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David W. Stephens

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David W. Stephens


Graduate Faculty Memberships

Ecology, Evolution and Behavior


Research Interests

Experimental behavioral ecology, foraging behavior; animal decision-making; evolutionary approaches to animal cognition; learning and memory as adaptations


My research blends mathematical and experimental analyses to address a range of issues in behavioral ecology, especially feeding behavior. My experiments use psychological techniques, and this brings the conceptual approach of behavioral ecology into contact with the more mechanistic approach of psychology. Current interests in my laboratory are 1) combining evolutionary and mechanistic analyses of behavior using animal impulsivity as a worked example; 2) evolutionary models of "cognitive" phenomena, e.g. learning, memory and decision-making; 3) Experimental games, including experimental analysis of putatively cooperative games such as the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma and related ideas.


Selected Publications


Polnaszek T.J., Stephens D.W. 2014 Why not lie? Costs enforce honesty in an experimental signaling game. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20132457.  (Recognized by the ‘Faculty of 1000’ for its significance).

Polanszek, T.J., Stephens D. W. 2014. Receiver tolerance for imperfect signal reliability: results from experimental signaling games. Animal Behaviour 94: 1-8. (Selected for recognition in journal’s “In Focus” section).

Dunlap A. S., Stephens D. W. 2014. Experimental evolution of prepared learning. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111: 11750-11755  doi:10.1073/pnas.1404176111

Wikenheiser, A. M., Stephens, D. W. and A. R. Redish 2013. Subjective costs drive overly-patient foraging strategies in rats on an intertemporal foraging task. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110:8308-8313

Stephens, D. W. 2013 Writing an effective NSF preproposal.

Dunlap, A. S. and Stephens D. W. 2011. Tracking a changing environment: optimal sampling, adaptive memory and overnight effects. Behavioural Processes.Published online, November 2011.

Stevens, J.R. & Stephens, D.W. (2010). The adaptive nature of impulsivity. In: Impulsivity: the behavioral and neurological science of discounting. (Madden GJ, & Bickel WK, eds). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. pp. 361-388.

Dunlap, A. S. & Stephens, D. W. (2009) Components of change in the evolution of learning and non-learning. Proceedings of the Royal Society (B) Published online 17 June 2009.

Stephens, D. W. 2008. Decision ecology: foraging and the ecology of animal decision-making. Cognitive and affective behavioral neuroscience (CABN) 8: 475-484.

Stephens, D. W., J. S. Brown and R. C. Ydenberg (eds.) 2007. Foraging: behavior and ecology. University of Chicago Press: Chicago. xvi + 586 page

Stephens, D. W., C. M. McLinn and J. R. Stevens 2002. Discounting and reciprocity in an Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. Science 298:2216-2218

Stephens, D. W. and J. R. Krebs 1986. Foraging theory. Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ. xiv + 247 pages.


Additional Links

Stephens Lab








Ph.D., The Queen's College, Oxford University, 1982
Phone Number
Phone: 612-625-5722 Fax: 612-624-6777
Email Address

316 Ecology
1987 Upper Buford Circle
St, MN 55108