Avoiding tragedies of the commons: an evolutionary approach to human cooperation

9-10 September 2010


Since Hardin's seminal publication (Science 1968), the 'tragedy of the commons' describes the situation of a cooperation breakdown that occurs when individual and group interests are in conflict (e.g. when using a common resource). If individuals act selfishly, thereby depleting a resource on which all depend, this leads to the tragedy of the commons. Typical real life examples include land use, over fishing, climate change and peace.

We aim at investigating whether and how evolutionary approaches might help contribute towards improving cooperation to solve public goods problems and avoid the tragedy of the commons.

The goal of the workshop is to promote discussion among the speakers and graduate students regarding current topics in the field of human cooperation (Evolutionary Biology, Behavioural Ecology, Anthropology, Economy, Psychology, Political Sciences).


  • Martin Beckenkamp, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, Germany: Social Dilemmas, Game Theory, Diagnosis and Intervention in Interest Conflicts
  • Ralph Bergmüller, Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland :
  • Simon Gächter, University of Nottingham, UK: Psychology of Economic Decision Making, Experimental Economics
  • Peter Hammerstein, Humboldt University zu Berlin, Germany : Theoretical Biology, Evolution of Cooperation, Evolutionary Economics
  • Laurent Lehmann, Université de Neuchâtel, Switzerland : Theoretical Biology, Cooperation, Gene-culture co-evolution
  • Dustin Penn, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, Vienna, Austria : The evolutionary roots of our environmental problems
  • Jeffrey Stevens, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany: Cognition, Cooperation  
  • Claus Wedekind, Université de Lausanne, Switzerland : Evolution of Cooperation, Conservation

content and pre-course assignment

Pre-course assignment: reading of publications.

List of papers provided by the invited speakers with three general papers for preparation.

Please read the two general papers for general preparation and choose further 2 of the papers provided by the invited speakers.
Please let us know which papers you have chosen so we can compile a list, which will be provided during the workshop. This way everybody knows who is expert" for certain papers.

Content Program (PDF)   (updated 8.9.2010).

The workshop will begin with a short introductory presentation about the theme of the workshop and highlight open questions in the field of research on human cooperation.

To promote discussions, students and experts will form groups and take part in a world-cafe discussion, in which participants are distributed among several tables.:

  • A host student will be elected at each table who will moderate the discussion, take notes about the discussion, and then remain at the same table during three successive rounds of 20-minute discussions.
  • After each round, all other participants will randomly join another table.
  • The host will inform the new arrivals at the table about the previous discussion round before start of a new discussion round.

The students will form groups after the world café rounds.

The students will develop research ideas and incorporate the presentations of the plenary speakers in order to prepare short presentations about possible projects that will be presented in the afternoon of the second day by each of the groups.

After the world cafe, we will have three talks by the invited speakers in the first day, and another three on the second day.

Between the presentations of the invited speakers the participants will have time to incorporate what has been presented into the project they are developing for the final presentation.

general information

  • Dates: 9-10 September 2010
  • Schedule: 8.55 - 17.00
  • Location: University of Neuchâtel, Faculté des sciences, UniMail, building C (Animalerie), room C001 
  • Registration fee: this course is free. Lunches and dinner are not included, neither accommodation or travel expenses (exception for travel expenses see below).
  • Credit points: 1.0 credit point (Scientific activities)
  • Evaluation: Home work (reading publications for preparation), full attendance, and active participation (at the end of the workshop groups of students will give 10 min presentations of projects that have been developed in group work during the workshop)
  • Organizers: Dr Ralph Bergmüller, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland  and Dr. Dustin Penn, Konrad Lorenz Institute for Ethology, Vienna, Austria
  • Information: Please contact Ralph Bergmüller (ralph.bergmueller (at)unine.ch) or the doctoral program coordinator Christiane Bobillier
  • Travel expenses: participants of the doctoral programs "Interuniversity doctoral program in organismal biology" and "Interuniversity in ecology and evolution" are eligible for reimbursement of incurred travel expenses by train (half-fare card, and 2nd class).
    • For "Interuniversity doctoral program in organismal biology" participants: Please send the original tickets (no copies, except for the general abonnement) with the reimbursement form  to Dr. Christiane Bobillier.  No reimbursement for bus, taxi or car travel expenses will be paid.
    • For  "CUSO doctoral program in ecology and evolution" participants: see information on the web site.


This workshop is free and opened to all Ph.D. students and post-docs with priority to doctoral program participants (Organismal Biology and Ecology and Evolution).  Maximum number of participants: 30.

Registration through the web only: closed

Cancellation policy (CHF 20)