Leda Cosmides is best known for her work in pioneering the new field of evolutionary psychology. She developed her interest in rebuilding psychology along evolutionary lines while an undergraduate at Harvard, where she got her A.B. in biology (1979) and her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology (1985). Cosmides did postdoctoral work with Roger Shepard at Stanford and was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, before moving to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where she has been on the faculty since 1991. Cosmides won the 1988 American Association for the Advancement of Science Prize for Behavioral Science Research, the 1993 American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology, and a J. S. Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. In 1992, with John Tooby, she published The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture, an edited volume designed to be a state of the art survey of the new field. Leda Cosmides is currently Professor of Psychology at UCSB. She and John Tooby founded and co-direct the UCSB Center for Evolutionary Psychology.
I work in the newly emerging field of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology weaves together cognitive science, human evolution, hunter gatherer studies, neuroscience, psychology and evolutionary biology, in an attempt to understand and map the human mind and brain. According to this new view, by understanding the adaptive problems our hunter-gatherer ancestors faced during their evolution, researchers can uncover the detailed functional designs of the emotions, reasoning mechanisms, and motivations that human evolution produced. My empirical work spans many areas – cooperation, coalitional (“us versus them”) psychology, statistical reasoning, visual attention, incest avoidance, threat interpretation, multiple memory systems, friendship, predator-prey reasoning – because one goal has been to illustrate just how useful an evolutionary approach can be. In all cases, however, we start with an adaptive problem our hunter-gatherer ancestors faced, and then try to figure out what a program well-designed for solving that problem might look like. From this task analysis, we derive empirical predictions – which we then test – about the design of the programs that solve this problem. This method has allowed us to discover mental mechanisms that no one had thought to look for before. For example, theories about the evolution of reciprocation led us to look for, and find, evolved programs designed for reasoning about social exchange, including procedures specialized for detecting cheaters. This result has recently been supported by cross-cultural experiments with hunter-horticulturalists at our study site in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and by neuropsychological work showing that cheater detection dissociates from other closely related forms of reasoning.
- Lieberman, D., Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L. (2003). Does morality have a biological basis? An empirical test of the factors governing moral sentiments relating to incest. Proceedings of the Royal Society London (Biological Sciences), 02PB0795, 1-8.
- Stone, V., Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., Kroll, N. & Knight, R. (2002). Selective Impairment of Reasoning About Social Exchange in a Patient with Bilateral Limbic System Damage. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (August, 2002).
- Sugiyama, L., Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L. (2002). Cross-cultural evidence of cognitive adaptations for social exchange among the Shiwiar of Ecuadorian Amazonia. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (August, 2002).
- Klein, S., Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., & Chance, S. (2002). Decisions and the evolution of memory: Multiple systems, multiple functions. Psychological Review, 109, 306-329.
- Kurzban, R., Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L. (2001). Can race be erased?: Coalitional computation and social categorization. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 98(26), 15387-15392. (December 18, 2001).
- Fiddick, L., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2000). No interpretation without representation: The role of domain-specific representations and inferences in the Wason selection task. Cognition, 77, 1-79.
- Cosmides, L. & Tooby, J. (2000). Consider the source: The evolution of adaptations for decoupling and metarepresentation. In D. Sperber (Ed.), Metarepresentations: A multidisciplinary perspective. (pp. 53-115.) Vancouver Studies in Cognitive Science. NY: Oxford University Press.
- Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L. (1992). The psychological foundations of culture. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Cosmides, L., Tooby, J. & Barkow, J. (1992). Evolutionary psychology and conceptual integration. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Tooby, J. & Cosmides, L. (1990). On the universality of human nature and the uniqueness of the individual: The role of genetics and adaptation. Journal of Personality, 58, 17-67.