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PSY3009 : To cheat or not to cheat: the evolution of cooperative behaviour

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Mrs Billie Moffat-Knox
  • Owning School: Psychology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 2 Credit Value: 10
ECTS Credits: 5.0


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

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists