QSS 30.04: Evolutionary Game Theory and Applications

ORC Course Description: The course introduces basic concepts in evolutionary game theory, including evolutionarily stable strategies, replicator dynamics, finite populations, and games on networks, along with applications to social evolution, particularly to understanding human cooperation.

Prerequisites: Math 3. The student should be familiar with calculus, and basic concepts in ordinary differential equations and probability. Programing skills helpful, but not required.

Textbook: Sigmund, K. (2010). The calculus of selfishness. Princeton University Press.

Grading Formula: Attendance & Participation (20%) + Homework Problem Sets (40%) + Final Project + 15m Presentation (40%).

Important Dates


Tentative lecture plan which may be subject to further changes.

Date Lecture Readings
13 September 2016 Evolutionary Games: Introduction & Overview Nowak, M. A., & Sigmund, K. (2004). Evolutionary dynamics of biological games. Science, 303(5659), 793-799.
15 September 2016 Stability Concepts: Nash Equilibrium vs. Evolutionarily Stable Strategy
20 September 2016 Replicator Equations and Its Connection with Ecological Dynamics
22 September 2016 Social Dilemmas of Cooperation Kollock, P. (1998). Social dilemmas: The anatomy of cooperation. Annual Review of Sociology, 183-214.
27 September 2016 Rules for Cooperation Nowak, M. A. (2006). Five rules for the evolution of cooperation. Science, 314(5805), 1560-1563.
29 September 2016 Repeated Games Binmore, K. G., & Samuelson, L. (1992). Evolutionary stability in repeated games played by finite automata. Journal of Economic Theory, 57(2), 278-305.
4 October 2016 Spatial Games Nowak, M. A., & May, R. M. (1992). Evolutionary games and spatial chaos. Nature, 359(6398), 826-829.
6 October 2016 Adaptive Dynamics Dieckmann, U., & Law, R. (1996). The dynamical theory of coevolution: a derivation from stochastic ecological processes. Journal of Mathematical Biology, 34(5-6), 579-612.
7 October 2016 Final project proposal due
11 October 2016 Evolutionary Branching Hofbauer, J., & Sigmund, K. (2003). Evolutionary game dynamics. Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, 40(4), 479-519.
Doebeli, M., Hauert, C., & Killingback, T. (2004). The evolutionary origin of cooperators and defectors. Science, 306(5697), 859-862.
13 October 2016 Finite Populations I Nowak, M. A., Sasaki, A., Taylor, C., & Fudenberg, D. (2004). Emergence of cooperation and evolutionary stability in finite populations. Nature, 428(6983), 646-650.
Traulsen, A., Claussen, J. C., & Hauert, C. (2005). Coevolutionary dynamics: from finite to infinite populations. Physical Review Letters, 95(23), 238701.
18 October 2016 Finite Population II
20 October 2016 Evolutionary Graph Theory Lieberman, E., Hauert, C., & Nowak, M. A. (2005). Evolutionary dynamics on graphs. Nature, 433(7023), 312-316.
Ohtsuki, H., Hauert, C., Lieberman, E., & Nowak, M. A. (2006). A simple rule for the evolution of cooperation on graphs and social networks. Nature, 441(7092), 502-505.
Perc, M., & Szolnoki, A. (2010). Coevolutionary games--a mini review. BioSystems, 99(2), 109-125.
24 October 2016 Final day for dropping a fourth course
25 October 2016 Vaccination Dilemma Bauch, C. T., & Earn, D. J. (2004). Vaccination and the theory of games. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(36), 13391-13394.
27 October 2016 Integrating Population Genetics (Optional) Antal, T., Traulsen, A., Ohtsuki, H., Tarnita, C. E., & Nowak, M. A. (2009). Mutation-selection equilibrium in games with multiple strategies. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 258(4), 614-622.
31 October 2016 Final day to withdraw from a course
1 November 2016 Evolutionary Dynamics of In-group Favoritism Masuda, N., & Fu, F. (2015). Evolutionary models of in-group favoritism. F1000Prime Reports, 7, 27.
3 November 2016 Evolution of Homophily Fu, F., Nowak, M.A., Christakis, N.A., & Fowler, J.H.(2012) The evolution of homophily. Scientific reports, 2: 845.
8 November 2016 Beyond Pairwise Interactions: Multi-Person Games Hardin, G., (1998) Extensions of "the tragedy of the commons". Science, 280(5364): 682-683.
10 November 2016 Final Project Presentations Day I (Jason, Pritika, Kayvon, Callum & Hyungdon)
15 November 2016 Final Project Presentations Day II (Nicholas, Grant, Brian & Matthew)
15 November 2016 Final project report due

Course Projects and Presentation Schedule


Approximately 4 weeks are given to complete the project. The instructor will suggest project ideas in the third week, but you are allowed to propose your own, which has to be approved by the instructor in the fourth week at the latest. Each project presentation is limited to 15 minutes and preferably in the style of TED talks.

Presentation Schedule Download

Course projects are listed in the alphabetical order of student names, and will be updated once more progresses are made by the students.

Name Project Title
Grant E. Barker Nuclear Deterrence of North Korea: Carrots or Sticks?
Jason J. Cheal Survival of Either or Neither: The Volunteer’s Timing Dilemma
Kayvon T. Coffey Group Selection as a Mechanism for the Evolution of Cooperation in Groups: Theory & Experiments
Callum A. Hening Roadblocks in Introducing Self-Driving Cars into Society
Matthew G. Jin Modeling Financial Risk Attitudes: Hawks or Doves?
Hyungdon Joo Evolutionary Game Dynamics of Prebiotic RNA Reproduction
Brian H. Li Rationality Analysis of MLB Big Contracts
Nicholas R. Rizik The Hunting Dilemma: Antlerless or Antlered?
Pritika L. Vig Social Dilemma of Voluntary Health Insurance Participation

Course Policies

Honor Principle

Collaborations (giving and receiving assistance) during closed-book exams and quizzes are strictly prohibited. Any form of plagiarism is not allowed in the final project. If you have questions, please ask the instructor before doing and should always refer to Academic Honor Principle.

Accessibility Policy

Students with learning, physical, or psychiatric disabilities enrolled in this course that may need disability-related classroom accommodations are encouraged to make an office appointment to see your instructor before the end of the second week of the term. All discussions will remain confidential, although the Student Accessibility Services office may be consulted to discuss appropriate implementation of any accommodation requested. At such a meeting please provide your instructor with a copy of a disability registration form, which lists the accommodations recommended for the student by Student Accessibility Services within the Academic Skills Center. The person you might want to contact at the Academic Skills center is Ward Newmeyer, Director of Student Accessibility Services 205 Collis Center - (603) 646-9900.

Student Religious Observances

Some students may wish to take part in religious observances that fall during this academic term. Should you have a religious observance that conflicts with your participation in the course, please come speak with your instructor before the end of the second week of the term to discuss appropriate accommodations.

Late Policy

By "deadline" we really mean it. On the condition of accepting the penalty for turning in the final project report late (that is, 5% each additional day), however, an extension of maximum 4 days will be granted on a case-by-case basis. In exceptional circumstances, students with disabilities should inform the instructor of their accommodation requests well in advance, so that the instructor will have sufficient time to work with Student Accessibility Services to provide appropriate accommodations.