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Research PhD courses

Advanced Self-organisation of Social Systems


Prof. Charlotte Hemelrijk (BESO, RUG)

Aim of the course

Obtaining insight (with the help of computer models) in the emergence by selforganisation of collective behaviour and social organisation.

Knowledge to be acquired: models of selforganisation, cognition and social systems. The participant gains sufficient subject specific knowledge so he/she:
a) can explain social systems in terms of emergence and selforganisation
b) can develop his/her own hypotheses in terms of emergence and selforganisation for new systems
c) can critically review primary literature from the perspective of selforganisation.

Research skills to be acquired: spatially explicit modelling, understanding patterns of selforganisation, independent usage of Netlogo. The participant can apply the gained knowledge in a modeling experiment so he/she:
a) can independently translate hypotheses in modeling experiments
b) can statistically analyze results of these models with appropriate statistical tests and/or graphical representations
c) can independently use Netlogo

Communication skills that are evaluated:
The participant can communicate in a concise and understandable way, for example about aims, results and interpretation of his/her scientific project so he/she :..
a) can structure the content logically
b) can use concise and correct language
c) can present graphs, figures, slides, etcetera that are correct, complete and informative

This course can be followed in combination with the BSc course “Selforganization of ecological and social systems”. The course is also meant for students from other fields, e.g. those of artificial intelligence and sociology. Some programming experience is useful.

Contents & Structure

Processes of selforganisation occur at all levels of a system. For instance, in a group of individuals they take place at the level of the cognition of the individual, of its behaviour and of the behaviour of the group. Selforganisation implies that cognitively simple rules at the level of the individual (the so-called micro-level) may lead to complex behaviour at a higher level (the macro-level). The emergence of patterns in a computer model often leads to unexpected new insights, for, the other way around, it is impossible to discover the behavioural rules that operate at a lower level by observing the complex behaviour at a higher level. In this course models of selforganisation of the following social phenomena will be treated: swarming by fish and birds, with and without attacks by predators; grouping and foraging behaviour by social insects and primates; nest building by insects, task division in insects; social learning and behaviour of fish and corvids; social structure (despotic and egalitarian), and cultural transmission in primates and humans.

The practical work closely follows the contents of the daily lectures. Students will use spreadsheets and the program Netlogo.
Individual-based models will be discussed and taught.
In the last part of the course, students work on a modelling project of their own or in small groups. They can work out their own ideas or choose from the projects that are offered. The work is to be rounded off in a report and presentation. There is the alternative possibility to do a literature study.

About two thirds of the course consists of lectures and practicals, the presentation of literature by each student and opposition of another paper. The remaining time is devoted to the modelling project, its development, analysis and its presentation or a literature study related to the course, and its presentation.


7 May 2018, Basic concepts, clustering of larvae, distribution of honey, pollen on the hive (Charlotte Hemelrijk), practical

9 May 2018, Netlogo programming practice afternoon

11 May 2018, Netlogo programming practice afternoon

14 May 2018, Dominance interactions and Braitenberg models (Charlotte Hemelrijk)

17 May 2018, Diet traditions and cumulative cultural processes. (Charlotte Hemelrijk)

22 May 2018, Schools of fish, flocks of starlings and empirical data (Charlotte Hemelrijk)

23 May 2018, Practicals fish, flocks of starlings and empirical data

24 May 2018, Predator attacks on flocks, evolution of swarming (Charlotte Hemelrijk)

29 May 2018, Preparations student presentations of scientific literature

31 May 2018, Student presentations of literature (09.00 - 17.00),

5 June 2018, Project starts

7 June 2018, Projects

11 June 2018, Projects

14 June 2018, Projects

18 June 2018, Midterm discussions projects

20 June 2018, Projects

25 June 2018, Symposium: end presentations (09.00 - 17.00)

26 June 2018, Submit written report

28 June 2018, Students receive written feedback on text

3 July 2018, Submit last version of report (Midnight)

General Information
Required knowledge & preparation No prior knowledge or specific preparation is required.
Course material The literature that is required for study is available on Nestor (the Electronic Learning Environment of the RuG) or will be made available through the RSEE office.
Course credits 5 ECTS
Location Linnaeusborg, Zernike Campus, Groningen
Duration & date

The course runs from 7May 2018 until 3 July 2018. Two days (Tuesday and Wednesday) a week from week 19 (8 May 2018), consisting of lectures in the morning and practicals in the afternoon. Individual projects are scheduled from week 23 (5 June 2018) till the end of the course and will be concluded with a report and presentation.

Costs Participation fee is €100 for all participating PhD students. Potential travelling costs are not included and are for the student.
Participants The number of participants is limited to 24.
  • Charlotte Hemelrijk (Behavioural Ecology & Self Organisation, Linnaeusborg, Nijenborgh 7, 9747 AG Groningen, phone: 0031 (0) 50 363 8084.)
  • Corine Eising (Research School Ecology and Evolution, Linnaeusborg, Nijenborgh 7, 9747 AG Groningen, phone: 0031 (0) 50 363 9140, fax: 0031 (0) 50 363 2273.
Registration Master students: please register through the Ocasys portal
PhD students: please register by filling out the registration form.
Last modified:17 June 2019 5.07 p.m.