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Organization, Regulations, and Courses 2017-18

BIOL 52.02 Evolution of Cooperation and Gossip

Cooperation represents a fundamental problem in ecology and evolutionary biology. Indeed, Darwin regarded cooperation as one of the greatest puzzles for his theory of evolution. If natural selection favors individuals that selfishly maximize their own reproductive success, then why should organisms cooperate at all? Yet evidence for cooperation is ubiquitous in biology, both across taxa (from bacteria to humans) and across hierarchical levels of biological organization (from genes to cells to multi-cellular organisms to societies). This course will explore how and why cooperation evolves, with the goal of understanding general ecological and evolutionary principles, especially the conditions under which organisms work together and help one another despite competition and conflicting interests. A central focus of the course will be on social interactions among unrelated individuals, particularly how cooperation co-evolves with a form of communication known as 'gossip'-in which third parties are spoken about behind their backs. The course will explore when and why gossip has a positive versus negative impact on cooperation. Students will learn key experimental studies of cooperation and communication (both in nonhumans and humans) and will also be exposed to the conceptual, mathematical, and computational models that predict when cooperation and gossip will be evolutionarily favored. In-class laboratories (involving experimental cooperation-gossip games as well as analyses of conversations) will give students direct empirical exposure to the concepts covered in class.




One of: BIOL 21, BIOL 24, BIOL 27, or BIOL 32

Distributive and/or World Culture


The Timetable of Class Meetings contains the most up-to-date information about a course. It includes not only the meeting time and instructor, but also its official distributive and/or world culture designation. This information supersedes any information you may see elsewhere, to include what may appear in this ORC/Catalog or on a department/program website. Note that course attributes may change term to term therefore those in effect are those (only) during the term in which you enroll in the course.