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Comparative Economics: Decision-Making Across the Primates

Sarah F. Brosnan, Ph. D.
Georgia State University, Dept. of Psychology
Thursday, March 5, 2015 - 12:00pm to 1:00pm
Capital Suite, Student Center

How do primates deal with novel problems that arise in interactions with other group members? Despite much research regarding how animals and humans solve social problems, few studies have utilized comparable procedures, outcomes, or measures across multiple species, hindering cross-species comparisons. In the last several years, a comparative study of decision-making has emerged, relying largely on the methodology of experimental economics in order to address these questions in a cross-species fashion. Experimental economics is an ideal mechanism for this approach, as it is a well-developed methodology for distilling complex decision-making into a series of simple decision choices, allowing these decisions to be compared across species and contexts. My group has used this approach to investigate coordination in New World monkeys, Old World monkeys, and great apes, including humans, using identical methodologies. In particular, we have focused on computerized testing, which allows for directly comparable procedures across species. We find that there are remarkable continuities of outcome across the primates; however, there are also important differences in how they reach these outcomes. I consider both the similarities and differences and what these can tell us about the evolution of decision-making in the primates.

Speaker's Bio: 

Dr. Brosnan is an Associate Professor of Psychology, Philosophy, and Neuroscience at Georgia State University. Her research interests lie in the intersection of complex social behavior and cognition. Specifically, she studies the mechanisms underlying cooperation, reciprocity, inequity, and other economic decisions in humans and nonhuman primates, using this explicitly comparative approach to understand the evolution of human decision-making. She has published in journals such as Nature, Science, Current Biology, and Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B, and has edited special issues of Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (on the evolution of cooperation) and Social Justice Research (on the evolution of inequity and fairness). Her research is funded by the National Science Foundation, including a CAREER award, the National Institutes of Health, and the John Templeton Foundation.