• Cooperation and Conflict Lab

    Exploring new worlds


    We explore how cooperation and conflict shape life, from human societies to cellular interactions.


    Diversity. Collaboration. Engagement.

  • Projects

    Innovative. Interdisciplinary. Impactful.

    The Human Generosity Project

    A large focus of our lab is studying cooperation in humans, focusing especially on helping behavior that occurs in times of need. We study food sharing, resource transfers, shared work and other forms of cooperation using diverse methods including human laboratory experiments, anthropological fieldwork and computational modeling. We also apply these principles to practical problems including resource management and disaster recovery. Learn more about these studies and more on The Human Generosity Project webpage.

    Cancer and Multicellular Cooperation

    Multicellular bodies are essentially societies of cells that must cooperate and coordinate to contribute most effectively to the fitness of the organism. Cancer represents a breakdown of this multicellular cooperation. In our lab we examine cancer through this lens using computational modeling and clinical collaborations. Our work on this topic was recently covered in The New York Times article Cellular 'Cheaters' Give Rise to Cancer.

    Cooperation and Conflict

    In addition to studying human sharing and cancer, our lab studies a variety of other systems that are governed by fundamental tensions between cooperation and conflict. This includes maternal-fetal conflict in microchimerism, a topic covered in a recent New York Times article A Pregnancy Souvenir: Cells That are Not Your Own based on our review paper.

    Microbiome & Behavior

    The human body is not a singular entity or even a single species: rather, it is a collection of genetically distinct organisms, with distinct fitness interests. Within the gut, microbes have access to chemical triggers of human eating behavior. We are exploring the possibility that and the microbiome plays a role in unhealthy eating behavior, covered in The New York Times article Our Microbiome May Be Looking Out for Itself.

    Kombucha (#livingpotion)

    Fermented foods are a type of microscopic ecosystem cultivated by humans for thousands of years. Kombucha is a popular drink made by the fermentation of tea by symbiotic bacteria and yeast. We see fermented foods like Kombucha as an easy, accessible model for testing ideas about cooperation. We are using this beverage as a unique system for exploring microbial resource exchange and to determine whether the symbiosis is able to fight off pathogens that single species of microbes cannot. Read more about Kombucha in our BLOG below!

  • Team

    Diversity. Collaboration. Engagement.







    From left to right:

    Pamela Winfrey

    Cristina Baciu

    Jessica Ayers

    Angelo Fortunato

    Shrinath Narayanan

    Andres Munoz

    Diego Guevara Beltran

    Athena Aktipis











  • Athena Aktipis, Ph.D

    Lab Director & Principal Investigator

    Athena Aktipis is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Arizona State University, co-Director of the Human Generosity Project and Director of Human and Social Evolution and co-founder of the Center for Evolution and Cancer at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Aktipis completed her BA at Reed College (Psychology), her PhD at University of Pennsylvania (Psychology) and post-doctoral work at University of Arizona (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). She is a cooperation theorist, theoretical evolutionary biologist, and cancer biologist who now works at the intersection of these fields. Dr. Aktipis is the author of the forthcoming book from Princeton University Press "Evolution in the flesh: Cancer and the transformation of life." Curriculum Vitae. For more information about Dr. Aktipis, please visit her website.

    Jessica Ayers, M.A

    Doctoral Student

    Jessica obtained her bachelor’s degrees in psychology and anthropology and her master’s degree in experimental psychology from California State University, Fullerton. She is broadly interested in evolutionary approaches to women’s sociality across a range of domains. Currently, Jessica's research projects focus on friendship rules, maintenance, and dissolution, women's formidability and competitive strategies, and maternal-offspring conflict during gestation and lactational periods. Learn more about Jessica by visiting her website.







    Andres Munoz

    Doctoral Student

    Andres is a Graduate Student Researcher in the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University. He obtained his bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology and a minor in political science
    from DePauw University. He is broadly interested in integrating an evolutionary framework with cognitive science methodologies to address
    questions about human social cognition and behavior. Specifically, Andres is investigating the cognitive mechanisms underlying cooperation, rule-breaking, and risk management.








    Diego Guevara Beltran

    Doctoral Student

    Diego received his bachelor’s degrees in psychology and evolutionary anthropology from the University of New Mexico. He is interested in employing the frameworks of behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology to understand the role of emotions, personality, and dispositional factors on cooperative behavior and how the expression of these traits may change as a function of the environment. Specifically, he is interested in collecting data from social laboratory experiments to understand dispositional differences in empathy and its influence on prosociality.

    Angelo Fortunato, Ph.D

    Assistant Research Professor

    Dr. Fortunato’s research focuses on cancer evolution, cancer biology, evolutionary biology and molecular genetics. He is working on human cancer and development of novel model organisms in cancer research.

    To learn more about Dr. Fortunato, visit his webpage.






    Shrinath Narayanan

    Volunteer, Kombucha Project

    Shrinath received a bachelor degree (B.Tech) in Biotechnology from Anna University and a master degree in Cell and Molecular Biology from University of Texas at Dallas, and he is trained as a molecular biologist.Ph.D.During his masters, he worked with Dr.Nikki Delk on examining the effects of cytokines on breast cancer cells with respect to its receptor status. Since then, he has started to develop strong interests in the evolutionary perspectives of cancer development and multicellularity.


    Pamela Winfrey, M.A

    Scientific Research Curator

    Pamela explores the relationship between the arts, the humanities, and the sciences by curating and creating artworks, experiences, and exhibitions. Her background is in new media, performance, and installation art and she is also a working playwright and screen writer. Learn more about Pamela by visiting her website.



    Cristina Baciu

    Research Specialist Senior

    Cristina earned two bachelor's degree (Finance and Banking, and Psychology and Business), and is currently pursuing a Master's in Educational Leadership. Cristina is a seasoned professional, with experience in various fields, from accounting to business, luxury hospitality, and university settings. She loves to help research teams succeed. Learn more about Cristina by visiting her website.

  • Alumni

    Amy Boddy, Ph.D

    Assistant Professor, University of California, Santa Barbara


    Amy Boddy was a post doctoral fellow in the Aktipis Lab between 2014-2016. She received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Genetics from Wayne State University, School of Medicine. Dr. Boddy works on the applications of life history evolution to cancer. This includes both cellular evolution in neoplams and the role of life history evolution in cancer suppression. She is now an Assistant Research Professor at the Biodesign Institute at Arizona State University. Learn more about Dr. Boddy by visiting her website.




    Helen Wasielewski, Ph.D

    Former Post-doctoral Fellow

    Dr. Wasielewski earned her Ph.D. in Evolutionary Anthropology from Rutgers University and works on understanding the relationships between human gut microbiota and eating behavior. She specializes in using laboratory experiments to understand food choice and intake given the evolutionary interests of gastrointestinal endosymbionts and their human hosts. Her work focuses on understanding the health implications of the bidirectional relationships between gut microbiota and behavioral variables including dietary intake, eating behavior, and social transmission. Dr. Wasielewski’s orientation to these topics is informed by work in evolutionary biology, non-human primate social behavior, and hominin evolution. Learn more about Dr. Wasielewski by visiting her website.


    Daniel Sznycer, Ph.D

    Assistant Professor, University of Montreal

    Dr. Sznycer was a post doctoral fellow on the Human Generosity Project, in the Aktipis Lab. He received his PhD from University of California, Santa Barbara and is an evolutionary psychologist conducting research on the psychology of sociality. He combines methods, theories, and concepts drawn from the cognitive sciences and evolutionary biology to explore and map the evolved design of social emotions and their underlying motivational systems. He has multiple lines of cross-cultural evidence on shame, pride, compassion, and envy, and their roles in altruism, cooperation, social exclusion, and conflict. The methods he uses include experimental economic games, decision-making tasks, priming methods, cross-cultural and ethnographic data collection, large-scale representative surveys, and Anthropometry. Learn more about Dr. Sznycer by visiting his website.

    Marco Campenni, Ph.D

    Research Fellow, University of Southampton

    Dr. Campenni was a Ph.D. fellow on the Human Generosity Project in the Aktipis lab. He received his Ph.D. in Cognitive Sciences from the University Tor Vergata, Rome, Italy. His work is centered on modeling the evolution of cooperative behavior, using different modeling techniques and tools (agent-based modeling, evolutionary game theory, GIS data). His research activity is focused on both theoretical and data informed models of social behaviors and dynamics of animals from an evolutionary and cross-species perspective. Learn more about Dr. Campenni by visiting his website.




    Alex May, M.S

    Research Technologist

    Alex is an evolutionary biologist with an interest in examining the emergence of cooperation and how it can break down across multiple systems, including microbes, plants, and cancer. His previous work included elucidating the role of cheating bacterial symbionts in the rhizobia-legume mutualism, examining the benefits of multicellularity in cancer cell clusters via artificial selection, and is currently developing the fermented drink ‘Kombucha’ as a model of social behavior in yeast and bacteria.He received his B.Sc. of Biology from McMaster University in Canada, and his M.Sc. in Ecology and Evolution from the Free University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

    Scott Claessens

    Doctoral Student

    University of Auckland

    Scott is a doctoral student at the University of Auckland where he is studying how individual differences such as religiosity, political beliefs, and life-history correlate with cooperative behavior and the costly punishment of free-riders.

    Scott was a visiting scholar and completed a five-month internship with the Human Generosity Project. To learn more about Scott, visit his website.




    James Medina

    Doctoral Student

    Washington University in St. Louis​

    James was a research assistant in the Aktipis Lab between 2015-2016. He received his bachelor's degree with majors in biology and neuroscience from Oberlin College in 2015 and is now a doctoral student at Washington University in St. Louis in the The Queller/Strassmann Research Group.


    Olmo van den Akker

    Visiting Scholar

    Olmo van den Akker is currently doing his Research Master in Psychology at the University of Amsterdam. As part of this degree, Olmo has completed a research internship at the Human Generosity Project. In addition, Olmo is in the process of finishing his master’s degree in Behavioral Economics and Game Theory (also at the University of Amsterdam). His interests include evolutionary psychology, human cooperation, scientific methodology, and network analysis.

    Christine Campbell

    Visiting Scholar

    Christine was a visiting scholar for the 2017 Fall semester participating in the Microbiome and Human Behavior project. She gathered information to elucidate the connection between the human microbiome and mental health, specifically how the two interrelate to promote health or disease.

    Christine holds a BA in Biological Anthropology from the University of Michigan.


  • Select Publications

    Resource conflict and cooperation between human host and gut microbiota: implications for nutrition and health.

    Wasielewski, H., Alcock, J., Aktipis, C. A. (2016). Resource conflict and cooperation between human host and gut microbiota: implications for nutrition and health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1372: 20–28.

    Cooperation in an uncertain world: For the Maasai of East Africa need-based transfers outperform account keeping in volatile environments.

    Aktipis, C.A., Cronk, L., De Aguilar, R (2016). Cooperation in an uncertain world: For the Maasai of East Africa need-based transfers outperform account keeping in volatile environments. Human Ecology, 44(3): 353–364.


    Principles of cooperation across systems: from human sharing to multicellularity and cancer.

    Aktipis, A. (2016). Principles of cooperation across systems: from human sharing to multicellularity and cancer. Evolutionary Applications, 9:17–36.






    Fetal microchimerism and maternal health: A review and evolutionary analysis of cooperation and conflict beyond the womb.

    Boddy, A. M., Fortunato, A., Wilson Sayres, M. and Aktipis, A. (2015). Fetal microchimerism and maternal health: A review and evolutionary analysis of cooperation and conflict beyond the womb. Bioessays, 37: 1106–1118.


    Cancer across life: Cooperation and cheating in multicellularity.

    Aktipis, C. A., Boddy, A., Jansen, G., Hochberg, M., Maley, C., Hibner, U., Wilkinson, G. (2015). Cancer across life: Cooperation and cheating in multicellularity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.



    Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms.

    Alcock, J., Maley, C.C., Aktipis, C.A. (2014). Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Bioessays. Online publication 8/7/14.


    Looking for something that's not here?







  • Highlights

    Our work in the media

    The kindness paradox: Why be generous?

    By Bob Holmes

    New Scientist

    “In every society we’re studying, we have found need-based transfers,” says Human Generosity Project co-director Athena Aktipis. Learn more about the Maasai tradition of osotua and the generosity of amongst herders in asking for help.

    Do Human and Vampire Bat Friendships Share the Same Origin?

    By Leah Shaffer



    Human Generosity Project co-director Lee Cronk and Human Generosity Project member Dennis Sonkoi were interviewed for an article about friendship.

    War and peace in the human gut: probing the microbiome

    The Biodesign Institute


    According to Athena Aktipis, our lab director, and researcher at ASU's Biodesign Institute, microbes within the body—collectively known as the microbiota—also engage in cooperative and combative behavior with human cells in their environment.

    The unexpected perks of Lyft and Uber’s random encounters

    By Selena Larson


    Dr. Aktipis interviewed on The Daily Dot about "The unexpected perks of Lyft and Uber’s random encounters - the future of Ride - Hailing" and how ride sharing taps into our generous nature as humans.


    By Brian Mockenhaupt

    High Country News


    This article in High Country News covers our work on sharing in times of need as part of The Human Generosity Project, focusing on cooperation among ranchers in southern Arizona and New Mexico.

    A Pregnancy Souvenir: Cells That Are Not Your Own

    By Carl Zimmer
    New York Times

    This New York Times article is based on a review paper we published about microchimerism, maternal-fetal conflict and health.


    Cellular ‘Cheaters’ Give Rise to Cancer

    By George Johnson

    New York Times


    This New York Times article covers our review of cancer as cheating in multicellular cooperation.


    Our Microbiome May Be Looking Out for Itself

    By Carl Zimmer
    New York Times


    Could microbes be manipulating our eating behavior? This New York Times article covers our review of the potential mechanisms and evolutionary pressures that could lead to microbial manipulation.

  • Mission


    We examine diverse systems including human societies, cancer in multicellular bodies, the human microbiome, and cooperative multi-species communities (kombucha) to understand the fundamental principles that are shared across systems and to discover new strategies for addressing challenges. Our goal is to better understand how this fundamental tension has shaped the evolution of life and how the management of cooperation and conflict within us (and between us) can support human health and well-being.


  • Values

    We value cooperation, inclusivity, diversity of backgrounds and perspectives, community engagement through science outreach and arts, and the principles of open science. We believe that creativity and play are tools for discovery, that diversity of all kinds enhances our capacity to explore new intellectual territory, and that interdisciplinary cooperation and effective communication are essential tools for 21st century science.

  • Upcoming Events

    Innovative. Interdisciplinary. Impactful.

    ASU Cooperation and Conflict Symposium

    May 2, 2019, ASU

    How do we tell what is real and what is not? In ASU’s 2nd Cooperation and Conflict Symposium, researchers from across ASU and around the world will come together to address the question of how we tell fact from fiction, and how the availability of huge amounts of information can both help and hinder our capacity to determine what is real. To learn more, click here.

    Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting (ZAMM)

    October 15-18, 2020

    What is a Zombie?

    The Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Alliance defines a zombie as "An individual whose physiology and behavior are (fully or partially) under the control of a genetically distinct individual or population of individuals."

    For more info, visit the conference website: click here

  • Past events

    Innovative. Interdisciplinary. Impactful.

    Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting (ZAMM)

    October 18-21, 2018, ASU

    The 1st Zombie Apocalypse Medicine Meeting (ZAMM) took place in the Fall of 2018, at Arizona State University. To learn more about what the conference, click here.



    ISEEC 2017 Conference

    December 7-10, 2017, ASU

    The fourth bi-annual ISEEC conference was themed "Resistance, Resilience and Robustness" and focused on the evolutionary and ecological processes underlying cancer. ISEEC welcomed scientists from different disciplines, including but not limited to oncology, cell biology, evolutionary biology and mathematics. More details about the society and its events are available on the ISEEC website.

    Fitness Interdependence Workshop

    February 17 - 18, 2017, Saguaro Lake Ranch ​

    This two-day workshop brought together leaders in cooperation theory, social psychology, and evolutionary biology to discuss fitness interdependence and helping behavior.




    ASU Cooperation and Conflict Symposium

    February 16, 2017, Arizona State University

    The ASU Cooperation & Conflict Symposium invites diverse scholars from around the world to come together with ASU faculty to address the most pressing questions in cooperation theory through interdisciplinary dialogue.This year’s question: How do large-scale systems solve the problem of detecting, controlling and eliminating cheating? Learn more and watch talks from the symposium here and read about the symposium on ASU Now.

    The Human Generosity Project Annual Meeting

    The Human Generosity Project Annual Meeting brings together the entire HGP team, including anthropologists, psychologists and computational modelers for a two-day intensive meeting. See more about this here.



  • Social Feed

    Check out our latest updates!

  • The Blog

    Questions. Answers. And more questions.

    July 3, 2018
    We are excited to announce that Boredom Research has received a commission from the Arizona Cancer and Evolution Center (ACE) to create a digital visualization media artwork about the science of cancer. The new work is scheduled to be seen at the CDC Gallery in Washington D.C., The Mayo Clinic in...
    January 11, 2017
    Shame is that feeling you get when you’re caught stealing from your grandma’s purse, when you sneeze all over your date’s face, when you let your incompetence show. Some have argued that shame happens when you violate a norm or when you blame a negative event on yourself. In general that’s true,...
    October 22, 2016 · Kombucha,Symbiosis
    Kombucha is all of the above. Kombucha is a beverage produced by the fermentation of sweetened tea by yeast and acetic acid bacteria.   The layer or 'biofilm' floating at the top of the liquid is called a S.C.O.B.Y. It's a dense network of nanocellulose produced by the bacteria, which...
  • Questions?

    Ask us! We choose blog topics based on your questions!

    Arizona State University
    Schwada (SCOB) Building
    620 E Orange St, Tempe, AZ, 85281
All Posts