Theoretical Biology

Piet van den Berg

Contact info

Room: Linnaeusborg, 5172.0585

Phone: +31 (0)50 363 8094

Cell: +31 (0)6 41844347


Download CV pdf

Project: The evolutionary causes and consequences of personality differences in cooperative behaviour

Explaining the evolution of cooperation is a central challenge to evolutionary biologists. The question is why individuals commonly exhibit costly behaviour that benefits others. The evolution of animal personalities is a similarly challenging problem. Animal personalities are ‘behavioural syndromes’, built up from behaviour that is consistent over time and across contexts, and variable between individuals. Both the rigidity of this behavioural architecture and the sustained variability between individuals are difficult to explain from an evolutionary perspective. In my PhD project, I aim to coherently integrate evolutionary theory from both fields.

First, I will investigate three complementary hypotheses proposing that personalities readily evolve in the context of cooperation. Second, I will scrutinize two hypotheses claiming that the existence of personality differences favours the evolution of cooperation. Since both cooperation and personality differences are prominent in humans, I will, third, investigate two hypotheses considering whether the link between personalities and cooperation also holds for cultural evolution. Throughout, I will develop and analyze evolutionary models with the aim of deriving testable predictions.

Scientific interests

My main scientific interest is the evolution of cooperative behaviour, with a focus on humans. I am interested in the mechanisms that lead to the evolution of cooperation, and its maintainance in populations. Since explaining human bahaviour also requires a good understanding of culture and its dynamics, cultural evolution is one of my main interests as well.


L. Molleman, P. van den Berg & F.J. Weissing (2014): Consistent individual differences in human social learning strategies. Nature Comm., in press, doi:10.1038/ncomms4570. pdf, supplement

P. van den Berg, T.W. Fawcett, A.P. Buunk & F.J. Weissing (2014): Conflict over resources generates conflict over mate choice: Reply to Smaldino & Newson. Evol. Human Behav., in press, doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.12.004 pdf

P. van den Berg, T.W. Fawcett, A.P. Buunk & F.J. Weissing (2013): The evolution of parent–offspring conflict over mate choice. Evol. Human Behav. 34, 405–411, doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2013.07.004. pdf, SI, media coverage

P. van den Berg, L. Molleman & F.J. Weissing (2012): The social costs of punishment. Behav. Brain Sci. 35, 42-43. pdf

T.W. Fawcett, P. van den Berg, F.J. Weissing, J.H. Park & A.P. Buunk (2010): Intergenerational conflict over grandparental investment. Behav. Brain Sci. 33, 23-24. pdf

R. Kümmerli, P. van den Berg, A.S. Griffin, S.A. West & A. Gardner (2010): Repression of competition favours cooperation: Experimental evidence from bacteria. J. Evol. Biol. 23, 699–706. pdf

Other publications

P. van den Berg & T.W. Fawcett (2013): Evolution and bad boyfriends. The New York Times, 11 october 2013. pdf

Media coverage

Last modified:May 06, 2014 12:43