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Athena Aktipis

Athena Aktipis

Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Department of Psychology
Arizona State University
PO Box 871104
Tempe, AZ 85287-1104


  • Senior Global Futures Scientist, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
  • Member, Center for Evolution and Medicine
  • Member, Center for Fundamental and Applied Microbiomics, Biodesign Institute
  • Member, Center for Social Dynamics and Complexity


Athena Aktipis is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Arizona State University, co-Director of the Human Generosity Project and co-founder of the Center for Evolution and Cancer at the University of California, San Francisco.  Dr. Aktipis completed her BA at Reed College (Psychology), her PhD at University of Pennsylvania (Psychology) and post-doctoral work at University of Arizona (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology). She is a cooperation theorist, theoretical evolutionary biologist, and cancer biologist who now works at the intersection of these fields.  Dr. Aktipis is the author of the forthcoming book from Princeton University Press "Evolution in the flesh: Cancer and the transformation of life."


  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Evology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Arizona, 2011
  • PhD, Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 2008
  • MS, Psychology, University of Pennsylvania, 2004
  • BA, Psychology, Reed College, 2002


Journal Articles


Cronk, L., C. A. Aktipis, S. Gazzillo, D. D. White and A. Y. Wutich. 2019. Common knowledge promotes risk pooling in an experimental economic game. PLoS ONE 14(8):. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0220682.


Aktipis, A. 2016. Life history theory and breast cancer risk: methodological and theoretical challenges: Response to “Is estrogen receptor negative breast cancer risk associated with a fast life history strategy?”. Evolution, Medicine, & Public Health 2016(1):177-179. DOI: 10.1093/emph/eov035. (link )

Aktipis, A. 2016. Principles of cooperation across systems: from human sharing to multicellularity and cancer. Evolutionary Applications 9(1):17-36. DOI: 10.1111/eva.12303. (link )

Aktipis, A., R. de Agular, A. Flaherty, P. Iyer, D. Sonkoi and L. Cronk. 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: 1007/s10745-016-9823-z. (link )

Andor, N., T. A. Graham, M. Jansen, L. C. Xia, A. Aktipis, C. Petritsch, H. P. Ji and C. C. Maley. 2016. Pan-cancer analysis of the extent and consequences of intratumor heterogeneity. Nature Medicine 22:105-113. DOI: 10.1038/nm.3984. (link )

Wasielewski, H., J. Alcock and . A. Aktipis. 2016. Resource conflict and cooperation between human host and gut microbiota: Implications for nutrition and health. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1372(May):20-38. DOI: 10.1111/nyas.13118. (link )


Aktipis, A., A. M. Boddy, G. Jansen, U. Hibner, M. E. Hochberg, C. C. Maley and G. S. Wilkinson. 2015. Cancer across the tree of life: Cooperation and cheating in multicellularity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370(1673):20140219. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0219. (link )

Aktipis, A., B. Ellis, K. K. Nishimura and R. A. Hiatt. 2015. Modern reproductive patterns associated with estrogen receptor positive but not negative breast cancer susceptibility. Evolution , Medicine, & Public Health 2015(3):53-74. DOI: 10.1093/emph/eou028. (link )

Boddy, A. M., A. Fortunato, M. Wilson Sayres and . A. Aktipis. 2015. Fetal microchimerism and maternal health: A review and evolutionary analysis of cooperation and conflict beyond the womb. BioEssays 37(10):1106-1118. DOI: 10.1002/bies.201500059. (link )

Boddy, A. M., H. Kokko, F. Breden, G. S. Wilkinson and A. Aktipis. 2015. Cancer susceptibility and reproductive trade-offs: A model of the evolution of cancer defences. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370(1673):20140220.. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0220. (link )

Brown, J. S. and A. Aktipis. 2015. Inclusive fitness effects can select for cancer suppression into old age. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 370(1673):20150160. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0160. (link )

Hao, Y., D. Armbruster, L. Cronk and A. Aktipis. 2015. Need-based transfers on a network: A model of risk-pooling in ecologically volatile environments. Evolution and Human Behavior 36(4):265-273. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.12.003. (link )

Hidaka, B. H., A. Asghar, A. Aktipis, R. M. Nesse, T. M. Wolpaw, N. K. Skursky, K. J. Bennett, M. W. Beyrouty and M. D. Schwartz. 2015. The status of evolutionary medicine education in North American medical schools. BMC Medical Education 15:38. DOI: 10.1186/s12909-015-0322-5. (link )

Jansen, G., R. Gatenby and A. Aktipis. 2015. Opinion: Control vs. eradication: Applying infectious disease treatment strategies to cancer. Proceedings of the Natonal Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 112(4):937-938. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1420297111 . (link )

Maley, C. C., K. Koelble, R. Natrajan, A. Aktipis and Y. Yuan. 2015. An ecological measure of immune-cancer colocalization as a prognostic factor for breast cancer. Breast Cancer Research 17:131. DOI: 10.1186/s13058-015-0638-4. (link )


Alcock, J., C. C. Maley and C. A. Aktipis. 2014. Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms. Ideas that Push the Boundaries 36(10):940-949. DOI: 10.1002/bies.201400071. (link )

Bryant, G. A. and C. A. Aktipis. 2014. The animal nature of spontaneous human laughter. Evolution and Human Behavior 35(4):327-335. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.03.003.

Jansen, G. and C. A. Aktipis. 2014. Resistence is mobile: The accelerating evolution of mobile genetic elements encoding resistence. Journal of Evolutionary Medicine 2:Art. 235873. DOI: 10.4303/jem/235873. (link )


Aktipis, C. A., A. M. Boddy, R. A. Gatenby, J. S. Brown and C. C. Maley. 2013. Life history trade-offs in cancer evolution. Nature Reviews Cancer 13:883-892. DOI: 10.1038/nrc3606. (link )

Aktipis, C. A. and R. M. Nesse. 2013. Evolutionary foundations for cancer biology. Evolutionary Applications 6(1):144-159. DOI: 10.1111/eva.12034. (link )

Sprouffske, K., C. A. Aktipis, J. P. Radich, M. Carroll, A. M. Nedelcu and C. C. Maley. 2013. An evolutionary explanation for the presence of cancer nonstem cells in neoplasms. Evolutionary Applications 6(1):92-101. DOI: 10.1111/eva.12030. (link )


Aktipis, C. A., C. C. Maley and J. W. Pepper. 2012. Dispersal evolution in neoplasms: The role of disregulated metabolism in the evolution of cell motility. Cancer Prevention Research 5(2):266-275. DOI: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-11-0004. (link )


Aktipis, A., L. Cronk and R. de Aguilar. 2011. Risk-pooling and herd survival: An agent-based model of a Maasai gift-giving system. Human Ecology 39(2):131-140. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-010-9364-9. (link )

Aktipis, C. A. 2011. Is cooperation viable in mobile organisms? Simple Walk Away strategy favors the evolution of cooperation in groups. Evolution and Human Behavior 32(4):263-276. DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2011.01.002. (link )

Aktipis, C. A., L. Cronk and R. de Agular. 2011. Risk-pooling and herd survival: An agent-based model of a Maasai gift-giving system. Human Ecology 39(2):131-140. DOI: 10.1007/s10745-010-9364-9. (link )

Aktipis, C. A. and E. Fernandez-Duque. 2011. Parental investment without kin recognition: Simple rules for parent-offspring behavior. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 65(5):1079-1091. DOI: 10.1007/s00265-010-1115-9. (link )

Aktipis, C. A., V. S. Kwan, K. A. Johnson, S. L. Neuberg and C. C. Maley. 2011. Overlooking evolution: A systematic analysis of cancer relapse and therapeutic resistance research. PLOS One 6(11):e26100. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026100. (link )

Aktipis, C. A. and C. C. Maley. 2011. The self-ish cell: Cancer’s emerging evolutionary paradigm. The Evolution & Medicine Review (link )


Aktipis, C. A., C. C. Maley and S. L. Neuberg. 2010. Psychological barriers to evolutionary thinking in medicine. The Evolution & Medicine Review (link )

Aktipis, C. A. and S. L. Thompson-Schill. 2010. Positive assortment for peer review. Adaptive Behavior 18(5):448-450. DOI: 10.1177/1059712310384281. (link )

Bendick, R., K. M. Dahlin, B. V. Smoliak, L. Kumler, S. J. Jones, C. A. Aktipis, E. Fugate, R. Hertog, C. Moberg and D. Scott. 2010. Choosing carbon mitigation strategies using ethical deliberation. Weather, Climate, and Society 2:140-147. DOI: 10.1175/2010WCAS1036.1. (link )

Phillips-Silver, J., C. A. Aktipis and G. A. Bryant. 2010. The ecology of entrainment: Foundations of coordinated rhythmic movement. Music Perception 28(1):3-14. DOI: 10.1525/mp.2010.28.1.3. (link )


Kurzban, R. and C. A. Aktipis. 2007. Modularity and the social mind: Are psychologists too self-ish?. Personality and Social Psychology Review 11(2):131-149. DOI: 10.1177/1088868306294906. (link )


Aktipis, C. A. 2006. Recognition memory and the evolution of cooperation: How simple strategies succeed in an agent-based world. Adaptive Behavior 14(3):239-247. DOI: 10.1177/105971230601400301. (link )


Aktipis, C. A. 2004. Know when to walk away: Contingent movement and the evolution of cooperation. Journal of Theoretical Biology 231(2):249-260. DOI: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2004.06.020. (link )


Aktipis, C. A. 2000. An evolutionary perspective on consciousness: The role of emotion, theory of mind and self-deception. The Harvard Brain: Journal of Mind, Brain and Behavior 7:29-34.

Book Chapters


Greaves, M. and C. A. Aktipis. 2016. Mismatches with our ancestral environments and cancer risk. Pp. 19215 In: Maley, C. C. and M. Greaves eds., Frontiers in Cancer Research: Evolutionary Foundations, Revolutionary Directions. Springer-. New York. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-6460-4_10. ISBN: 978-1-4939-6458-1. (link )

Schiffman, J. D., R. M. White, T. A. Graham, Q. Huang and A. Aktipis. 2016. The Darwinian dynamics of motility and metastasis. Pp. 135-176 In: Maley, C. C. and M. Greaves eds., Frontiers in Cancer Research: Evolutionary Foundations, Revolutionary Directions. Springer. New York. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4939-6460-4_8. ISBN: 978-1-4939-6458-1. (link )


Aktipis, C. A. and R. Kurzban. 2005. Is Homo economicus?. Pp. 135-153 In: Koppl, R. ed., Evolutionary Psychology and Economic Theory. Vol 7. Emerald Group Publishing Limited.



Mercer, C. L., L. Cronk, B. Sopher, A. Aktipis, D. D. White and A. Y. Wutich. 2011. Can water managers' decision making be influenced by an 'imported' cultural norm?. Poster presented on May 4, 2011 at the Community of Undergraduate/Graduate Research Scholars (COURS) Poster Session, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ. (link )



Aktipis, A. 2015. Need-based transfers across cooperative systems. Presentation at the Animal Behavior Seminar Series at the University of California, March 13, 2015, Davis, CA.

Aktipis, A. 2015. Need-based transfers in cooperative systems. Presentation at the Human Behavior and Evolution Society Conference, May 28, 2015, Columbia, MO.


Aktipis, A. 2014. Spatial-temporal constraints on risk-pooling strategies in volatile environments: An agent-based model of foraging behavior. Presentation at the Harvard Department of Evolutionary Biology Colloquium Series, Cambridge, MA. (link )


Aktipis, A. 2012. Beyond reciprocity and kin selection: Is it time to rethink the foundations of cooperation theory?. Presented January 9, 2012 as part of the Evolution and Extravagant Altruism Speaker Series, University of Michigan.

Aktipis, A. 2012. Generosity without debt, part 1: Computational models of risk pooling through need-based transfers. Presented November 15, 2012 at the 111th American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, November 14-18, 2012, San Francisco, CA.

Aktipis, A. 2012. Generosity without reciprocity, part 1: Computation models of need-based transfers and risk-pooling. Presented June 14, 2012 at the 24th Annual Meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM.

Aktipis, A. 2012. Generosity without reciprocity: Computational models of risk-pooling and sharing norms in human societies. Presented February 23, 2012 as part of the Challenges of Complexity Speaker Series, Arizona State University.


Aktipis, A. 2011. The simple origins of prosociality: Agent-based models of cooperation across domains. Presented September 8, 2011 as part of Dynamical Discussions, Arizona State University.

Aktipis, A., L. Cronk, D. D. White and A. Y. Wutich. 2011. Resource management and risk pooling: Exploring the viability of indigenous solutions for modern resource management problems. Presented March 13, 2011 at Resilience 2011–Resilience, Innovation, and Sustainability: Navigating the Complexities of Global Change, Second International Science and Policy Conference, Tempe, AZ.


Cronk, L., A. Y. Wutich, A. Aktipis and H. Wasielewski. 2010. The circulation of cultural variants: Exploring the relationship between culture and behavior. Presented November 20, 2010 at the American Anthropological Association 109th Annual Meeting, New Orleans, LA.


Wakeland, W. W., E. J. Gallaher, J. M. Macovsky and C. A. Aktipis. 2004. A comparison of system dynamics and agent based simulation applied to the study of cellular receptor dynamics. Presentation at the 37th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, January 5-8, 2004, (link )

Conference Papers


Aktipis, C. A. 2000. The effect of behavioral assortment on selection dynamics: Externalities, information processing and subjective commitment. In: Boudreau, E. and C. C. Maley eds., Proceedings of the Artificial Life VII Workshops. Artificial Life VII Workshops. (link )

Web Pages


Aktipis, C. A. Revolutionary biology: Evolutionary biology and ecology of cancer summer school supports a growing field. (link )