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

Suggested Textbooks:

Nowak, M. A. (2006). Evolutionary dynamics. Harvard University Press.

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

Teaching Format:

Mainly lecture-based, supplemented by occasional group discussions and hands-on demo.

Virtual instruction via Canvas and Zoom available for remote participation.

Grading Formula:

Credit or No Credit: Get a Pass by turning in biweekly Homework Problem Sets. Get an academic Citation by doing a comprehensive Final Project & 15m Presentation.

Important Dates


Tentative lecture plan which may be subject to further changes.

Week Lecture Readings
Lec 1 Evolutionary Games: Introduction & Overview Nowak, M. A., & Sigmund, K. (2004). Evolutionary dynamics of biological games. Science, 303(5659), 793-799.
Lec 2 Stability Concepts: Nash Equilibrium vs. Evolutionarily Stable Strategy Smith, J. M., & Price, G. R. (1973). The logic of animal conflict. Nature, 246(5427), 15-18.
Lec 3 Replicator Equations and Its Connection with Ecological Dynamics Bomze, I. M. (1983). Lotka-Volterra equation and replicator dynamics: a two-dimensional classification. Biological cybernetics, 48(3), 201-211.
Lec 4 Social Dilemmas of Cooperation Kollock, P. (1998). Social dilemmas: The anatomy of cooperation. Annual Review of Sociology, 183-214.
Lec 5 Rules for Cooperation Nowak, M. A. (2006). Five rules for the evolution of cooperation. Science, 314(5805), 1560-1563.
Lec 6 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.
Press, W. H., & Dyson, F. J. (2012). Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma contains strategies that dominate any evolutionary opponent. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(26), 10409-10413.
Lec 7 Beyond Pairwise Interactions: Multi-Person Games Hardin, G., (1998) Extensions of "the tragedy of the commons". Science, 280(5364): 682-683.
Lec 8 Spatial Games Nowak, M. A., & May, R. M. (1992). Evolutionary games and spatial chaos. Nature, 359(6398), 826-829.
Lec 9 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.
Lec 10 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.
Lec 11 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.
Lec 12 Finite Population II Fudenberg, D., Nowak, M. A., Taylor, C., & Imhof, L. A. (2006). Evolutionary game dynamics in finite populations with strong selection and weak mutation. Theoretical population biology, 70(3), 352-363.
Lec 13 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.
Lec 14 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.
Lec 15 Evolutionary Dynamics of In-group Favoritism Masuda, N., & Fu, F. (2015). Evolutionary models of in-group favoritism. F1000Prime Reports, 7, 27.
Lec 16 Evolution of Homophily Fu, F., Nowak, M.A., Christakis, N.A., & Fowler, J.H.(2012) The evolution of homophily. Scientific reports, 2: 845.
Week 9 Final Project Presentations TBD

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.

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.

Student Accessibility and Accommodations

Students with disabilities who may need disability-related academic adjustments and services for this course are encouraged to see the instructor privately as early in the term as possible. Students requiring disability-related academic adjustments and services must consult the Student Accessibility Services office in Carson Hall 125 or by phone: (603) 646-9900 or email: Student.Accessibility.Services@Dartmouth.edu. Once SAS has authorized services, students must show the originally signed SAS Services and Consent Form and/or a letter on SAS letterhead to the instructor. As a first step, if you have questions about whether you qualify to receive academic adjustments and services, you should contact the SAS office. All inquiries and discussions will remain confidential.

Student Religious Observances

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

Mental Health and Wellness

The academic environment at Dartmouth is challenging, our terms are intensive, and classes are not the only demanding part of your life. There are a number of resources available to you on campus to support your wellness, including your undergraduate dean, Counseling and Human Development, and the Student Wellness Center. The instructor would like to encourage you to use these resources to take care of yourself throughout the term, and to come speak to the instructor if you experience any difficulties.

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.