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The Neuro-economics of Conflict and Cooperation


Entry requirements

Only open to MSc Psychology (research) students


Social conflict has been part and parcel of human history, and exerts a range of effects that easily exceed imagination. Conflict destroys welfare and lives, creates collective imprints and breeding resentments that transcend generations, and can cause famine, large-scale migration, and the spreading of infectious disease. Throughout history, conflicts revised established structures and divides, introduced new views and practices, and changed the genetic make-up and neurobiological organization of individuals and their groups. Although conflict can be about many things such as ownership, territorial access, status and respect, or the truth, it invariably involves decision-makers with incompatible preferences—they all want (to avoid) something that they cannot both have (avoided) at the same time. Indeed, a unifying approach to the multi-disciplinary study of conflict is behavioral game-theory that offers stylized models of conflict such as the well-known prisoner’s dilemma game. Game theoretical models of conflict have been used in the study of international tension and interstate warfare, to examine the group dynamics and cultural arrangements that create and fuel intergroup conflict, to understand the neural networks and neuro-endocrine pathways involved in cooperation and competition, and to model the gene-culture co-evolution of human pro-sociality and aggression. In this course we gain in-depth knowledge of game-theoretic models of conflict and cooperation within and between small groups of people, and learn how such models can be used to unravel the neurobiological mechanisms and psychological functions underlying decisions to cooperate and to compete.

Course objectives

During the course, students:
1. Gain specialized knowledge of game-experimental approach to cooperation and conflict.
2. Acquire knowledge and skills to develop and write a scientific proposal for study into the neurobiological and psychological functions underlying conflict and cooperation.
3. Learn to present, in writing and orally, scientific insights.


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

7 3-hour work group sessions (attendance is mandatory).

Assessment method

The final grade is based on:

  • class participation (15%)

  • two research papers (2 x 35%)

  • proposal presentation (15%)

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.

Readings list

Literature will be sent shortly before the course starts to all students who registered for this course.

Contact information

Prof. dr. Carsten de Dreu