Cognitive Science at Yale University

Cameron Berg is the first Glushko prize winner

Last week, during commencement, Cameron Berg was awarded the first Robert J. Glushko Prize for Distinguished Undergraduate Research in Cognitive Science. Cameron’s research on the role of social cues in human reinforcement learning stood out among the nominated essays.
In his study, participants played a game where they chose to click on one out of two possible buttons. After clicking the selected button, participants were awarded either 1 coin or 0 coins. At the beginning of each participant’s task, one of the buttons was programmed to award a coin 70% of the time, becoming the preferrable option. At some moment during the middle of the task, the award scheme would covertly change so that the preferrable button changed. Crucially, participants were not playing this game in isolation. They were playing with what they thought was a group of conspecifics which varied in size across the task, from 2 other players to 8 other players. Thus, observing other players choices was an intelligent way to figure out which button was the best option.
Cameron’s results show that people use different strategies to integrate the decisions of others into their own decision-making process depending on the number of conspecifics at play. While the models that best described participants’ behavior in the trials with two conspecifics relied on richer representations that involved tracking and maintaining multiple statistics, the models that showed the best fit in trials with four or eight conspecifics relied on substantially simpler measures.
Cameron’s thesis offered an important contribution as to the role of social cues in human learning.

Senior Thesis Prize

We are delighted to announce a new prize for graduating seniors in the major.  The “Robert J. Glushko Prize for Distinguished Undergraduate Research in Cognitive Science” will be awarded (along with a $500 prize) to a graduating senior in Yale College whose senior thesis demonstrates remarkable achievement and discovery in Cognitive Science.  The recipient (or in unusual circumstances, two recipients) will be selected and awarded by an interdisciplinary faculty committee and will be recognized at Commencement.  Per the prize’s name, we are greatly indebted to Bob Glushko for funding this honor (as he has other prizes in our field at large, such as the “David E. Rumelhart Prize for Contributions to the Theoretical Foundations of Human Cognition” and the “Glushko Dissertation Prize” from the Cognitive Science Society).
We are pleased now to confirm that this inaugural prize will be awarded for this year’s graduating class.  To be considered, an advisor (or other faculty member) should send a nominating letter (of no more than 2 pages) along with the thesis itself to Guilherme Almeida at, no later than Tuesday May 3rd.  (This tight timeframe is required in order to have the winner be recognized in the commencement materials – and in future years this might cause us to move up our thesis deadlines by another week or so.)  Then an interdisciplinary faculty committee will name a winner by Friday 5/13.

Mentorship program

As of the Spring 2022 semester, we are launching the first peer mentorship program in the Cognitive Science major! The intention behind this program is to connect sophomores and juniors with seniors who have experience in navigating the requirements of the major and conducting independent research.

If you’re interested in participating as a mentee, please, complete our sign up form, and we’ll match you with one of our mentors!


Recent Research

  • A recent article by Psychology graduate student Matthew Jordan, Anthropology graduate student Dorsa Amir, and Psychology professor emeritus Paul Bloom shows that empathy and concern load on different statistical factors and motivate different behaviors: concern for others is a uniquely positive predictor of prosocial action, whereas empathy is either not predictive or negatively predictive of prosocial actions. Together these studies suggest that empathy and concern are psychologically distinct and that empathy plays a more limited role in our moral lives than many believe. (link to the article in Emotion)

  • A recent article by SOM grad student Rosanna K. Smith working with Professors George Newman and Ravi Dhar finds that people prefer lower serial numbers (e.g., a print of a painting with the serial number 3/100 rather than 97/100), because lower numbers are perceived as being closer to the origin (e.g., artist). (link to article at Journal of Consumer Research)

  • Work by Computer Science Professor Brian Scassellati and members of the Social Robotics Lab investigates likability of a tic-tac-toe playing robot based on both human form and lifelike movement (pdf of the article in the International Journal Human-Computer Studies). 

  • A recent article by Philosophy Professor Shelly Kagan explores views on animal ethics, including whether people are typically focused on species membership (human vs. nonhuman) or a type of personhood (pdf of the article in the Journal of Applied Philosophy).

  • A recent meta-analysis by Psychology Professor David Rand finds that quicker decisions are often more cooperative than more deliberative decisions. (pdf of the article in Psychological Science)