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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 timetable of this course please refer to MyTimetable


NOTE As of the academic year 2021-2022, you must register for all courses in uSis.
You do this twice a year: once for the courses you want to take in semester 1 and once for the courses you want to take in semester 2.
Registration for courses in the first semester is possible from early August. Registration for courses in the first semester is possible from December. The exact date on which the registration starts will be published on the website of the Student Service Center (SSC)

By registering for a course you are also automatically registered for the Brightspace module. Anyone who is not registered for a course therefore does not have access to the Brightspace module and cannot participate in the first sit of the exam of that course.
Also read the complete 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. 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. Jorg Gross (for questions about the content)

Hélène Pouponnot (for questions about logistics and administrative matters)