Disciplines/fields: Biology, Psychology, Evolution, Economics, Computer Science, Anthropology

Duration: 4 sessions

Course Content

This course will cover fundamental principles of cooperation across systems, from human sharing to multicellularity and cancer. We will cover basic principles of cooperation and conflict using frameworks from multiple disciplines including evolutionary biology, psychology, anthropology, economics and more. Sessions will cover the following topics: cooperation and sharing in human societies, cooperation in non-human species, a cooperation perspective on multicellularity and cancer, and the role of the microbiome and microchimerism (the presence of genetically distinct cells within the body) in shaping within-organism cooperation and conflict. This course will cover several applications of cooperation theory to human health including cancer, obesity and autoimmune disease.


Upon completion of this course, participants will understand the fundamental principles of cooperation and conflict that apply across systems, from humans to cells. They will also understand the implications of cooperation theory and evolutionary medicine for human health including cancer, obesity and autoimmune disease.


Aktipis, A. (2015), Principles of cooperation across systems: from human sharing to multicellularity and cancer. Evolutionary Applications. doi: 10.1111/eva.12303
Aktipis, C. A., Boddy, A. M., Jansen, G., Hibner, U., Hochberg, M. E., Maley, C. C., & Wilkinson, G. S. (2015). Cancer across the tree of life: cooperation and cheating in multicellularity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 370(1673). http://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2014.0219


Athena Aktipis is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Arizona State University, co-Director of the Human Generosity Project and Director of Human and Social Evolution and co-founder of the Center for Evolution and Cancer at the University of California, San Francisco.  Dr. Aktipis completed her BA at Reed College (Psychology), her PhD at University of Pennsylvania (Psychology) and post-doctoral work at University of Arizona (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). She is a cooperation theorist, theoretical evolutionary biologist, and cancer biologist who now works at the intersection of these fields.  Dr. Aktipis is the author of the forthcoming book from Princeton University Press "Evolution in the flesh: Cancer and the transformation of life.".