Leda Cosmides and John Tooby are best known for their work in pioneering the new field of evolutionary psychology. This multidisciplinary new approach weaves together evolutionary biology, cognitive science, human evolution, hunter gatherer studies, neuroscience, and psychology into a new approach to discovering the mechanisms of 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 “instincts” and motivations that human evolution produced.
Cosmides and Tooby both developed their interest in rebuilding psychology along evolutionary lines while undergraduates at Harvard, which is where they met, married, and began their 29 year collaboration. Tooby’s A.B. was in experimental psychology and his Ph.D. in biological anthropology; Cosmides’ A.B.was in biology and her Ph.D. in cognitive psychology. They did postdoctoral work with Roger Shepard, a cognitive psychologist at Stanford, and were then made Fellows at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, where they formed the Special Project on Evolutionary Psychology with three other researchers. In 1990 they moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara, where they are professors of psychology and anthropology and co-direct the UCSB Center for Evolutionary Psychology. In 1992, they 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.
They have published research in cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, cultural and biological anthropology, genetics, and economics, on topics such as how humans have “cognitive instincts” specialized for reasoning about cooperation, on the adaptive design of the emotions, on the evolution of sexual reproduction as a defense against parasites, on conflict in the genome, and on the cognitive foundations of cultural transmission.
They have both won awards for their work on the foundations of evolutionary psychology. In 1991, Tooby won a Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation. 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 the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (2005) for their joint research. They both received J. S. Guggenheim Fellowships, and Tooby has served as President of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society. They are currently working on a number of projects, including the exploration of the evolved psychology underlying coalitions and intergroup conflict, the evolutionary psychology of anger, the motivational basis of the aversion to incest and within family altruism, and the cross-cultural validation of human psychological universals.