Research Description

Critical resources—food, money, materials goods, and even good health—are unevenly distributed in space and time. Species, from ants to humans, have developed strategies to manage the complex process of saving and sharing in good times to be prepared for lean times. These strategies vary between species, between individuals, and across time, creating successful niches of opportunity as well as conflict, both exemplified in Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper (Gibbs, 2002). In this classic tale, the happy-go-lucky grasshopper laughs at the hard-working ant for gathering food throughout the fall, only to beg for a share come winter. In the original ancient Greek, the ant scolds the grasshopper and lets him starve, whereas in the modern American version, he helps the grasshopper, feeding him in exchange for entertainment. My research addresses the neural, physiological and cognitive mechanisms underpinning decisions about gathering and sharing resources, approaching the problem from multiple, complementary levels. I particularly focus on social factors and mechanisms that employ one’s own emotional state as a guide for making decisions:

  • What are the mechanisms of food storing in animals? Does stress from hunger and social competition drive decisions to store food?
  • How do humans decide to acquire and discard material goods? Do states such as anxiety, sadness, and attachment underlie cost-benefit analyses in such decisions?
  • How do humans perceive and respond to emotion in others? How do automatic mechanisms of emotional resonance underlie empathy and altruism?