Faculty Research Lecturer Award

The Faculty Research Lecturership is the highest honor that UCSB can bestow on a member of its own faculty. The 2011-12 Lecturership, the 57th since the creation of the award in 1955, is awarded jointly to Professors Leda Cosmides (Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences) and John Tooby (Department of Anthropology). Although each of them has made major independent contributions, they have typically worked as a team and were nominated jointly. Dr. Tooby joined the Anthropology Department at UCSB in 1990 and Dr. Cosmides joined the Psychology Department at UCSB in 1991. Both professors completed their undergraduate and graduate degrees at Harvard and were fellows at Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study before joining the UCSB faculty.

Dr. Cosmides and Dr. Tooby are widely and appropriately recognized with founding the influential field of evolutionary psychology. In their joint work, they are credited with creating and shaping the modern framework for evolutionary psychology – prompting what one colleague describes as a “scientific revolution” within the field of psychology. Their evolutionary approach to cognition and culture is viewed as one of the most important new perspectives in the cognitive sciences in the past 50 years. Furthermore, their sustained rate of high quality theoretical and empirical research continues to both lead and underpin the field.

Their 1992 chapter in The Adapted Mind (itself a classic book that they edited) “Evolutionary Foundations of Culture” is regarded as one of (if not the single) most important publications in psychology in the decade of the 1990’s. This paper has become a “citation classic.” According to Google Scholar, the number of citations to this paper exceeds 2,500. That paper, along with a dozen or so related publications, created a “paradigm” shift in thinking in the field of psychology and extends into the social sciences. Although this evolutionary approach challenged many long-cherished notions and was thus met with initial skepticism, the work of Dr. Cosmides and Dr. Tooby is now seen as foundational across the social sciences, in fields such as political science, sociology, and economics among others.

In spearheading the new field of evolutionary psychology, Drs. Cosmides and Tooby integrated knowledge from many different fields (e.g., evolutionary biology, cognitive neuroscience, primatology, and behavioral ecology). In doing so, they have explored the extent to which the human mind contains neuro-computational mechanisms that evolved to solve specific adaptive problems repeatedly faced by humans across their evolutionary history.

In the lead chapter of their ground-breaking book The Adapted Mind, they compared the Standard Social Science Model (a model that assumes a small number of general purpose programs that allow reasoning and learning of many different kinds) with the tenets of evolutionary psychology (a model that proposes special-purpose programs that evolved to solve specific types of problems). In a relatively short period of time, the proposed framework became accepted as one of the major approaches to both Psychology and Anthropology.

Dr. Cosmides and Dr. Tooby are well-known for their initial theoretical and empirical work on reasoning about social exchange and cheating. In this work, they theorized that there is an evolved cognitive specialization for reasoning about social exchange (cooperation between individuals that produces mutual benefit). Specifically, their studies have worked to demonstrate that social exchange reasoning depends on humans’ specialized capacity to detect social cheaters.

Drs. Cosmides and Dr. Tooby have also conducted extensive work in several other areas: social coalitions; incest avoidance and kin detection; intuitive statistics; and the evolution of memory systems. “Social coalitions” refers to the cooperative relationship among three or more individuals who share a common goal. Their highly acclaimed research on this topic shows that humans have the cognitive machinery to automatically detect and encode coalitional alliances, but not race or ethnicity per se. Although specialized mechanisms for noticing and remembering a person’s gender would have been adaptive in our evolutionary past, this would not reasonably have been the case for race or ethnicity, in view of the limited mobility and diversity of human populations. Instead, humans would have been more likely to engage in shifting alliances, associated with changing cues.

One of the central features of each of their respective careers is a sustained, and still escalating, rate of scientific productivity. The impact of their total body of work is reflected in their exceptionally high citation level. Their work has received more than 20,000 citations, with more than 50 papers cited at least 50 times. They publish in the very top journals: Nature, Science, Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Psychological Review, Psychological Bulletin, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and Harvard Business Review.

It is worthwhile to note that the Faculty Research Lecturer award is the most recent of a history of prestigious honors for these two researchers. Drs. Cosmides and Tooby were jointly recognized as recipients of the J.S. Guggenheim Memorial Award. Dr. Cosmides was recognized by her selection for a 2005 NIH Directors’ Pioneer Award, an honor shared with Dr. Tooby. Only 23 of these awards have ever been given, and Dr. Cosmides is the only behavioral scientist to ever receive the award. This award is reserved for those “willing and able to explore ideas that were considered risky at their inception” and who are “truly visionary thinkers who are able to make those leaps and change the current paradigms of medical research.” Early in her career (1988), Dr. Cosmides was recognized for her work in winning the AAAS Prize for the best paper in the behavioral sciences. In 1993 she was recognized by the American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology in the area of Human Learning and Cognition, and in 1998 she was honored as a G. Stanley Hall Lecturer. Early in his career (1991), Dr. Tooby received the Presidential Young Investigator Award from the National Science Foundation. In 1999, he was elected President of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society.

For a combination of groundbreaking scholarship, outstanding research contributions, and scientific leadership, we are pleased to announce Profs. Cosmides and Tooby as the joint recipients of the Faculty Research Lecturer Award.

Faculty Research Lecturer Award Committee
• Linda Petzold, Chair (2010-11) Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering • Tsuyoshi Hasegawa (2009-10) History • Steven K. Fisher (2006-07) Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology • Howard Giles (2005-06) Communication

UCSB Academic SenateUniversity of California, Santa Barbara
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