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Thomas Hills (Professor)

Thomas Hills

BNS book cover

Cognitive Search, MIT Press

Cognitive Search: Evolution Algorithms and the Brain. MIT Press.

email: t.t.hills (at)

tel: (024) 765 23183



I study search behaviour and the trade-off between exploration and exploitation across domains as diverse as space, mind, and society. This work aims to understand how humans navigate complex information environments (e.g., memory, decision making, and creativity) and how these environments evolve and develop in response.

My research uses experiments, big data, network science, natural language processing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and mathematical models, with applications to behavioural and cognitive science.

My book on Behavioral Network Science: Language, Mind, and Society with Cambridge University Press is due out in September.

I am the Director of the Behavioural and Data Science MSc and the former Director of the Bridges-Leverhulme Doctoral Training Centre.

My former PhD students Eugene Malthouse and Charlie Pilgrim help run the Collective Decision Making and Culture Lab with collaborators from over 30 nations.

I am a former Fellow of the Alan Turing Institute. I am also a Research Fellow of the Royal Society.

Some fun articles for the casual reader:

Does my algorithm have a mental health problem, published in Aeon.

Masters of reality: The evolution of shamanism, published in Aeon.

The Macroscope for exploring the historical structure of English


Publications and pdfs

Recent Publications:

  • Li, H. and Hills, T. (2024). Time, valence, and imagination: A comparative study of thoughts in restricted and unrestricted mind wandering. Psychological Research.
  • Pilgrim, C., Sanborn, A., Malthouse, E., and Hills, T. (2024). Confirmation bias emerges from an approximation to Bayesian reasoning. Cognition. opens in a new window
  • Ovando Tellez, M., Kenett, Y. N., Benedek, M., Hills, T. T., Beranger, B., Lopez-Perseem, A., Bieth, T., & Volle, E. (2024). Switching, fast and slow: Deciphering the dynamics of memory search, its brain connectivity patterns, and its role in creativity, Research Square.

  • Pilgrim, C., Guo, W., & Hills, T. (2024). The rising entropy of english in the attention economy. Nature Communications Psychology.
  • Li, Y., Breithaupt, F., Hills, T., Lin, Z., Chen, Y., Siew, C. S. Q., and Hertwig, R. (2023). The struggle for life among words: How cognitive selection affects language change. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
  • Stella, M., Hills, T., & Kenett, Y. (2023). Using cognitive psychology to understand GPT-like models needs to extend beyond human biases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. doi/10.1073/pnas.2312911120
  • Malthouse, E., Pilgrim, C., Sgroi, D., and Hills, T. (2023). When fairness is not enough: the disproportionate contributions of the poor in a collective action problem. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication.

  • Hills, T. (2023). The calculus of ignorance. Behavioural Public Policy, 7, 846-850.

  • He, T., Breithaupt, F., Kübler, S., and Hills, T. (2023). Quantifying the retention of emotions across story retellings. Scientific Reports, 13, 2448.

  • Moore, R., & Hills., T. (2022). The evolution of imagination and the adaptive value of imaginary worlds. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 45, e288.
  • Plunkett, K., Delle Luche, C., Hills, T., & Floccia, C. (2022). Tracking the associative boost in infancy. Infancy, 27(6), 1179-1196.
  • Miani, A., Hills, T., & Bangerter, A. (2022). Interconnectedness and (in) coherence as a signature of conspiracy worldviews. Science Advances, 8(43), eabq3668.
  • Ovando-Tellez, M., Benedek, M. , Kenett, Y.N., Hills, T. T., Bouanane, S., Bernard, M., Belo, J., Bieth, J. & Volle, E. (2022). An investigation of the cognitive and neural correlates of semantic memory search related to creative ability. Communications Biology.

  • Jiménez, E., & Hills, T. (2022). Semantic maturation during the comprehension-expression gap in typical and late talkers. Child Development.
  • Siew, C., Engelthaler, T., & Hills, T. (2022). Nymph piss and gravy orgies: Local and global contrast effects in relational humor. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.

  • Wulff, D., Hills, T., & Mata, R. (2022). Structural differences in the semantic networks of younger and older adults. Scientific Reports.
  • Miani, A., Hills, T., & Bangerter, A. (2021).LOCO: the 88-million-word language of conspiracy corpus. Behavioral Research Methods.
  • Malthouse, E., Russell, S, Liang, Y., & Hills, T. (2021). The influence of exposure to randomness on lateral thinking in divergent, convergent, and creative search. Cognition.

  • Menczer, F., & Hills, T. (2020). The attention economy. Scientific American. link
  • Haebig, E., Jimenez, E., Cox, C., & Hills, T. (2020). Characterizing the early vocabulary profiles of preverbal and minimally verbal children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. In press.
  • Jimenez, E., Haebig, E., & Hills, T. (2020). Identifying areas of overlap and distinction in early lexical profiles of children with autism spectrum disorder, late talkers, and typical talkers Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. In press.
  • Badman, R., Hills, T., & Akaishi, R. (2020). Multiscale computation and dynamic attention in biological and artificial intelligence. Brain Sciences.
  • Li, Y., Hills, T., & Hertwig, R. (2020). A brief history of risk. Cognition.
  • Todd, P.M., & Hills, T. (2020). Foraging in mind. Current Directions in Psychological Science.
  • Li, Y., Annasya, M., & Hills, T. (2020). The Emotional recall task: Juxtaposing recall and recognition-based affect scales. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition.
  • Hills, T., Proto, E., Sgroi, D., & Seresinhe, C. (2019). Historical analysis of national subjective wellbeing using millions of digitized books. Nature Human Behavior, 1-5.
  • Hills, T. (2019). Neurocognitive free will. Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
  • Li, Y., Engelthaler, T., Siew, C. S., & Hills, T. (2019). The Macroscope: A tool for examining the historical structure of language. Behavior Research Methods, 1-14.
  • Herzog, S., & Hills, T. (2019) Mediation centrality in adversarial policy networks. Complexity.
  • Hills, T. (2018). The dark side of information proliferation. Perspectives on Psychological Science.
  • Jagiello, R., & Hills, T. (2018). Bad news has wings: Dread risk mediates social amplification in risk communication. Risk Analysis, 38, 2193–2207.
  • Hills, T., & Siew, C. S. (2018). Filling gaps in early word learning. Nature Human Behaviour, 2(9), 622.
  • Engelthaler, T., & Hills, T. (2018). Humor norms for 4,997 English words. Behavior Research Methods, 50(3), 1116-1124.
  • Dubossarsky, H., De Deyne, S., & Hills, T. (2017). Quantifying the structure of free association networks across the life span. Developmental Psychology, 53(8), 1560.
  • Engelthaler, T. & Hills, T. (2017). Feature biases in early word learning: Network distinctiveness predicts age of acquisition. Cognitive Science, 41, 120-140.
  • Sgroi, D., Hills, T., O'Donnell, G., Oswald, A. J., & Proto, E. (2017). Understanding Happiness: A CAGE Policy Report. Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy.
  • Noguchi, T., & Hills, T. (2016). Description-experience gap in choice deferral. Decision, 3, 54-61.
  • Hills, T., Proto, E., & Srgoi, D. (2015). Historical analysis of national subjective wellbeing using millions of digitized books. IZA Discussion Paper No. 9195.
  • Hills, T., & Adelman, J. (2015). Recent evolution in the learnability of American English from 1800 to 2000. Cognition, 143, 87-92.
  • Jones, M.N., Hills, T., & Todd, P.M. (2015). Hidden processes in structural representations: A reply to Abbot, Austerweil, and Griffiths (2015). Psychological Review, 122, 570-574.
  • Bilson, S., Yoshida, H., Tran, C., Woods, E., & Hills, T. (2015). Semantic facilitation in bilingual first language acquisition. Cognition, 140, 122-134.
  • Hills, T. & Butterfill, S. (2015). From foraging to autonoetic consciousness: The primal self as a consequence of embodied prospective foraging. Current Zoology, 61, 368-381.
  • Hills, T. (2015). Crowdsourcing content creation in the classroom. Journal of Computing in Higher Education. Published online: DOI 10.1007/s12528-015-9089-2

Download open access versions of publications

Supervisor to:

Danyang Hu
Dasol Jeong
Halleyson Li
Eugene Malthouse
Charlie Pilgrim