Cosmides originally studied biology at Harvard University, receiving her A.B. in 1979. While an undergraduate she was influenced by the renowned evolutionary biologist Robert L. Trivers who was her advisor. In 1985, Cosmides received a Ph.D in cognitive psychology from Harvard and, after completing postdoctoral work under Roger Shepard at Stanford University, joined the faculty of the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1991, becoming a full professor in 2000.
In 1992, together with John Tooby and Jerome Barkow, Cosmides edited The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture. She and Tooby also co-founded and co-direct the Center for Evolutionary Psychology.
Cosmides was awarded the 1988 American Association for the Advancement of Science Prize for Behavioral Science Research, the 1993 American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientific Award for an Early Career Contribution to Psychology, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2005 National Institutes of Health Director's Pioneer Award.
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