People at PLEEP

The lab's PLEEPle

Lab Director: Robert Kurzban

Senior Researchers: Roger Koppl -- Sheen Levine

Current Graduate Students:  Ewa Szymanska -- Justus Myers

Post-bac Reserach Assistants: John Christner

Undergraduate Students: Kendall Hoechst -- Danny Fein

Lab Alumni

Interested in PLEEP and the Kurzban lab? Information about applying to the PhD program in Psychology is here. If you're interested in doing undergraduate research with Dr. Kurzban, please email him.

Robert Kurzban Assistant Professor, Dept. of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

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Contact Information: phone: (215) 898-4977, fax: 215-898-7301

For information on Dr. Kurzban's research, please see the Research page.

Roger Koppl, Professor of Finance, FDU

Contact Information: phone: (973) 443-884; fax:(973) 443-8377

Roger Koppl is the Director of the Institute for Forensic Science Administration (IFSA) of Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he is also a Professor of Economics and Finance. He has served on the faculty of the Copenhagen Business School, Auburn University, and Auburn University at Montgomery. He has held visiting positions at George Mason University, New York University, and the Max Planck Institute of Economics. He is a past president of the Society for the Development of Austrian Economics.  He edits Advances in Austrian Economics. He is the book review editor for the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization and a member of the advisory board of Review of Political Economy.

Koppl conducts research in forensic science administration, which studies how error rates in forensic science may be affected by institutional and organizational structures. His homepage and online CV have more information on his professional activities.

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Sheen Levine, Singapore Management University

Contact Information:

Trained at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Sheen S. Levine is a professor at Singapore Management University and a senior researcher at The University of Pennsylvania. He also held visiting positions at Emory University, Copenhagen Business School in Denmark, and the University of Torino in Italy. Interested in the connections between disciplines, he acquired academic degrees in Management Science and Applied Economics, Sociology and Anthropology. Dr. Levine is a winner the Organization Science VIP Award, US Dept. of Education CIBER Fellowship, and The Bentley College/HEC Paper Award from the Academy of Management.

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Ewa Szymanska, Graduate Student, Dept. of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

Ewa Szymanska studied psychology and romance languages at the Central Washington University, WA. She then worked as a reporter and a translator at the press center in Poland. Ewa is now a graduate student in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania studying decision processes.

Ewa is interested in the interplay between reasoning and moral intuitions in individual decision making and political judgment. In her research she builds on the experimental studies of decision making in the hypothetical situations, following a tradition of evaluating decisions against the normative standards of coherence and utility maximization (advised by Dr. Jon Baron), while, at the same time, drawing on evolutionary theory to generate hypothesis regarding her research questions (advised by Dr. Robert Kurzban). Currently, she is taking a dual approach to studying the complex set of human intuitions about punishment.

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Justus Myers, Graduate Student, Dept. of Psychology, University of Pennsylvania

Justus Myers studied sociology and economics at Beloit College. He then worked for two years at a public policy think tank in Washington, DC. Most recently, he spent a year working at the Center for the Study of Neuroeconomics (CSN) at George Mason University, under the direction of Kevin McCabe. Justus is interested in the cognitive mechanisms underlying the evolution of cooperation (and conflict), decision processes, causal reasoning, and cultural acquisition and transmission. To this end, he is interested in using theory from evolutionary biology/psychology, and methods from experimental psychology and experimental economics, as well as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

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John Christner Graduate Student, Research Assistant, University of Pennsylvania


John majored in biology at Penn as an undergrad and became interested in human evolution and psychology. He met Rob Kurzban, and discovered evolutionary psychology in 2005. Over the last few years John has helped on projects investigating morality, friendship, and moralistic punishment. He is also interested in supernatural beliefs and self-deception.

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Danny Fein , Undergraduate, University of Pennsylvania

Danny Fein is an undergraduate in the College with an individualized major in Evolutionary Psychology. He put down Rob Kurzban's name on his Penn application for a "professor with whom he would like to study," and is pleasantly surprised that he actually followed through. Danny writes for a music blog, and tries to throw in an evolutionary psychology reference whenever he can. His most rewarding academic experience was reporting on the 7th annual Sideshow Convention, where he befriended the Human Tripod and the original Ronald McDonald.

Danny is not ashamed to admit that he enjoyed every second of his Marketing 101 simulation, and plans on pursuing either an MBA or a PhD in something related to psychology. So far, his research ideas tend to gravitate towards exploring phenomena exposed by game shows such as "Deal or No Deal."

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Recent Alumni Below Here

Christine Stanik, Graduate Student, Dept. of Psychology, University of Michigan


Christine Stanik studied psychology at the University of Scranton earning her BS in 2004.  Christine is interested in many aspects of mating research including evolved mate preferences interacting with the modern environment, cues used to assess mate-value in potential partners, and tactics people employ to maximize the benefits they receive in long-term committed relationships. She received her PhD in May, 2009.

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C. Athena Aktipis

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Athena Aktipis received her PhD from Penn's Psychology Department in Spring of 2008, working with Dr. Kurzban. She is currently a Post-doctoral Fellow at the University of Arizona's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Dr. Aktipis's work investigates questions about the evolution of social behavior through agent-based simulations, focusing especially on simple rules underlying cooperation and social movement. For more information about Dr. Aktipis, please visit

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Peter DeScioli

Peter DeScioli studied philosophy and anthropology at the University of Delaware (1995-1999), focussing on Buddhist philosophy. He then joined Teach For America, and taught second grade at Whittier Elementary School in Washington, DC. Peter is currently working on his Phd in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

My projects seek to identify aspects of evolved cognition that have been shaped by game theoretic forces. I am particularly interested in coordination, cooperation, moralistic punishment, friendship, love, war, and cultural learning. My primary investigation regards the development of common knowledge representation, and how this ability facilitates coordination among children. Additionally, I am examining how people seek information about others' contributions when cooperating in groups; the sensitivity of third party punishment to anonymity; and how direct "tit for tat" reciprocity affects friendship. I have further interests in the functioning of love as a commitment device; the particular constellation of cognitions underlying war, such as enemy number estimation and the signalling functioning of courage; and finally, the computations involved in decoding and reconstructing invented behaviors and plans, which enable cumulative culture.

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Kendall Hoechst , Undergraduate, University of Pennsylvania

Kendall Hoechst is currently an undergraduate majoring in English and Psychology and minoring in Cinema Studies. Although she likes books and films a whole lot, she is positively smitten with evolutionary psychology and is currently working on a project that attempts to delineate the function of the systems that underly flirting in humans. She hails from Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, the mushroom capital of the United States and, Kendall argues, the cultural capital of the entire universe. She hopes to continue to study Psychology after graduating and eventually obtain one of those nifty Ph.D.s that seem to be all the rage. When her nose is not buried in a book and her brain is not busy contemplating the mysteries of human behavior, her hands are busy knitting.

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Kelly Asao

Kelly Asao is currently an undergraduate in the college double majoring in Psychology and Classical Studies. She is from California and, like all Californians, is very proud of this fact and insisted it be mentioned here. Her interests include collecting and menacingly brandishing weapons, studying, eating copious amounts of meat whenever her vegetarian roommates are not looking, learning Ancient Greek, and naturally all things evolutionary psychology based. She aspires to continue her studies and eventually earn her doctorate in psychology. Given that her brain does not implode upon itself, she hopes to become one of those eccentric professors about whom students make up disturbing rumors.

Kelly's research focuses mainly on the seductive field of evolutionary psychology. She became taken with the field when she took Human Sexuality taught by Dr. Robert Kurzban. Although she had some experience with this subject prior to the course (experience in psychology, gosh), she soon became heavily involved with the field and the rest is history. She is currently working with Roger Koppl on research involving forensic science administration. She is also interested in conducting research concerning mate-choice copying, flirting, morality, and humor.

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Skye Gilbert

Sarah Skye Gilbert is an avid climber of rocks, trees, brownstones, heirloom furniture, and the social ladder. Her carefully nurtured procrastination aesthetic comprises world conquest board games, documentary films and spontaneous naps. Skye is majoring in Psychology, International Studies, Economics, and French. Her research interests lie within evolutionary and cross-cultural psychology and include decision-making, conflict, cooperation, Islam and West and Northern Africa. In the distant future, Skye hopes to extend her research areas to conflict and cooperation both within the nuclear family and to cultures outside of Muslim Africa. She’d one day like to obtain her Ph.D. so that she can self-actualize into a batty old professor with a stellar candy bowl.

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Alex Shaw

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Alex Shaw went to La Salle College High School (a Christian all boys school) and was captain of the debate team, which explains his popularity with the ladies. He met Robert Kurzban on his first day at Penn and was quickly indoctrinated into the field of evolutionary psychology. Alex is majoring in psychology with a minor in philosophy and has his eyes on graduate school in psychology. At some point, Alex would like to be tenured at a prestigious university, so that he can pursue some of his more controversial (crazy) research interests.

Like other members of PLEEP, I am very interested in moralistic punishment (as well as altruism) and studying love as a commitment device. I am also interested in studying gossip.

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Some Lab Alumni

Craig Bergman graduated with Honors from the Department of Psychology. His thesis investigated the link between leadership and moralistic punishment.

Jessamyn Haupt was an invaluable source of energy and ideas for two years in the PLEEP lab, and has now gone on to advanced study

Amy Starosta graduated in 2007, and worked on a project on flirting; she published a paper in the undergraduate journal, Perspectives in Psychology.

Marc Egeth was the first graduate student to complete his PhD in the PLEEP lab under the supervision of Dr. Kurzban. He has gone on to do a postdoc at CHOP. Marc won a highly prestigious APA Dissertation Award. His disseration was entitled "Representing Metarepresentations: Is there a Theory of Mind Module?" Dr. Egeth finished in the Spring of 2007.

Alex Chavez worked in the PLEEP lab as an undergraduate, and still collaborates with people in the lab, and is currently a graduate student in the Department of Psychology at the University of Michigan.

Erin O'Brien, who won a Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowship Naussau award, worked in the PLEEP lab, and worked on experiments surrounding "third party punishment."

Amelia Fong did some research in the PLEEP lab that focused on how a male's method of resource acquisiton influences a woman's desirability for him. Amelia graduated in 2006

Danielle Trief, who won a Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowship Thouron award, worked in the PLEEP lab, and went on to study at Oxford.

Diana Zarzuelo won the John P. Sabini Undergraduate Award for the Study of Emotion, Character, and Responsibility for her work. She was the first recipient of this prize, which will be awarded annually in memory of John Sabini. Diana, who graduated in 2006, did research that focused on the reputational effects of engaging in moralistic punishment.

Erik Malmgren-Samuel worked at PLEEP and is now at large.

Are you a PLEEP alum and want to be listed on our page? Just let us know.

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