Sarah F. Brosnan is currently an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Georgia State University and a member of the Brains & Behavior program. She directs the Comparative Economics and Behavioral Studies Laboratory (CEBUS Lab) and does research with nonhuman primates at both the Language Research Center of Georgia State University and the Michale E. Keeling Center for Comparative Medicine and Research of the UT/MD Anderson Cancer Center, where she is a visiting assistant professor. Sarah completed a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at Emory University and a postdoctoral fellowship in anthropology/behavior at Emory University and UTMD Anderson Cancer Center.
Her research interests lie in the intersection of complex social behavior and cognition. More specifically, she is interested in mechanisms underlying cooperation, reciprocity, inequity, and other economic decisions in nonhuman primates, to better understand the evolution of these behaviors. Her current research addresses what decisions individuals make, particularly as compared to other species, how their social or ecological environments affect their decisions and interactions, and under what circumstances they can alter their behaviors contingent upon these inputs. She takes an explicitly comparative approach to better understand the conditions which selected for these behaviors.
Description: Along with the dispositions to trust and reciprocate and the propensity to exchange, the human ability to coordinate activities is a pillar upon which the flourishing of the species is built. The ability of two individuals to coordinate, literally to mutually arrange, an activity presupposes firstly that two individuals cognize that the outcomes of their actions are interdependent. Secondly, successful coordination assumes a shared attention and agreement on the ends to be achieved by mutually arranging a pair’s activities. Within the Pleistocene tribe or the modern small group of family, friends and neighbors, these conditions are almost trivially met as personally known individuals share the habits, knowledge, and beliefs about the methods and possibilities necessary to coordinate successfully. But what happens when modern strangers face a novel task of playing a simple 2 x 2 normal form game of coordination? Moreover, what about our primate relatives; do we share with them the ability to cognize actions as interdependent and to share attention on the ends achieved? My colleagues and I have investigated this question using the Assurance game in capuchin monkeys, rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees, and humans, and find evidence that such coordination is shared across the primates, albeit with some variations. This phylogenetic distribution implies that no single mechanism drives coordination decisions across the primates, and that multiple mechanisms may be used even within the same species. These results provide insight into the evolution of decision-making strategies across the primates.