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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 decision theory (topic 1) and game theory (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:

  • summarize and describe basic concepts of decision theory

  • formalize social situations as 'games', using the language of game theory

  • apply basic game-theoretic methods to analyse these games

  • identify canonical games of cooperation and competition

  • 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 timetables of your lectures, workgroups, and exams, select your study programme. Psychology timetables



Students need to enroll for lectures and work group sessions. Master’s course registration


Students are not automatically enrolled for an examination. They can register via uSis from 100 to 10 calendar days before the date; students who are not registered will not be permitted to take the examination. Registering for exams

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

30 multiple-choice and 3 open questions (respectively 2/3 and 1/3 of final grade) based on the lecture / lecture slides and mandatory readings.

The final grade is based on a written exam, consisting of:

3 freeform questions (1/3 of the final grade, 33%)
30 multiple choice questions (2/3 of the final grade, 67%)

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. 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. The list with references and links will be announced.


Dr. Jorg Gross (for questions about the content)

Hélène Pouponnot (for questions about logistics and administrative matters)