Dr Gilbert Roberts
Senior Lecturer

  • Email: gilbert.roberts@ncl.ac.uk
  • Telephone: +44 (0) 191 20 88704
  • Address: Centre for Behaviour & Evolution
    Institute of Neuroscience
    Henry Wellcome Building
    Faculty of Medical Sciences
    Framlington Place
    Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 4HH

I am an evolutionary behavioural scientist working on big questions in animal (including human) behaviour. My primary interest is in the evolution of cooperation, and in how humans are such a cooperative species. I am a member fo the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution.

Current Opportunities (20/9/16):

I am interested in hearing from those seeking postdoctoral positions in the field of human cooperative behaviour for this funding opportunity


Research Interests

Cooperative behaviour is fundamental to human societies and is found in many other animals yet it presents a fascinating challenge to biologists and psychologists alike. My research focuses on trying to explain how cooperation works and why humans are such a cooperative species. I take a cross-discipline approach combining theoretical and modelling work with fieldwork and experiments on humans and other animals. Two theories I have been developing and testing revolve around the roles of reputations and of interdependence.

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 idea behind my theory of Competitive Altruism (actually better referred to as competitive cooperation) is that by cooperating we may be 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 recently demonstrated that reputation building pays through access to more profitable partnerships. Competitive altruism provides a more generally applicable theory of reputation-based cooperation than indirect reciprocity. 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.

A key problem in explaining cooperation is that while cooperation 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.

Collaborators have included Prof Tom Sherratt , Dr John Lazarus, Dr Melissa Bateson, Prof Daniel Nettle, Prof Mark van Vugt and Dr Sue Lewis.


My research has been funded by the BBSRC, JIF/Wellcome Trust & ASAB, Arts Council/AHRB

Other Expertise

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.

Postgraduate Supervision

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.

Undergraduate supervision

Empirical Projects

Masters Supervision


Courses Taught


Sex and Human Nature

Evolution of Behaviour,

Cognitive Psychology,

Statistics for Psychologists,

Animal Behaviour

Social Psychology

Psychology Practicals

Animal Behaviour Practicals

Administrative Responsibilities

Personal Tutor,

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