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PSY3009 : To Cheat or not to Cheat: The Evolution of Cooperative Behaviour

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Billie Moffat-Knox
  • Owning School: Psychology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0
European Credit Transfer System


The aims of this module are:
to show how cooperation is a fundamental aspect of human and animal nature;
to show how disciplines ranging from economics to evolutionary psychology can contribute to understanding cooperation;
to provide an understanding of how and why individuals cooperate with each other;
to use cooperation as a model for understanding the roles of mechanistic and functional explanations of behaviour;
and to use cooperation as a model for appreciating the various moral, ethical and practical issues surrounding appropriate research methods;

Cooperative behaviours range from helpful acts to costly altruism. Human cooperation is complex; we donate blood to strangers and feel good when ‘unfair’ cheats are punished. Non-human animals also regularly engage in cooperation, for example vampire bats will share blood with non-relatives in need of food. Philosophers and scientists have grappled with the problems of cooperation for millennia but we now know cooperation has played a prominent role in the evolution of life. The module uses an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the evolution of cooperation; perspectives include paleoanthropology, psychology, and behavioural economics. The behavioural ecology of cooperation in other animals is drawn on to show the evolutionary origins of cooperation in humans. The course provides a close link between research and teaching by drawing on the latest advances, including work carried out in the department.

Outline Of Syllabus

Some themes are broad and extend across the module, while others are narrower and may constitute the focus of one lecture. Indicative themes are:

The fundamentals of cooperation: the semantics of key terms, its history in science, and its place in nature
Evolution & natural selection
Tinbergen’s 4 whys (proximate mechanisms, development, functions, & evolution)
Paleoanthropology & primatology
Human and non-human animal cooperation
Behavioural ecology, anthropology and comparative analysis - comparing different species and their habitats and how it leads to particular behaviours
Game theory and the economic approach to cooperation
Kin selection/kinship
Reciprocal altruism aka direct reciprocity
Reputations: indirect reciprocity, competitive altruism and signaling
Cheat recognition and recall
Trust, fairness, & punishment
Cognitive, hormonal and neural aspects of cooperation
Social emotions
Tradeoffs between competition and cooperation
Sociality and group living
The role of culture
Contemporary social dilemmas
Ethics, morality, religion & spirituality
Exam preparation and practice essay guidance

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion132:0032:00Completing the formative essay and preparing for the examination
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture112:0022:00Present in person
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading101:0010:00Curated reading tasks, activities to support development of skills and prompt discussion
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesFieldwork13:003:00Present in person
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study331:0033:00Further reading
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Weekly 2-hour present in person lectures are used as the primary and most effective mode of imparting the core knowledge of the module. They consist of a one hour lecture, followed immediately by a one-hour small group teaching session. The two hour session will include interactive materials (such as recall of cheaters’ faces and playing economic games) to enhance the student experience. These sessions are also used to discuss reading material set using curated reading tasks (academic skills activities), and debate current issues in cooperation research(ranging from the ethical to the theoretical). These sessions enrich core module knowledge by incorporating hands on experience. Subject to social distancing guidelines, the seminar series may also consist of an external seminar (fieldwork); following an appropriate risk assessment by the module leader, students will engage in field observations of a human or non-human animal cooperative behaviour while using an ethogram and then discuss their findings in relation to the module’s knowledge and skills outcomes. The private study is essential for in depth review of knowledge imparted during lectures and is essential for an upper 2.1 or first class mark.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Description Length Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written Examination1202A100100% Exam (open book). Critical review of a recent journal article and discussion of a real world behaviour.
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Essay2MOptional submission of a practice critical review of a recent journal article.
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The written examination is used to assess knowledge, independent learning and understanding of material relevant to the module (Intended Knowledge Outcomes 1-5), the ability to integrate this material and to communicate it clearly, as well as the ability for critical thought and originality of approach (Intended Skills Outcomes 1-3).

Formative Assessment
The formative assessment involves writing a practice critical review. Feedback from the module leader will use the marking criteria to tell students where they have met the criteria for a particular mark and which criteria they have not satisfied in order to improve their mark.

Students can also gain formative feedback on their learning of the assessed knowledge and skills throughout the course. Formative feedback is primarily given by the module leader in the interactive sessions, but also includes formative feedback from peers in the interactive sessions. Formative feedback will be provided for intended skills outcome 4 via a class discussion of ethograms and their use following the fieldwork component.

If the module is failed, Stage 3 students may only be offered a resit if an honours degree is not awarded on the first occasion. Failed assessments will be the same format during the August resit period.

Reading Lists