Yale Professor of Psychology Laurie Santos is the recipient of the 2012 American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contributions to Psychology in the area of animal learning and behavior.
Santos was on a safari in Tanzania when she found out she had received the award. She joked, “I could announce to these alums [on the trip with me that] I’m not some speaker they found off the street, I won this cool award!” This prestigious award honors scientists for contributions within the first nine years since receiving their Ph.D.s. “This award has historically been given to psychologists I really respect,” Santos explained.
Santos’s research explores whether monkeys have a theory of mind, the ability to attribute beliefs, intents, and knowledge to oneself or others. The Santos Lab has found the “sweet spot” where the thought processes of humans and monkeys diverge. Santos used “magic tricks” and puppet shows to conclude that the monkeys can think about what other individuals see and know and also what they are thinking about. However, they are not so good at understanding what other individuals believe, which is a distinctly human skill. With many questions left to explore, Santos is excited to continue her research here at Yale.
Santos was also recognized as the Association for Psychological Science Presidential Symposium Speaker in 2011, the Arthur Greer Memorial Prize for Junior Faculty in 2008, and one of Popular Science Magazine’s “Brilliant 10” young scientists.
Cover Image: Professor Santos with a Rhesus monkey at the Cayo Santiago field station in Puerto Rico. Courtesy of Professor Santos.