The evolution of irrationality is discussed by Henry Tenenbaum, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology, Yale University; Director, Yale's Comparative Cognition Laboratory, KRON TV Feature Reporter- Moderator Santos, who has been called "the Monkey Whisperer," studies the roots of human irrationality by watching the way our primate relatives make decisions. She'll discuss her recent work on "monkey economics" and will show that some of the silly financial choices seen in humans can be observed in monkeys too. Come hear the intriguing thoughts of the woman recently voted one of Popular Science magazine's "Brilliant 10" Young Minds."
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.