I'm an Assistant Professor at Arizona State University and co-Director of The Human Generosity Project. I study cooperation across systems from human sharing to cancer. To learn more about the work we do in my lab, visit my lab website at AktipisLab.org.


    I study cooperation across many systems in my lab including human sharing and microbial cooperation.


    I travel to fieldsites around the world to study how people cooperate especially during times of need.


    I use computational models to understand the fundamental principles underlying cooperation and test alternatives.


    I apply my work to practical challenges from cancer prevention to developing new solutions to resource management problems.

  • Current projects

    I search for general principles of cooperation that manifest across diverse systems. To learn more about the research in my lab, visit AktipisLab.org.

    The Human Generosity Project

    A large focus of my work is studying cooperation in humans, focusing especially on helping behavior that occurs in times of need. I study food sharing, resource transfers, shared work and other forms of cooperation using diverse methods including human laboratory experiments, anthropological fieldwork and computational modeling. I 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. My 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, I study 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, and the potential role of the microbiome in unhealthy eating behavior, also covered in The New York Times article Our Microbiome May Be Looking Out for Itself.


    I am a cooperation theorist, theoretical evolutionary biologist, and cancer biologist working at the intersection of these fields.  

    Reed College

    Psychology, BA

    In 2002 I graduated from Reed College in Portland, OR with two Commendations for Academic Excellence and membership in the Phi Beta Kappa honor society.

    University of Pennsylvania

    Psychology, MA

    Psychology, PhD

    I received a Masters Degree in Psychology from University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and my PhD in 2008. The topic of my dissertation was computational models of the evolution of cooperation.

    University of Arizona

    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Post-doctoral Fellowship

    From 2008 to 2011 I was a Post-doctoral Fellow in the laboratory of John Pepper at the University of Arizona in Tucson. I began applying cooperation theory and evolutionary principles to cancer during this time, focusing on dispersal theory and the evolution of multicellularity.

    University of California San Francisco

    Research Scientist

    Co-founder Center for Evolution and Cancer (CEC)

    Director of Human and Social Evolution, CEC

    In 2011 I moved to UCSF to start to the Center for Evolution and Cancer, the first center of it kind. During my time at UCSF I began building my lab and evolution and cancer research program and continued my work on the evolution of cooperation.

    Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin


    I was a Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin (also knows as the Wissenschaftskolleg or just 'Wiko') during the 2013-2014 academic year as part of a working group on Cancer Evolution. During this time my colleagues and I worked on fundamental questions about the nature of cancer and the role of evolution in shaping cancer progression and susceptibility.

    Arizona State University

    Assistant Professor, Psychology

    Member, Center for Evolution and Medicine

    Member, Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity

    In 2014 I moved to Arizona State University in Tempe as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology. In my current position I collaborate with diverse researchers from many different departments and centers to study the general principles underlying cooperation and conflict across systems.


    Recent coverage of my work in the news

    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.

    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.

    by George Johnson

    New York Times


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

    by Carl Zimmer
    New York Times


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

  • Blog

    On teaching, learning and doing science


    I teach in the Department of Psychology at ASU. My courses are cross-listed with Biology.

    Cooperation and Social Behavior

    Cooperation and conflict across life

    This course covers fundamental principles of cooperation across systems in order to better understand human social behavior. We discuss basic principles of cooperation and conflict using frameworks from multiple disciplines including evolutionary biology, economics, behavioral ecology and anthropology.


    Next taught: Fall 2018

    Microbiome and Social Behavior

    Humans: 30 trillion human cells. 30 trillion microbial cells

    Humans are complex social creatures and we are inhabited by trillions of microbes that live on and in us. These microbes behave and interact with each other and us in many fascinating ways. In this course we will ask: How does our social behavior affect microbiome transmission? How does our microbiome affect our social behaviors? Also, we discuss how cooperation and conflict shape interactions both among microbes and also between microbes and hosts.


    Next taught: Fall 2017

    Intro Evolutionary Psychology

    How nature and nurture shape who we

    What is human nature? How has it been shaped by our evolutionary history? How do ecological factors influence human behavior and the behavior of other species? This course takes an interdisciplinary approach to behavior, incorporating psychological, anthropological and cross-species perspectives in an exploration of what makes us who we are.


    Next taught: Spring 2016


    Download my CV or click here for a list of select publications on my lab website

  • Forthcoming from Princeton University Press

    Evolution in the Flesh:

    Cancer and the Transformation of Life




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