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Northeastern math professor’s new study models cooperative behavior of animals

Assistant Professor Gabor Lippner in the Department of Mathematics has been at Northeastern since 2014, teaching classes like Graph Theory and various introductory math courses. Lippner, together with two former Harvard post-docs Ben Allen (lead author) and Yu-Ting Chen, has recently published a paper, The Evolutionary Dynamics on any Population Structure, in which the team created a mathematical model of cooperative behavior. Cooperative behavior describes the way groups may function, with individuals helping others at a cost to themselves.

Their work uncovered the ability to make accurate predictions for large real-life networks. This led to the discovery that networks that consist of pairs who are strongly connected to each other, but are still loosely connected with other pairs, promote the most cooperative behavior. Other networks of high cooperation include those organized like companies, where small groups of leaders are connected to each other, and each have a small group of employees connected to them.

This research is important in various areas of biology. It can be used to explain the spread of mutations in cell colonies, but it also helps interpret social behavioral patterns in groups of animals. For humans, it can model our interactions in relation to economic theory. A deeper understanding of these models can help identify structures to be able to promote rather than hinder cooperation.

There are many directions this research could go next, including studying population structure through realistic models that change in parallel with evolving genes, as well as extending the models to work beyond one on one interactions.

Watch the video above to learn more about Professor Lippner’s work!

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