Laurie R. Santos

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Laurie Santos
Laurie Renee Santos

1975 (age 47–48)
EducationHarvard University (AB, PhD)
Scientific career
Primate cognition
Canine cognition[1]
InstitutionsYale University
ThesisDomain-specific knowledge in a non-human primate: what rhesus macaques understand about foods (2000) Edit this at Wikidata

Laurie Renee Santos (born 1975) is an American cognitive scientist and Professor of Psychology at Yale University.[1] She is also Director of Yale's Comparative Cognition Laboratory, Director of Yale's Canine Cognition Lab, and former Head of Yale's Silliman College.[2] She has been a featured TED speaker[3] and has been listed in Popular Science as one of their "Brilliant Ten" young scientists in 2007[4] as well as in Time magazine as a "Leading Campus Celebrity" in 2013.[5]

In January 2018, her course titled Psychology and the Good Life became the most popular course in Yale's history, with approximately one-fourth of Yale's undergraduates enrolled.[6][7] In September 2019, she became host of the podcast The Happiness Lab, published by Pushkin Industries — the media company led by journalists Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg.[8]

Background and education[edit]

Santos was born in 1975 in a binational home in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her father, whose family is of Cape Verdean descent, was a programmer and her mother, who is from the United States, was a guidance counselor at New Bedford High School, where Santos and her brother Aaron attended.[9][10]

After high school, she attended Harvard University. As a sophomore, she became a research assistant and traveled to Cayo Santiago, a small 38-acre island east of Puerto Rico. Cayo Santiago's monkey population inspired Santos and spurred her interest in the psychology of animals.[9] In 1997, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude in psychology and biology and won the annual Psychology Department Undergraduate Thesis Prize. She continued her studies as graduate student in the Harvard Psychology Department, obtaining a master's in Psychology in 2001 with a focus on Cognition, Brain and Behavior and then a Ph.D in the same field in 2003. Her dissertation won the Richard J. Herrnstein Dissertation Prize of the Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences for “the best dissertation that exhibits excellent scholarship, originality and breadth of thought, and a commitment to intellectual independence.”[9]

Career and research[edit]

In 2003, she began as an assistant professor in psychology and cognitive science at Yale University, earning tenure as an associate professor in 2009. Her research investigates the evolutionary origins of the human mind by comparing the cognitive abilities of humans and non-human animals, including primates and canines. Santos was Yale's director of undergraduate studies in psychology from 2010 to 2015.[11]

In June 2016, she was named the head of Silliman College, one of the 14 undergraduate residential colleges at Yale, succeeding Nicholas Christakis. Santos' Yale course, "Psychology and the Good Life”[6][7] focuses on answering questions like: “What actually makes us happy?” and “What can we do to achieve the good life?” Her course has become the most popular class in Yale history and as a result, Yale has made it available externally on the online learning platform Coursera in March 2018 as "The Science of Well-Being." As of November 2018, over 170,000 people from at least 170 countries have enrolled in the online course.[12][10]

Featured work[edit]

Santos's scientific work has been published in journals such as Psychological Science, Animal Cognition, Developmental Science, Current Biology, Animal Behaviour, and Cognition.[1] Her scientific research has been featured in outlets including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Economist, Forbes, The New Yorker, New Scientist, National Wildlife, Smithsonian Magazine, and Discover Magazine as well as on National Public Radio and Nova.[13] She is the editor (with Bruce Hood) of The Origins of Object Knowledge. She has been featured on National Public Radio,[14][15] on Big Think, and—with her colleagues Paul Bloom, Tamar Gendler and Joshua Knobe she is a regular contributor to’s Mind Report.

Santos has had to retract two scientific papers because of coding errors in her lab.[16]

Podcast: The Happiness Lab[edit]

Since September 2019, Santos has hosted the podcast The Happiness Lab, which examines the latest scientific research on factors impacting our well-being and happiness.[17] The show completed its first 10-episode season in November 2019,[18] and has spent 126 days on the U.S. Podcasts Chart, peaking at No. 3.[19] Santos produced further episodes of her podcast.[20] The podcast published by Pushkin Industries,[8] the media company led by journalists Malcolm Gladwell and Jacob Weisberg, formerly of Slate magazine.

Writing in the Financial Times, Fiona Sturges wrote: “Santos is the voice of sanity, not to mention scrupulous research. [She's] a warm yet authoritative host who shows us the contradictions in our psychological impulses.”[21]

Honors and awards[edit]

In 2007, Santos was featured in Popular Science as one of the journal's “Brilliant Ten” young scientists. In 2008, she was awarded the Stanton Prize for outstanding early-career contributions to interdisciplinary research in philosophy and psychology by the Society for Philosophy and Psychology[22] and the Arthur Greer Memorial Prize for Outstanding Scholarly Publication or Research by Yale University.[23] In 2010, she was a featured speaker at the TED Global Conference in Oxford, UK.[3]

In 2011, she was featured as the Association for Psychological Science Presidential Symposium Speaker.[24] In 2012, she was awarded Yale University's Lex Hixon Prize for teaching excellence in the social sciences, the highest teaching prize awarded at Yale College,[25][26] and the American Psychological Association's Distinguished Scientific Award for Early Career Contribution to Psychology.[27]

In 2013, she was voted as one of Time magazines leading campus celebrities.[28] In 2016, she served as the President of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology.[29] In 2018, she received a Genius Award from the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey.[10]

Popularization of science[edit]

Santos appeared in the 2018 Netflix documentary The Most Unknown[30] on scientific research directed by Ian Cheney.

Personal life[edit]

Santos is married to philosopher Mark Maxwell.[11]


  1. ^ a b c Laurie R. Santos publications indexed by Google Scholar Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Santos, Laurie. "Laurie Santos | Speaker | TED".
  4. ^ Mone, Gregory; Wenner, Melinda; Thompson, Kalee; Aaronson, Lauren; Svoboda, Elizabeth (2007-10-03). "PopSci's 6th Annual Brilliant Ten". Popular Science.
  5. ^ Yale University. "Campus News".
  6. ^ a b Shimer, David (2018-01-26). "Yale's Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331.
  7. ^ a b Mariwala, Jever (2018-01-22). "Santos course breaks enrollment record". Yale News.
  8. ^ a b "The Happiness Lab". The Happiness Lab. Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  9. ^ a b c Ferreira, Becky; Rogers, Kaleigh; Koebler, Jason (2018-10-18). "What Monkeys and 'Dognition' Can Teach Us About the Human Brain". Vice. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  10. ^ a b c "Professor Laurie Santos is Teaching the Good Life". Inteligencia. 2018-11-12. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  11. ^ a b "Psychologist Laurie Santos named new head of Silliman College". 2016-06-16. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  12. ^ "At Yale Well event, professors serve up the pursuit of happiness three ways". 5 April 2018.
  13. ^ Nova. "Secret Life of Scientists".
  14. ^ LeMoult, Craig (2011-12-01). "Monkeys love discounts too".
  15. ^ NPR. "Sex, Evolution and Human Nature".
  16. ^ "Psychology researcher explains how retraction-causing errors led to change in her lab". 2014-01-15. Retrieved 2018-03-13.
  17. ^ Manning-Schaffel, Vivian (August 29, 2019). "Can you actually learn how to be happier". Retrieved Feb 8, 2020.
  18. ^ "The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos on Apple Podcasts". Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  19. ^ " 'The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos' by Pushkin Industries (International iTunes Chart Performance)". Retrieved 2020-02-08.
  20. ^ Carter, Liz (2020-09-25). "New season of Laurie Santos' podcast approaches". Retrieved 2020-11-28.
  21. ^ Sturges, Fiona (Sep 22, 2019). "The podcast that shows us how to be happy". London: Financial Times. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
  22. ^ "Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP)". Retrieved 2018-06-02.
  23. ^ "January/February 2009 | Yale College | School Notes | Yale Alumni Magazine". Retrieved 2018-06-02.
  24. ^ Jaffe, Eric (2011-07-29). "Presidential Symposium: Broadband Social Cognition". APS Observer. 24 (6).
  25. ^ Gonzalez, Susan (2012-04-20). "In her lectures, Laurie Santos inspires curiosity and potential colleagues". Yale News.
  26. ^ "Dr. Laurie Santos – Emerge Summit". Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  27. ^ Fote, Gianna (2012-03-16). "Laurie Santos Honored by the APA". Yale Scientific Magazine. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  28. ^ [1][dead link]
  29. ^ "Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP)". Retrieved 2019-07-08.
  30. ^ "The Most Unknown (2018) - IMDb". Retrieved 2021-06-09.