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C Athena Aktipis

Assistant Professor
Department of Psychology
Arizona State University
United States of America


Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, (Social Psychology), College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Athena Aktipis is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Arizona State University and co-Director of the Human Generosity Project, the first large-scale transdisciplinary project to investigate the interrelationship between biological and cultural influences on human generosity. Dr. Aktipis also works on cooperation and conflict in biological systems including cancer evolution and the human microbiome. She is a cooperation theorist, social psychologist, theoretical evolutionary biologist, and cancer biologist who now works at the intersection of these fields. Dr. Aktipis is also the co-founder and Director of Human and Social Evolution at the Center for Evolution and Cancer at the University of California, San Francisco.

Research Interest

My research investigates how cooperation and conflict shape systems from human sharing to cells within multicellular bodies. I use computational modeling, laboratory experiments and fieldwork to better understand these processes and the general principles that operate across cooperative systems. My work addresses both cooperation on small-scales and the problems inherent in scaling-up cooperation to large interconnected complex systems. My contributions to cooperation theory include the Walk Away model of cooperation (showing that conditional movement favors cooperation) and the Need-based Transfers framework for resource sharing (which can outperform strict account-keeping).I have also worked on the applications of cooperation theory to cancer evolution including the role of resource conflict in the evolution of invasion and metastasis.


  • Aktipis, A., De Aguiar, R., Flaherty, A., Iyer, P., Sonkoi, D., & Cronk, L. (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. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-016-9823-z

  • Cronk, L., & Aktipis, A. (2017). Sacredness as an implied threat of supernatural punishment: the case of need-based transfers. Religion, Brain and Behavior, 1-3. DOI: 10.1080/2153599X.2017.1302978

  • Fortunato, A., Boddy, A., Mallo, D., Aktipis, A., Maley, C. C., & Pepper, J. W. (2017). Natural selection in cancer biology: From molecular snowflakes to trait hallmarks. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine, 7(2), [a029652]. DOI: 10.1101/cshperspect.a029652

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