Led by psychologists, neuroscientists, and cognitive scientists from multiple labs across the university, the three-year, $10 million initiative will investigate questions related to humans' unique autonomous abilities and whether they have ramifications for fields ranging from computer chip design to philosophy. To be led by Princeton Neuroscience Institute co-director Jonathan Cohen, the project will look at how humans create mental models to render complex tasks simpler and easier to solve; how we evaluate and decide between competing goals; how we choose between immediate but smaller rewards and longer-term but larger rewards; how we decide which tasks to do right away and which to put off; and why some complex mental tasks (e.g., facial recognition) are easy for humans while others (multi-digit arithmetic) require significant mental effort.
In addition to the grant from the foundation, the effort has received funding from the university and Intel.
"Our experience of autonomy gets to the heart of a number of key questions around what it means to be human, ranging from intellect, cognition, and consciousness to self-control, future-mindedness, and free will itself," said Alexander Arnold, senior program officer for philosophy and theology at the Templeton Foundation. "The neuroscience labs at Princeton are probably the strongest in the country working on these kinds of issues, making this project an incredible opportunity to substantially advance our understanding of human rationality and self-determination."