Robert Axelrod

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Robert Axelrod
Born (1943-05-27) May 27, 1943 (age 77)
Alma mater

Robert Marshall Axelrod (born May 27, 1943) is an American political scientist. He is Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at the University of Michigan where he has been since 1974. He is best known for his interdisciplinary work on the evolution of cooperation. His current research interests include complexity theory (especially agent-based modeling), international security, and cyber security. His research includes innovative approaches to explaining conflict of interest, the emergence of norms, how game theory is used to study cooperation, and cross-disciplinary studies on evolutionary processes.[1]


Axelrod received his B.A. in mathematics from the University of Chicago in 1964. In 1969, he received his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University for a thesis entitled Conflict of interest: a theory of divergent goals with applications to politics. He taught at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1968 until 1974.

Among his honors and awards are membership in the National Academy of Sciences, a five-year MacArthur Prize Fellowship, the Newcomb Cleveland Prize of the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences for an outstanding contribution to science. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1985.[2] In 1990 Axelrod was awarded the inaugural NAS Award for Behavioral Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War from the National Academy of Sciences.[3]

Recently Axelrod has consulted and lectured on promoting cooperation and harnessing complexity for the United Nations, the World Bank, the U.S. Department of Defense, and various organizations serving health care professionals, business leaders, and K–12 educators.

Axelrod was the President of the American Political Science Association (APSA) for the 2006–2007 term. He focused his term on the theme of interdisciplinarity.

In May 2006, Axelrod was awarded an honorary degree by Georgetown University. In 2013, he was awarded the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science. In 2014, President Barack Obama presented Axelrod with a National Medal of Science.[4] On May 28, 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Harvard University.[5]

Work on evolution of cooperation[edit]

Axelrod worked on the evolution of cooperation via the so-called game of iterated prisoner's dilemma, where two players make a sequence of decision to cooperate or defect, while trying to maximize their score. In 1979, Axelrod tried to program computers to play the game and found that the winner of the tournaments were often a program based on "tit-for-tat", that is a program that cooperates on the first step, then just copies whatever the opponent does subsequently.[6] This winning program was also often obtained by natural selection, a result which was widely taken to explain the emergence of cooperation in evolutionary biology and the social sciences.[6]



  • Axelrod, Robert (1970). Conflict of interest: a theory of divergent goals with applications to politics. Markham Pub. Co. Retrieved 28 April 2012.
  • Axelrod, Robert (1976), Structure of Decision: The Cognitive Map of Political Elites, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-10050-0
  • Axelrod, Robert (1984), The Evolution of Cooperation, Basic Books, ISBN 978-0-465-02122-2
  • Axelrod, Robert (1997), The Complexity of Cooperation: Agent-Based Models of Competition and Collaboration, Princeton University Press, ISBN 978-0-691-01567-5
  • Axelrod, Robert (2006), The Evolution of Cooperation (Revised ed.), Perseus Books Group, ISBN 978-0-465-00564-2
  • Axelrod, Robert; Cohen, Michael D. (2001-08-02). Harnessing Complexity. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-00550-5. Retrieved 28 April 2012.

Journal articles[edit]

  • Axelrod, Robert; Hamilton, William D. (27 March 1981). "The evolution of cooperation". Science. 211 (4489): 1390–1396. doi:10.1126/science.7466396. PMID 7466396.
  • Axelrod, Robert (April 1997). "The dissemination of culture: a model with local convergence and global polarization". Journal of Conflict Resolution. 41 (2): 203–226. doi:10.1177/0022002797041002001.
  • Axelrod, Robert; Atran, S, Davis, R (2007) Sacred Barriers to Conflict Resolution, Science (317)[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Glenn H. Utter, and Charles Lockhart, eds. American Political Scientists: A Dictionary (2nd ed. 2002) pp 11–14, online
  2. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  3. ^ "NAS Award for Behavior Research Relevant to the Prevention of Nuclear War". National Academy of Sciences. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  4. ^ "Remarks by the President at National Medals of Science and National Medals of Technology and Innovation Award Ceremony". White House. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  5. ^ "Ten to receive honorary degrees". May 28, 2015.
  6. ^ a b A New Kind of Science [1]
  7. ^ Atran, Scott; Axelrod, Robert; Davis, Richard (2007-08-24). "Sacred Barriers to Conflict Resolution". Science. 317 (5841): 1039–1040. CiteSeerX doi:10.1126/science.1144241. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 17717171.