefully controlled demonstration that unstructured interactions with dogs can improve clinically relevant symptoms in...
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Humans exhibit a suite of developmental changes in social cognition across the lifespan. To what extent are these developmental patterns unique? We first review several social domains in which humans undergo critical ontogenetic changes in socio-cognitive processing, including social attention and theory of mind. We then examine whether one human d...
Article
Human children and domesticated dogs learn from communicative cues, such as pointing, in highly similar ways. In two experiments, we investigate whether dogs are biased to defer to these cues in the same way as human children. We tested dogs on a cueing task similar to one previously conducted in human children. Dogs received conflicting informatio...
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Considerable debate has focused on whether adults possess an implicit system for representing others’ mental states. Some argue that people automatically represent the perspective of others using evidence from altercentric interference—cases in which another agent’s perspective affects the speed with which one can report one’s own perspective. Othe...
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Psychopathic individuals display a chronic and flagrant disregard for the welfare of others through their callous and manipulative behavior. Historically, this behavior is thought to result from deficits in social-affective processing. However, we show that at least some psychopathic behaviors may be rooted in a cognitive deficit, specifically an i...
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Individuals with overweight and obesity are subject to enormous bias and discrimination across domains. This bias constitutes a considerable public health problem beyond the effects of excess weight on health. Unfortunately, the few interventions that have been implemented to reduce this bias have not been successful. Evidence that the presence of...
Article
A basic tendency to look where others are looking provides animals with the opportunity to learn about important objects in the environment, such as the location of conspecifics, food and predators. Although research has shown that many social species are able to follow others' gaze, the extent to which different species rely on sophisticated cogni...
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Through domestication, dogs have developed a robust ability to form interspecific bonds with humans. Recent work comparing dogs and wolves suggests that eye contact is an important behaviour underlying these social bonds; however, it remains unclear how this feature of interspecific social bonding evolved. We explored eye contact in a unique compar...
Article
We introduce a new comparison species-domesticated dogs (Canis familaris)-that can shed light on the evolutionary origins of shared reality. Given that dogs share many basic building blocks of shared reality (e.g. representing others' perceptions, emotions, and behaviors) they provide an ideal species for pinpointing unique aspects of shared realit...
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Recently, comparative psychologists have suggested that primates represent others' knowledge states. Evidence for this claim comes from studies demonstrating that primates expect others to maintain representations of objects when those objects are not currently visible. However, little work has explored whether nonhuman primates expect others to sh...
Article
Complex social life is thought to be a major driver of complex cognition in primates, but few studies have directly tested the relationship between a given primate species' social system and their social cognitive skills. We experimentally compared life span patterns of a foundational social cognitive skill (following another's gaze) in tolerant Ba...
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The asymmetric dominance effect (ADE) occurs when the introduction of a partially dominated decoy option increases the choice share of its dominating alternative. The ADE is a violation of regularity and the constant-ratio rule, which are two derivations of the independence of irrelevant alternatives axiom, a core tenant of rational choice. The ADE...
Article
When learning from others, human children tend to faithfully copy – or 'overimitate' – the actions of a demonstrator, even when these actions are irrelevant for solving the task at hand. We investigate whether domesticated dogs (Canis familiaris) and dingoes (Canis dingo) share this tendency to overimitate in three experiments. In Experiment 1, dog...
Article
Gaze following, or co-orienting with others, is a foundational skill for human social behaviour. The emergence of this capacity scaffolds critical human- specific abilities such as theory of mind and language. Non-human primates also follow others’ gaze, but less is known about how the cognitive mechanisms supporting this behaviour develop over the...
Article
Much recent work has examined the evolutionary origins of human mental state representations. This work has yielded strikingly consistent results: primates show a sophisticated ability to track the current and past perceptions of others, but they fail to represent the beliefs of others. We offer a new account of the nuanced performance of primates...
Article
Recent research suggests that many primate species understand others' actions not only in terms of their physical movements, but also in terms of the actor's underlying goals and intentions. Impressively, apes also have the capacity to incorporate previously acquired contextual information into their goal representations. To date, little work has t...
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Punishment of non-cooperators is important for the maintenance of large-scale cooperation in humans, but relatively little is known about the relationship between punishment and cooperation across phylogeny. The current study examined second-party punishment behavior in a nonhuman primate species known for its cooperative tendencies—the brown capuc...
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Kline argues that it is crucial to isolate the respective roles of teaching and learning in order to understand how pedagogy has evolved. We argue that doing so requires testing species that learn from pedagogy but that rarely teach themselves. Here, we review how one previously neglected species – domesticated dogs (Canis familiaris) – may allow r...
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Human adults and children respond negatively to inequity, even sacrificing personal gain to avoid both disadvantageous (more for you, less for me) and advantageous (more for me, less for you) resource allocations. Recent work has argued that some nonhuman animals share this response, but findings for inequity aversion outside of humans are controve...
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Humans exhibit a suite of biases when making economic decisions. We review recent research on the origins of human decision making by examining whether similar choice biases are seen in nonhuman primates, our closest phylogenetic relatives. We propose that comparative studies can provide insight into four major questions about the nature of human c...
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Recent work in judgment and decision-making has shown that a good’s price can have irrational effects on people’s preferences. People tend to prefer goods that cost more money and assume that such expensive goods will be more effective, even in cases where the price of the good is itself arbitrary. Although much work has documented the existence of...
Article
Over the past several decades, researchers have become increasingly interested in understanding how primates understand the behavior of others. One open question concerns whether nonhuman primates think about others’ behavior in psychological terms, that is, whether they have a theory of mind. Over the last ten years, experiments conducted on the f...
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Over the past decade, many researchers have used food donation tasks to test whether nonhuman primates show human-like patterns of prosocial behavior in experimental settings. Although these tasks are elegant in their simplicity, performance within and across species is difficult to explain under a unified theoretical framework. Here, we attempt to...
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The fields of developmental and comparative psychology both seek to illuminate the roots of adult cognitive systems. Developmental studies target the emergence of adult cognitive systems over ontogenetic time, whereas comparative studies investigate the origins of human cognition in our evolutionary history. Despite the long tradition of research i...
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Cognition presents evolutionary research with one of its greatest challenges. Cognitive evolution has been explained at the proximate level by shifts in absolute and relative brain volume and at the ultimate level by differences in social and dietary complexity. However, no study has integrated the experimental and phylogenetic approach at the scal...
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Cook et al. propose that mirror neurons emerge developmentally through a domain-general associative mechanism. We argue that experience-sensitivity does not rule out an adaptive or genetic argument for mirror neuron function, and that current evidence suggests that mirror neurons are more specialized than the authors' account would predict. We prop...
Article
The fields of developmental and comparative psychology both seek to illuminate the roots of adult cognitive systems. Developmental studies target the emergence of adult cognitive systems over ontogenetic time, whereas comparative studies investigate the origins of human cognition in our evolutionary history. Despite the long tradition of research i...
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Full-text available
We adapted a method from developmental psychology [1] to explore whether capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) would place objects on a "blicket detector" machine to diagnose causal relations in the absence of a direct reward. Across five experiments, monkeys could place different objects on the machine and obtain evidence about the objects' causal prope...
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The breadth of human generosity is unparalleled in the natural world, and much research has explored the mechanisms underlying and motivating human prosocial behavior. Recent work has focused on the spread of prosocial behavior within groups through paying-it-forward, a case of human prosociality in which a recipient of generosity pays a good deed...
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Reports the retraction of "The evolution of intergroup bias: Perceptions and attitudes in rhesus macaques" by Neha Mahajan, Margaret A. Martinez, Natashya L. Gutierrez, Gil Diesendruck, Mahzarin R. Banaji and Laurie R. Santos (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2011[Mar], Vol 100[3], 387-405). The retraction is at the request of the auth...
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Neha Mahajan, Jennifer L. Barnes, Marissa Blanco, Laurie R. Santos Enumeration of objects and substances in non-human primates: experiments with brown lemurs (Eulemurfulvus) Developmental Science, Volume 12, Issue 6, pages 920-928, 2009 The above article, published online on 18 May 2009 in Wiley Online Library (wileyonlinelibrary.com), has been ret...
Article
As humans, our ability to help others effectively is at least in part dependent upon our capacity to infer others' goals in a variety of different contexts. Several species of nonhuman primate have demonstrated that they will also help others in some relatively simple situations, but it is not always clear whether this helping is based on an unders...
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Some researchers have recently argued that humans may be unusual among primates in preferring to use landmark information when reasoning about some kinds of spatial problems. Some have explained this phenomenon by positing that our species' tendency to prefer landmarks stems from a human-unique trait: language. Here, we test this hypothesis-that pr...
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Although humans show robust equality concerns across a variety of situations, there is ongoing debate regarding the extent to which any nonhuman species is inequality averse. In the current research, we test non-human primates’ reactions to conspecifics receiving equal and unequal payoffs using a “no-cost” method in which subjects can respond to in...
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Adults frequently employ reputation-enhancing strategies when engaging in prosocial acts, behaving more generously when their actions are likely to be witnessed by others and even more so when the extent of their generosity is made public. This study examined the developmental origins of sensitivity to cues associated with reputationally motivated...