Psychologist Laurie Santos named new head of Silliman College

Laurie R. Santos, a popular professor in the Department of Psychology and in the interdisciplinary Cognitive Science Program, has been named the next head of Silliman College for a five-year term, effective July 1, President Peter Salovey has announced.

Santos examines the origins of human cognition by focusing on two different groups of animals: non-human primates (the closest living evolutionary relatives of humans) and the domesticated dog (the species that lives most closely with humans). She is director of the Comparative Cognition Laboratory and of the Canine Cognition Center at Yale.

“Professor Santos studies the evolutionary roots of both our smarter human capacities — such as our ability to think about what other people think and our capacity to learn from others’ teaching — and our not-so-smart capacities — such as our irrational economic biases and errors,” Salovey said in a letter to the Silliman College community.

Santos’ “monkeynomics” studies on economic biases were featured in her 2010 TED talk which has been seen by over one million viewers. Her work has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, and The New Yorker. She is the recipient of the Stanton Prize from the Society for Philosophy and Psychology for outstanding contributions to interdisciplinary research. She was voted one of Popular Science magazine’s “Brilliant 10” young minds and was profiled in Time magazine as a “Leading Campus Celebrity.”

Santos is acclaimed on campus for her teaching and mentoring. She served as director of undergraduate studies in psychology from 2010 to 2015. She teaches the heavily enrolled class “Sex, Evolution, and Human Nature,” an introductory psychology course exploring how human behavior is shaped by sex and evolution, and also works closely with undergraduates as a research mentor. She has supervised undergraduates both in her own laboratory on campus as well as field sites, and has published papers with 30 different undergraduate co-authors. In 2012, she was awarded the Lex Hixon ’63 Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Social Sciences.

Born and raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Santos received her A.B. in psychology and biology, and a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard University in 1997 and 2003, respectively. She joined Yale’s faculty in 2003 and was promoted to tenure in 2010.

Santos will be joined at Silliman by her husband, Mark Maxwell, who is currently a Ph.D. student in Yale’s Department of Philosophy, writing his dissertation on laws of nature. Maxwell, an Iowa native, earned a B.S. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as a computer programmer, and then as a professional poker player, before returning to academia. He has served as a teaching fellow in a number of philosophy courses. A ranked player of Go (an abstract strategy game), he loves board games and sci-fi novels and is a regular in New Haven coffee shops and at the Payne Whitney Gym squash courts.

Santos and Maxwell met while in Cambridge. They share an interest in nature travel and  have led several Yale Educational Travel trips to Tanzania, the Galapagos, and the Sea of Cortez. For these trips, Santos was honored with the Howard R. Lamar Award for Service to Alumni. The pair also enjoys hiking in local Connecticut state parks, and what they describe as “very amateur” New Haven bird watching. They also enjoy a variety of “kitschy pastimes” — from skee-ball to mini-golf to karaoke sing-a-longs.

“I’ve heard so much about Silliman’s impressive history and the love that Silliman students have for their college,” Santos says. “My husband Mark and I can’t wait to become part of the traditions there. We are thrilled to get to know the students, excited about the opportunity to be part of this amazing community, and delighted that Silliman will soon be our new home.”

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