David Rand

Assistant Professor of Psychology

Faculty Directory

Professor Rand’s research focuses on human cooperative behavior. He believes cooperation is an essential aspect of life, from bacterial bio-films to social insects, and from workplace collaborations to environmental conservation, political participation and international relations. Yet cooperation is often individually costly. So why are people (usually) willing to incur these costs, and what can we do to promote cooperation in the world around us?

To answer these questions, Rand takes into account interactions across different scales, and integrate approaches from numerous disciplines. He explores (i) what prosocial and antisocial decisions people will make in particular situations and social environments; (ii) the cognitive mechanisms that determine how these decisions are actually made; and (iii) the ultimate explanations for why our decision-making processes have come to function as they do, considering both genetic and cultural evolution.

Rand’s work combines behavioral experiments (for example, using economic games such as the Prisoner’s Dilemma) with evolutionary game theoretic mathematical models and computer simulations. He draws on psychology as well as behavioral economics and evolutionary biology, and is interested in applications including law, management and public policy.

Rand’s current research involves the follow directions:

•The roles of intuition/emotion versus reflection/reason in motivating social behaviors such as cooperation, and beliefs such as moral, religious and political attitudes.
•The effectiveness of punishment versus reward for encouraging cooperation, and the dangers associated with the often-overlooked phenomena of revenge and anti-social punishment targeted at cooperators.
•The importance of randomness and noise in decision-making, evolution and social learning.
•Methodologies for large scale, high throughput behavioral experiments using online labor markets such as Amazon Mechanical Turk.


  • PhD, Harvard University

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