Dr Gilbert Roberts
- Email: email@example.com
- Telephone: +44 (0) 191 20 88704
- Address: Centre for Behaviour & Evolution
Institute of Neuroscience
Henry Wellcome Building
Faculty of Medical Sciences
Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH
I am a behavioural scientist working on animal (including human) behaviour from an evolutionary perspective. My primary interest is in the evolution of cooperation, including why humans are such a cooperative species. I am a member of the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution.
Current Opportunities (January 2017):
I am interested in hearing from those seeking a postgraduate studentship on the evolution of cooperation (closing date 20 Jan 2017). See the NERC IAPETUS web site for further details
Evolution of Cooperation
Cooperative behaviour can seem paradoxical given the focus on self-interest and competition in both evolutionary theory and economics. Yet cooperation is better seen as a fundamental process in evolution, underlying the major transitions to complex life and to sociality. Cooperative behaviour is key to the success of human societies, and is found in many other animal species. My research programme focuses on explaining how cooperation works, and on why humans appear to be such a cooperative species. I take a cross-discipline approach combining theoretical and modelling work with fieldwork and experiments on humans and other animals. My main interests include the following.
Reputations, Partner choice and Competitive Altruism
A concern for reputation is a distinctive feature of human cooperation: we are more cooperative when we are observed and we favour those who cooperate. The concept behind my theory of Competitive Altruism is that by cooperating we are investing in a reputation which brings us longer term benefits. Research in my group provided the first experimental evidence for competitive altruism: people tend to be more cooperative when their behaviour is public and they have an opportunity to choose partners. This finding has since been replicated by other authors. We have also demonstrated that reputation building pays through access to more profitable partnerships. The key idea underlying CA is that partner choice actually drives cooperative displays - in other words we may be more cooperative than the economics of a game would suggest: this takes us into the territory of signalling behaviour.
Cooperation as a Signal
My theoretical work on why we care how we are seen by others suggests that reputations provide honest signals of intentions to engage in cooperative relationships, as opposed to costly signalling.
Can Indirect Reciprocity explain Reputation-Building?
Competitive altruism provides a more generally applicable and stronger explanation for reputation-based cooperation than indirect reciprocity.
Altruism as a courtship display
We have also provided the first evidence for competitive altruism in a mate choice context: people are more cooperative with more attractive members of the opposite sex, and cooperating makes you more attractive.
Do "watching eyes" increase cooperation?
Following on from Haley & Feslsler's demonstration that eye cues on a computer screen can make people more cooperative, we have carried out a series of studies replicating this effect in various naturalistic settings. For example, coffee drinkers are more likely to contribute to an honesty box when eye images are present, while shoppers are more likely to donate to charity given eye sybols on collecting tins.
Why do people punish others and can this help solve the problem of cooperation in groups?
Punishing others provides a potential solution to the problem of cooperation in groups. I have shown that using parameters typical of behavioural economic games, punishers can make a net profit, removing the dilemma. Furthermore I show how the dynamics fit a 'producer-scrounger' game whereby it can pay some individual to contribute even if others do not.
Cooperation through Interdependence
A key problem in explaining cooperation is that while it may pay well, exploiting a cooperator may pay even better. However, I argue that interdependence is an important factor facilitating cooperation because cooperators benefit as a by-product of helping their recipients. Helping can then be favoured when its costs are outweighed by the altruist’s stake in the recipient’s benefits. I have shown how defining an individual’s ‘stake’ in another corresponds to Hamilton’s rule. The direct benefits of cooperation, even when there is no reciprocation, are now being seen as increasingly important.
- Thomas N. Sherratt,
- Karolina Sylwester
- Daniel Nettle,
- John Lazarus,
- Melissa Bateson,
- Peter Andras,
- Mark Van Vugt,
- Daniel Farrelly,
- Marion Petrie,
- Graeme D Ruxton,
- Sue Lewis,
- Minna Lyons
- Nichola Raihani
I previously served on the Council of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour as Newsletter Editor and set up a website for ASAB at asab.org.
Billie Dee Moffatt
Karolina Sylwester completed a PhD on the role of reputation in human cooperation and went on to a postdoc on punishment at Bath.
Daniel Farrelly's PhD thesis from 2005 entitled "Courtship, reputation, biological markets and the evolution of cooperation: A study using computer-mediated communication" presented some of the first experimental evidence for competitive altruism, sexual selection and market effects on cooperation. Daniel is now lecturer in Psychology at Sunderland.
Conferences & Talks
Reviewing / Editing
MRes Animal Behaviour; Evolution & Human Behaviour Projects
Sex and Human Nature
Evolution of Behaviour
Statistics for Psychologists
Animal Behaviour Practicals
Joint Honours Advisor
Departmental Web-site Manager
Honours Project Coordinator
Secretary to Board of Examiners
Chair of the Board of Examiners
Stage 3 Tutor
Teaching and Support Committee
Psychology Brain and Behaviour Executive
- Roberts G. Human Cooperation: The Race to Give. Current Biology 2015, 25(10), R425-R427.
- Roberts G. Partner Choice Drives the Evolution of Cooperation via Indirect Reciprocity. PLoS ONE 2015, 10(6), e0129442.
- Roberts G. Competitive morality. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 2013, 36(1), 97-98.
- Sylwester K, Roberts G. Reputation-based partner choice is an effective alternative to indirect reciprocity in solving social dilemmas. Evolution & Human Behaviour 2013, 34(3), 201-206.
- Roberts G. When punishment pays. PLoS One 2013, 8(3), e57378.
- Powell K, Roberts G, Nettle D. Eye images increase charitable donations: Evidence from an opportunistic field experiment in a supermarket. Ethology 2012, 118(11), 1096-1101.
- Sylwester K, Lyons M, Buchanan C, Nettle D, Roberts G. The role of Theory of Mind in assessing cooperative intentions. Personality and Individual Differences 2012, 52(2), 113-117.
- Sherratt TN, Roberts G. When paths to cooperation converge. Science 2012, 337(6100), 1304-1305.
- Abbot P, Abe J, Alcock J, Alizon S, Alpedrinha JAC, Andersson M, Andre JB, van Baalen M, Balloux F, Balshine S, Barton N, Beukeboom LW, Biernaskie JM, Bilde T, Borgia G, Breed M, Brown S, Bshary R, Buckling A, Burley NT, Burton-Chellew MN, Cant MA, Chapuisat M, Charnov EL, Clutton-Brock T, Cockburn A, Cole BJ, Colegrave N, Cosmides L, Couzin ID, Coyne JA, Creel S, Crespi B, Curry RL, Dall SRX, Day T, Dickinson JL, Dugatkin LA, El Mouden C, Emlen ST, Evans J, Ferriere R, Field J, Foitzik S, Foster K, Foster WA, Fox CW, Gadau J, Gandon S, Gardner A, Gardner MG, Getty T, Goodisman MAD, Grafen A, Grosberg R, Grozinger CM, Gouyon PH, Gwynne D, Harvey PH, Hatchwell BJ, Heinze J, Helantera H, Helms KR, Hill K, Jiricny N, Johnstone RA, Kacelnik A, Kiers ET, Kokko H, Komdeur J, Korb J, Kronauer D, Kummerli R, Lehmann L, Linksvayer TA, Lion S, Lyon B, Marshall JAR, McElreath R, Michalakis Y, Michod RE, Mock D, Monnin T, Montgomerie R, Moore AJ, Mueller UG, Noe R, Okasha S, Pamilo P, Parker GA, Pedersen JS, Pen I, Pfennig D, Queller DC, Rankin DJ, Reece SE, Reeve HK, Reuter M, Roberts G, Robson SKA, Roze D, Rousset F, Rueppell O, Sachs JL, Santorelli L, Schmid-Hempel P, Schwarz MP, Scott-Phillips T, Shellmann-Sherman J, Sherman PW, Shuker DM, Smith J, Spagna JC, Strassmann B, Suarez AV, Sundstrom L, Taborsky M, Taylor P, Thompson G, Tooby J, Tsutsui ND, Tsuji K, Turillazzi S, Ubeda F, Vargo EL, Voelkl B, Wenseleers T, West SA, West-Eberhard MJ, Westneat DF, Wiernasz DC, Wild G, Wrangham R, Young AJ, Zeh DW, Zeh JA, Zink A. Inclusive fitness theory and eusociality. NATURE 2011, 471(7339), E1-E4.
- Sylwester K, Roberts G. Cooperators benefit through reputation-based partner choice in economic games. Biology Letters 2010, 6(5), 659-662.
- Sherratt TN, Roberts G, Kassen R. Evolutionary stable investment in products that confer both an individual benefit and a public good. Frontiers in Bioscience 2009, 14(12), 4557-4564.
- Roberts G. Evolution of direct and indirect reciprocity. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2008, 275(1631), 173-179.
- Farrelly D, Lazarus J, Roberts G. Altruists Attract. Evolutionary Psychology 2007, 5(2), 313-329.
- van Vugt M, Roberts G, Hardy C. Competitive altruism: a theory of reputation-based cooperation in groups. In: Dunbar, RIM; Barrett, L, ed. Oxford Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007, pp.531-540.
- Roberts G, Sherratt TN. Cooperative reading: Some suggestions for integration of the cooperation literature. Behavioural Processes 2007, 76(2), 126-130.
- Lewis S, Roberts G, Harris MP, Prigmore C, Wanless S. Fitness increases with partner and neighbour allopreening. Biology Letters 2007, 3(4), 386-389.
- Petrie M, Roberts G. Sexual selection and the evolution of evolvability. Heredity 2007, 98(4), 198-205.
- Bateson M, Nettle D, Roberts G. Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting. Biology Letters 2006, 2(3), 412-414.
- Roberts G. Cooperation through interdependence. Animal Behaviour 2005, 70(4), 901-908.
- Andras P, Roberts G, Lazarus J. Environmental risk, cooperation, and communication complexity. In: Alonso E; Kudenko D; Kazakov D, ed. Adaptive agents and multi-agent systems : adaptation and multi-agent learning. Berlin: Springer, 2003, pp.558-560.
- Roberts G, Renwick JS. The development of cooperative relationships: An experiment. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2003, 270(1530), 2279-2283.
- Roberts G. The group-size effect in non-feeding animals. Behavioural Processes 2003, 63(3), 127-128.
- Roberts G, Sherratt TN. Behavioural evolution - Does similarity breed cooperation?. Nature 2002, 418(6897), 499-500.
- Andras P, Roberts G, Lazarus J. Environmental risk, cooperation and communication complexity. In: AISB '02 Symposium on Adaptive Agents and Multi-agent Systems. 2002, Imperial College, London: London: Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour.
- Sherratt TN, Roberts G. The stability of cooperation involving variable investment. Journal of Theoretical Biology 2002, 215(1), 47-56.
- Scannell J, Roberts G, Lazarus J. Prey scan at random to evade observant predators. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2001, 268(1466), 541-547.
- Sherratt TN, Roberts G. The importance of phenotypic defectors in stabilizing reciprocal altruism. Behavioral Ecology 2001, 12(3), 313-317.
- Sherratt TN, Roberts G. 'Raise the stakes' evolves into a defector [Reply]. Nature 1999, 400(6744), 518-518.
- Sherratt TN, Roberts G. The evolution of quantitatively responsive cooperative trade. Journal of Theoretical Biology 1999, 200(4), 419-426.
- G. Roberts. Competitive altruism: from reciprocity to the handicap principle. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences 1998, 265(1394), 427-431.
- G. Roberts,T. N. Sherratt. Development of cooperative relationships through increasing investment. Nature 1998, 394(6689), 175-179.
- T. N. Sherratt,G. Roberts. The evolution of generosity and choosiness in cooperative exchanges. Journal of Theoretical Biology 1998, 193(1), 167-177.
- G. Roberts. How many birds does it take to put a flock to flight?. Animal Behaviour 1997, 54, 1517-1522.
- G. Roberts. Testing mutualism: A commentary. Animal Behaviour 1997, 53, 1361-1362.
- G. Roberts. Testing for patterns in sequences of vigilance behaviour. Animal Behaviour 1996, 51, 1179-1182.
- G. Roberts. Why individual vigilance declines as group size increases. Animal Behaviour 1996, 51, 1077-1086.
- G. Roberts. A Real-Time Response of Vigilance Behavior to Changes in Group-Size. Animal Behaviour 1995, 50, 1371-1374.
- G. Roberts. When to Scan - an Analysis of Predictability in Vigilance Sequences Using Autoregression Models. Animal Behaviour 1994, 48(3), 579-585.
- G. Roberts,P. R. Evans. A Method for the Detection of Nonrandom Associations among Flocking Birds and Its Application to Sanderlings Calidris-Alba Wintering in Ne England. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 1993, 32(5), 349-354.
- G. Roberts,P. R. Evans. Responses of Foraging Sanderlings to Human Approaches. Behaviour 1993, 126, 29-43.