Laurie Santos and the Hard Science of Monkey Business
By Amy Dockser Marcus, Wall Street Journal online
Some scientists find inspiration in the lab. Others trek into the field. Laurie Santos likes the local coffee house.
The 36-year-old runs Yale University's Comparative Cognition Laboratory, which examines the origins of the human mind by studying primate cognition. Many of her experiments try to determine the roots of human economic behavior.
For a close-up view, she frequents Koffe?, a local hangout that is walking distance from her office. She arrives at 7 a.m., just as it opens. Sipping a small coffee with milk, she flips open her laptop, works on papers, then starts brainstorming "about the next thing" to test. She doesn't have to wait long for inspiration. The regulars soon drift in: construction workers, the crew from the fire house, professors rushing to class, students gossiping about last night's party. She calls herself "a fascinated observer of human behavior," and a wide range of it is on display.
The primate lab is home to 10 "shockingly smart" brown Capuchin monkeys trained to trade tokens for food. It was a short leap for Dr. Santos and her team to decide to study how monkeys make decisions about money.
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