Strategic Minds: The Game Theory of Cooperation, Coordination and Collaboration

The purpose of the course is to look at various models and dilemmas that underlie cooperative decision making. We will delve into the philosophical underpinnings of strategic interactions, analyzing the rational choices individuals make in collaborative scenarios. Why does altruism make sense in a society of self-interested agents? How do we end up following social norms? And what is the point of dress-codes and other conventions? This is the glue that keeps societies together.

Through a blend of lectures, practical applications and live discussions, students will gain insight into how game theory can illuminate ethical considerations and social dynamics. The course aims to equip students with a nuanced understanding of cooperation, rationality and strategic reasoning within the framework of game theory.


Week 1 (April 15, 2024)

We started out by introducing ourselves, followed by a breakdown of the logistics of the course. [pdf]

We then got our first glimpse of game theory, by playing a variant of the Guess-2/3-Of-the-Average game.

This was followed by a lecture on the problem of cooperation. [pdf]

Week 2 (April 22, 2024)

This was a lecture on basic concepts of game theory: what a game in normal form is, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, (pure) Nash equilibria, Pareto optimality. [pdf]

We also played the Trust Game and discussed notions that are not captured by the basic formalism of game theory, e.g., trust and gratitude.

Week 3 (April 29, 2024)

We talked about mixed Nash equilibria and Evolutionarily Stable Strategies (ESSs). Even more trouble for cooperation. [pdf]

Also, check out this TED talk by Colin Camerer to see, among other things, how chimpanzees are better at randomizing than humans.

Week 4 (May 6, 2024)

Games in extensive form, and the repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma. We got our first positive result regarding cooperation using the infinitely repeated version of the game. Though it is debatable how optimistic the outlook here really is: do we really want to rely on Grim Trigger to motivate cooperation? [pdf]

Also, The Ultimatum Game: how will you share your chocolates with everyone else? The answer might surprise you!

Week 5 (May 13, 2024)

We go deeper into the world of repeated games: Axelrod’s tournament and Tit-For-Tat supremacy. Zimin presents Axelrod (1980) and Section 5.2 of Nowak (2006), see below.

Week 6 (May 20, 2024)

Public holiday, no lecture.

Week 7 (May 27, 2024)

We talk about direct reciprocity: Trivers (1971) and Dugatkin (2020). [pdf]

Week 8 (June 3, 2024)

We talk about indirect reciprocity: Alexander (1987) and Nowak & Sigmund (1998). [pdf]


  1. Trivers, R. L. (1971). The Evolution of Reciprocal Altruism. The Quarterly Review of Biology, 46(1), 35–57.
  2. Axelrod, R. (1980). Effective Choice in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 24(1), 3–25.
  3. Alexander, R. (1987). The Biology of Moral Systems (Chapter 2). Transaction Publishers.
  4. Nowak, M. A., & Sigmund, K. (1998). Evolution of indirect reciprocity by image scoring. Nature, 393(6685), 573–577.
  5. Fehr, E., & Gächter, S. (2002). Altruistic punishment in humans. Nature, 415(6868), 137–140.
  6. Dietz, T., Ostrom, E., & Stern, P. C. (2003). The struggle to govern the commons. Science, 302(5652), 1907–1912.
  7. Fehr, E., & Fischbacher, U. (2004). Social norms and human cooperation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 8(4), 185–190.
  8. Nowak, M. A., & Sigmund, K. (2005). Evolution of indirect reciprocity. Nature, 437(7063), 1291–1298.
  9. Nowak, M. A. (2006). Five rules for the evolution of cooperation. Science, 314(5805), 1560–1563.
  10. Nowak, M. A. (2006). Evolutionary Dynamics: Exploring the Equations of Life. Harvard University Press.
  11. Axelrod, R. (2006). The Evolution of Cooperation: Revised Edition. Basic Books.
  12. West, S. A., Griffin, A. S., & Gardner, A. (2007). Social semantics: altruism, cooperation, mutualism, strong reciprocity and group selection. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 20(2), 415–432.
  13. West, S. A., El Mouden, C., & Gardner, A. (2011). Sixteen common misconceptions about the evolution of cooperation in humans. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(4), 231–262.
  14. Rand, D. G., & Nowak, M. A. (2013). Human cooperation. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17(8), 413–425.
  15. Tomasello, M., & Vaish, A. (2013). Origins of human cooperation and morality. Annual Review of Psychology, 64, 231–255.
  16. Dugatkin, L. A. (2020). Principles of Animal Behavior, 4th Edition (Chapter 9). The University of Chicago Press.
  17. Henrich, J., & Muthukrishna, M. (2021). The Origins and Psychology of Human Cooperation. Annual Review of Psychology, 72, 207–240.
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