David’s research focuses on human cooperative behavior. Cooperation is an essential aspect of life, from bacterial bio-films to social insects, and from friendships and 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?
Together with the other researchers in Yale University’s Human Cooperation Laboratory, David works to answer these questions by taking into account interactions across different scales, and integrating approaches from numerous disciplines. He asks (1) what prosocial and antisocial decisions people will make in particular situations and social environments, (2) the cognitive mechanisms that determine how these decisions are actually made, and (3) the ultimate explanations for why our decision-making processes have come to function as they do. In doing so, David combines empirical observations from behavioral experiments with predictions generated by math models and computer simulations using evolutionary game theory. He draws on approaches from psychology, economics, and evolutionary biology, and addresses a range of applications including law, management, and public policy.
For an overview of David’s research agenda, see this 2013 review article in Trends in Cognitive Sciences.