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IU student studies decision-making process used for choosing canine companions

Jan 23, 2018

Description of the following video:


[Words appear: IU graduate student Sam Cohen volunteers as a pet adoption counselor at Bloomington’s animal shelter. ]

[Video: Sam plays with a dog.]

[Words appear: A researcher in the psychological and brain sciences department]

[Words appear: She also studies how people choose romantic partners through the lens of cognitive science.]

[Video: Sam talks with people at a booth.]

[Words appear: When it comes to a romantic partner, what people say they want can be very different from what they ultimately choose.]

[Video: Sam walks a dog through the animal shelter.]

[Words appear: Sam’s volunteer work at the Bloomington animal shelter led her to ask a new research question about the decision-making process.]

[Video: Sam plays with a dog outdoors]

[Words appear: Do people choose human and canine companions in the same way?]

[Video: Sam and two friends play with a black lab in a classroom.]

[Words appear: Sam’s study follows pet adopters through the adoption process.]

[Words appear: She compares what kind of dog they say they are looking for]

[Video: A gray and white dog graphic appears.] 

[Words appear: And the dog they end up adopting.]

[Video: A brown and white dog graphic appears.]

[Words appear: Here’s how it works:] 

[Words appear: 1. Adopters tell Sam what kind of dog they want.]

[Video: Sam speaks with an adopter.]

[Words appear: 2. They meet the dogs and pick the one they want.]

[Video: Sam pets a dog.]

[Words appear: 3. Sam then compares what adopters say they want with the choices they actually make.]

[Video: Sam surveys some men with a dog.]

[Words appear: Sam’s study is one of the first to follow pet adopters through the entire process, from start to finish. ]

[Words appear: This study could steer shelters toward more effective policies.]

[Words appear: Adoption counselors could become better matchmakers] 

[Words appear: Reducing the amount of time dogs spend in shelters.] 

[Words appear: And helping more animals find homes.]

[Video: The Indiana University trident appears.]

[Words appear: Indiana University]

[Words appear: Fulfilling the Promise]


[End of transcript]

On most weekends, you can find Indiana University graduate student Sam Cohen at Bloomington Animal Care and Control, the local animal shelter, where she has volunteered for two years as a pet adoption counselor. She gets to know the dogs, talks with visitors and helps them identify which dogs they might want to adopt. 

Cohen is no stranger to the curious logic of people’s decision-making. She is a researcher in professor Peter Todd’s Adaptive Behavior and Cognition Lab in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, where she and her colleagues study all kinds of decision-making strategies: How do people decide which foods to eat? How do people select collaborative partners? How do people choose romantic partners? By comparing the strategies that people use across different contexts, the lab can study hypotheses about how these strategies have evolved.

Sam Cohen handles file folders
A dog and Sam look through a fence

Photos by Cadence Baugh

Given Cohen’s background in social decision-making, it’s not surprising that she began to notice patterns in the decisions adopters were making at the shelter.

Read more about Cohen’s findings at the shelter in graduate student Rachel Skipper’s post on the ScIU Blog, which is run by graduate science students to communicate about research and engage a broader IU audience in their work.

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