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IM Lectures

Interacting Minds Lecture Series
Spring 2013
- Coordination -

The Interacting Minds Lecture Series is a series of lecture that each year focus on a particularly important feature of how human minds interact. The Lecture Series serves as a window to the large community at Aarhus University and beyond on the core research topics at the Centre and serve as vehicles of inspiration for the members of the Centre.

Contact: Michael Bang Petersen (michael@ps.au.dk)

Lecture 1: Robin Dunbar, Oxford University

What is so Social about the Social Brain?

Time & Place: February 22, 2-4 pm in Tåsingegade, 1441-112


Professor Robin Dunbar holds a position in Evolutionary Psychology at Oxford University and is a Fellow of the British Academy for the humanities and social sciences. His research has provided groundbreaking insights on the deep biological and cognitive bases of human social interaction. He was one of the first psychologists to propose and provide evidence for the idea that the human brain was made for social interaction. Our social brains, Professor Dunbar’s research shows, facilitate and enable the ultra-complexity of human social life. At the same time, our minds and brains – designed to operate within small-scale groups of ancestral humans – constrain and direct how social interaction unfolds even today. In particular, Professor Dunbar’s research has shown how the number of stable relationships that each of us form consistently converge around the number 150, famously nicknamed Dunbar’s number. In his talk, Professor Dunbar will provide an overview of some of his research on the social nature of the human brain and provide new insights on what exactly is so social about it.


For more about Robin Dunbar and his research, see:






Lecture 2: David Sumpter, Uppsala Universitet

How Colonies and Swarms Co-ordinate without a Leader

Time & Place: March 8, 2-4 pm in Nobelparken, 1482-105


 Research on the collective behaviour of animals has increased rapidly over recent years, attracting attention both in the popular media and from scientists from a wide variety of different disciplines. The basic research question is how individuals interact to produce collective patterns, on a scale far larger than the size of a single individual, in the absence of any centralised control. Ant trail networks, locust swarms, bird flocks, fish schools and human crowds are all key examples. Answering this question involves mathematical modelling, where computer simulations appear to show how collective patterns emerge. As research in this area intensifies, more rigorous standards are needed to validate these models against reality. It is not sufficient to simply run a model and say that it 'looks like' a bird flock or a fish school. In this talk I will present recent work in which we use automated tracking data to quantify how fish and ants interact with each other, and show how these interactions produce co-ordiated motion and collective structures. I will also present examples of social behaviour in humans, namely gaze-following and audience clapping. These studies show that, by linking global universal patterns to detailed observations of behaviour, we obtain often surprising insights in to the simplicity of how individuals interact with each other and the complexity of the patterns they produce.

David Sumpter is Professor at the Department of Mathematics at Uppsala University in Sweden. He leads the Collective Behavior Research Group that is dedicated to understanding of collective behavior emerges in biological and social systems. His ground-breaking research has been published in major scientific journals such as PNAS, Proceedings B, PLoS One, Journal of Theoretical Biology and many more. 

For more information on David Sumpter and his research, see: 



Lecture 3: Paul Zak, Claremont Graduate University

The Moral Molecule

Time & Place: March 25, 2-4 pm in Nobelparken, 1482-105


Why are people good or evil?  This talk reviews research from Dr. Zak's lab showing that insights moral emotions has a neurochemical foundation.  This research has demonstrated that oxytocin seems to function as a "moral molecule", responding to, and motivating, virtuous behaviors.  Virtue is assessed in the laboratory using neuroeconomics experiments that "follow the money" to gauge the degree of virtue.  The talk concludes with implications for psychopathology and law.

The talk is followed by commentaries from Albert Gjedde and Gert Tinggaard.

Paul J. Zak is Professor of Economics and the founding Director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University.  Professor Zak is one of the inventors of the prolific field of "neuroeconomics" and has been a forerunner in the integration of neuroscience and economics. His work has had an enourmous impact on our understanding of the biological substrates of economic decisions and social interactions and, in particular, for our understanding of the emergence of cooperation. Professor Zak’s work has appeared in Nature, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, PLoS One and all major economics journals.

For more on Paul Zak and his research, see:




Lecture 4: Robert Kurzban, University of Pennsylvania

Morality as a Dynamic Coordination Device

Time & Place: April 23, 2-4 pm in Nobelparken, 1482-105


Current evolutionary theories of morality maintain that moral judgment and behavior function to deliver benefits (or prevent harm) to others. I’ll discuss an alternative view, that morality is, instead, best thought of as a system of coordinating group behavior when conflicts arise. That is, the proposal is that morality is, in essence, a dynamic coordination strategy in which bystanders coordinate side-taking based on a public signal derived from disputants’ actions rather than their identities. By focusing on disputants’ actions, bystanders can dynamically change which individuals they support across different disputes, simultaneously solving the problems of coordination and exploitation. In this talk, I apply these ideas to explain a variety of otherwise mysterious moral phenomena and present a series of new experimental findings consistent with the proposal. 

The talk is followed by commentaries from Hans Fink and Eve-Marie Becker.

Robert Kurzban is Associate Professor in Psychology at University of Pennsylvania and directs the Penn Laboratory for Experimental Evolutionary Psychology. Kurzban is a leading researcher in using principles from evolutionary biology to understand the structure of human psychology and has published extensively on the evolutionary underpinnings of morality, cooperation and social cognition. He is the author of the acclaimed book, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite, and has published his research in PNAS, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Behavioral and Brain Sciences and all major psychology journals.

For more on Robert Kurzban and his research see:




Lecture 5: Ken Binmore, University College London

Fairness Evolved as a Coordinating Device

Time & Place: May 17, 2-4 pm in Nobelparken, 1482-105



Insofar as economists acknowledge that fairness is relevant to their subject, they commonly respond by writing a taste for fairness into the preferences of the agents who inhabit their models, thereby finessing the question of why the agents should care about fairness at all. This talk provides a summary of an alternative theory in which fairness is seen as  evolution's solution to the  unavoidable equilibrium selection problem that arises when people interact on an ongoing basis.

The talk is followed by commentaries from Leonidas Enrique de le Rosa and Søren Flinch Midtgaard.

Professor Ken Binmore is one of the founders of modern game theory. He has pioneered analytical game theory, experimental economics and the use of game theory to study complex aspects of human culture such as morality and fairness. He has published several books and his papers have appeared in all major economic journals. Because of his many contributions, he is has been elected a fellow of the British Academy and a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

For more on Professor Binmore and his research, see here:



Lecture 6: James Fowler, University of California,San Diego

Social Networks, Coordination and the Biological Roots of Civilization

Time & Place: September 6, 2-4 pm in Nobelparken, 1482-105


Social networks show striking structural regularities in modernized societies, but where did these regularities come from? Twin studies show that some network structures are heritable, and molecular genetic studies show that we tend to befriend people who have the same genotypes we do.  Meanwhile, an anthropological study of the social networks of the Hadza in Tanzania, shows that hunter-gatherers have networks almost identical to those in modernized networks, suggesting that certain elements of social network structure may have been present at an early point in human history.  Combined, this evidence suggests that social networks may have resulted from and contributed to natural selection in humans.

The talk is followed by commentaries from  and Mikkel Heide Schierup and Jens Seeberg.

James Fowler is Professor of Medical Genetics and Political Science at the University of California, San Diego. His work lies at the intersection of the natural and social sciences, with a focus on social networks, behavioral science, evolution, politics, genetics, and big data. Professor Fowler was recently named a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, one of Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers, TechCrunch's Most Innovative People in Democracy, and Most Original Thinker of the year by The McLaughlin Group. His research has been published in the world’s leading journals including Nature, Science, PNAS and a large range of top field-specific journals.

For more on Professor Fowler and his research, see here:



Andreas Roepstorff,
Feb 16, 2013, 9:45 PM