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Social Animals at Work


Entry requirements

This course is only available for Master’s students in Psychology.


Humans are social animals and much of their remarkable evolutionary trajectory has been attributed to their capacity to work in relatively cohesive groups of genetically unrelated others. It is in groups that humans perfected ways to disseminate knowledge, insights, and values, that negotiation and economic trade evolved, and the social and technological innovations were designed, disseminated, and implemented. Nowadays, groups are core building blocks of almost every society, and crucial for cooperation and economic development. While humans are uniquely cooperative, cooperation is also a mean to coordinate conflicts and subordinate other groups, or collectively engage in corruption and fraudulent behaviour. Here we examine the core drivers of cooperation in groups, but also highlight the role of cooperation in conflict, norm-violations, and corrupt collaboration.

After a short introduction to game theory (topic 1) and the main psychological frameworks related to cooperation and conflict (topic 2), we will discuss evolutionary theories on how cooperation can evolve (topic 3) and how cooperation can be studied experimentally (topic 4). Then we will discuss behavioural conflict theories and empirical results on conflict and competition (topic 5). In the last topic (topic 6), we will discuss what happens when norms are violated and groups team up to engage in fraudulent behaviour (i.e. cheating and dishonesty).

Course objectives

After completion of the course, you should be able to:

  • formalise and identify canonical games of cooperation and competition, using the language of game theory

  • apply basic game-theoretic methods to analyse these games

  • describe main psychological theories of conflict and cooperation

  • describe evolutionary theories on cooperation

  • distinguish situational and psychological factors that influence cooperation, conflict, and unethical behaviour

  • apply the obtained theoretical knowledge to diagnose whether and when groups are expected to cooperate, compete, or behave unethically


For the timetable of this course please refer to MyTimetable



Students must register themselves for all course components (lectures, tutorials and practicals) they wish to follow. You can register up to 5 days prior to the start of the course.


You must register for each exam in My Studymap at least 10 days before the exam date. You cannot take an exam without a valid registration in My Studymap. Carefully read all information about the procedures and deadlines for registering for courses and exams.

Exchange students and external guest students will be informed by the education administration about the current registration procedure.

Mode of instruction

8 2-hour lectures

The course is taught in English. Attendance is highly recommended. Literature is provided to deepen the understanding and provide additional insight.

Assessment method

Multiple open questions based on the lecture / lecture slides and mandatory readings.
The final grade is based on the written exam. The exam is in English.

The Institute of Psychology follows the policy of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences to systematically check student papers for plagiarism with the help of software. All students are required to take and pass the Scientific Integrity Test with a score of 100% in order to learn about the practice of integrity in scientific writing. Students are given access to the quiz via a module on Brightspace. Disciplinary measures will be taken when fraud is detected. Students are expected to be familiar with and understand the implications of this fraud policy.

Reading list

Readings will be (mainly) research and review articles from the area of behavioral decision making, lab- and field-experiments on cooperation, conflict, and unethical behavior.


Dr. Angelo Romano (for questions about the content)

Milena Poulina (for questions about logistics and administrative matters)