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Home | Courses | Evolutionary Game Theory

Evolutionary Game Theory

  • Teacher(s)
    Matthijs van Veelen
  • Research field
    Behavioral Economics, Complexity
  • Dates
    Period 3 - Jan 03, 2022 to Feb 25, 2022
  • Course type
  • Program year
  • Credits

Course description

In an infinite population setting, we will learn to use static equilibrium concepts (such as the evolutionary stable strategy), dynamic concepts (such as the replicator dynamics), and we will learn what the relation is between these. In a finite population setting, we will learn what the Moran process is, and get accustomed to evolutionary graph theory.

In order to explain the evolution of prosocial behaviour, we will then apply these evolutionary dynamics and stability concepts to settings with population structure (which then leads to kin selection and/or group selection), repetition (which can lead to the evolution of reciprocity), and partner choice/sexual selection (and its relation to signaling in economic theory). We will also look at subgame perfect equilibria in games where commitment to "rationally irrational" behaviour (such as altruism or vengefulness) can have an evolutionary advantage.

We will consider how these predictions can be tested, in and outside the lab, and discuss parts of the empirical literature with each other.


A basic knowledge of (classical) game theory will make it easier to follow this course. I will assume that students know what a (mixed) Nash equilibrium is, and what subgame perfection is, but I will not assume much more advanced concepts. It will also be helpful to be comfortable with basic mathematical tools; I will assume you know how to multiply matrices with vectors, what binomial coefficients are, and how Bayes' rule works. I will not assume that you know how to solve differential equations (although it is great if you do) because we will learn to exploit ways around having to do that and still understand the properties of the dynamics. This course will be extra fun if you are familiar with behavioural biases (for instance from behavioral or experimental economics) that are waiting for an evolutionary explanation.

Course literature

Primary reading
- Weibull, J.W. (1995). Evolutionary Game Theory, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA
- Nowak, M.A. (2006). Evolutionary dynamics: exploring the equations of life, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA