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Altruism Simulation Activity

Author(s): Nicole Chodkowski

Radford University

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This resource is an activity that consists of instructions and guiding questions designed to support students’ exploration of an Altruism Model in NetLogo, a multi-agent programmable modeling environment.  NetLogo can be freely downloaded at or run directly in your browser at NetLogo Web or on QUBES at

Learning objectives:

  1. Understand how altruism would evolve under natural conditions
  2. Relate altruism evolution to group-living dynamics


This activity was used in a majors introductory biology course (~50 students) during a module on animal behavior. The meaning of altruism, the paradox of altruism and the connection to kin selection was explained prior to the activity. The activity took ~30- 45 mins to complete. Students worked in groups to go through the simulation, make parameter adjustments, and think about some of the discussion questions. After all groups finished the activity, there was a class discussion on the situations where selfish individual “win” over the altruistic individuals and the conditions under which altruism was favored. The class also discussed the grouping behavior that occurred in the simulation. We related this back to prior discussions on solitary living vs. group living and cooperation.

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