Research Overview

The Adaptive Behavior and Cognition Lab--West (ABC-West) is dedicated to exploring the cognitive mechanisms that people (and other animals) use to behave adaptively in their environments. We study the interactions between behavior and environment at multiple scales--including how cognitive mechanisms have evolved in response to particular environmental structures, how behaviors are learned through interactions with the environment, and how behaving and acting in the world can change the environmental structures that agents face in the future. We look at particular adaptively important domains such as mate choice and food choice, and we use tools including agent-based modeling and simulation and laboratory experiments. ABC-West was formed in 2005 through budding from the original ABC Research Group in Berlin, Germany.

Current Projects

Food Choice

Investigators: Peter Todd

We are exploring the decision mechanisms that people use to choose among multiple foods to eat, decide how much to eat, remember how good what they ate was, and decide what to buy again. We look at these decisions in terms of the simple heuristics that people apply in this evolutionarily important domain, and how they interact with the structure of choices and information available to us in our environment.

Summaries of our work on these topics can be found under the keyword Food Choice in the publications section of our website.

Perceptions of Attraction

Investigators: Skyler Place, Peter Todd, Samantha Cohen

How do people decide how attracted they are to potential mates? And how do people decide when they've found someone attractive enough that they can (temporarily, at least) stop their mate search and pursue the current person? We investigate questions such as these through analysis of real-world behavior such as choices made at speed-dating events, laboratory experiments where we can control what people see about other potential mates, and computer simulations where we can test how well different mate search and mate choice decision mechanisms work, and what their implications at the population level would be.

Summaries of our work on these topics can be found under the keyword Mate Choice in the publications section of our website.

Dog Choice

Investigators: Peter Todd, Samantha Cohen

Understanding of canine behavior has rapidly grown in the past 20 years, but our understanding of human-canine interactions remains relatively unexplored. How do humans choose their companion animals, and how does this vary from how they choose human companions? We examine companion animal choice through the lens of judgment and decision-making by working with animal shelters , both with their pre-existing data and experimental designs. This work both expands our understanding of human decisions and improves outcomes for one of America’s most vulnerable demographics—pets without owners.