The authors of this article clearly state their intention in the title, and, indeed, succeed quite well in providing us with the Theory, Practice and Two Case Studies of Conscious Multilevel Cultural Evolution. The introduction is helpful for its definitions of terminology (Evolution, Cultural, Multilevel, Evolution) used throughout the article and for its sense of perspective on how Evolution Theory itself has “evolved” (yes, just as the authors specify, in terms of variation, selection, and replication). However, there are certain issues pertaining to their elaboration of the three process circles (Figure 1) and to the two case studies for which additional explication would serve to strengthen the linkage between theory and practice, especially for readers just coming to ProSocial.


 1) From Theory to Practice:

a) Self-Awareness and Responsiveness 

After introducing and explaining the concept of “Psychological Flexibility,” the authors go on to state: “These pathologies (my emphasis added), which pull us away from our more expansive goals, are not senseless.” Indeed, they also are not pathologies! In turning to Contextual Behavioral Science as they do, the authors are invoking a framework within which behavior is viewed as serving a function, a way of connecting an organism to its environment (Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, and Wilson, 2012). The authors do then go on to speak about behavior as “adaptive,” but having first raised the specter of “pathology,” they put at risk one of the major propositions upon which Contextual Behavioral Science is built, that is, the importance of conducting a functional analysis of the behavior in question, describing its antecedents and consequences non-judgmentally, and thus more likely to elicit cooperation from the individuals being engaged in the various procedural interventions of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (in clinical settings) or Training (in organizational contexts).

Functional analysis pertains, as well, to the risk the authors engender of reifying the notion of “symbotype.” Contextual Behavior Science focuses on behavior in the context within which it is occurring and looks to contextual contingencies that can be influenced in the service of creating variations in behavior that might then be selected and replicated through positive reinforcement. Behavior, itself, can be viewed within an updated version (Barnes-Holmes and Harte, 2022) of the very Relational Frame Theory cited by the authors as our responding to a stimulus in a dynamically interacting quadripartite fashion (“ROE-M’ing”) involving Relating (the thoughts and stories we start to tell ourselves), Orienting (what we notice), Evoking (our elicited emotional reactions), and Motivating (the impact of and on our wants and needs). The authors note that “…a symbotype should not be mistaken for a thing inside a person, but rather should be seen as a process of active, symbolic responding to the context.” Yes, agreed! But then they go on to say: “Among the many insights, these methods for developing psychological flexibility reveal the need for inner change to accomplish outer change.” In moving from theory to practice, it is of paramount importance to recognize that “outer,” not “inner,” is where we have access to the variables we can access and modify in the service of influencing the dynamic process of contextual behavioral ROE-M’ing.

b) Shared Purpose and Vision

Collective Action and Co-Evolution

The authors very much capture accessing contextual variables in presenting exercises for working at the level of groups (the second “Process Circle”). Of course, if the theoretical considerations for engaging individuals in becoming more skilled in the behaviors of Psychological Flexibility are procedurally implemented in a group setting, then this, too, becomes a way of influencing group (organizational) culture. Still, an exercise with (contextual) instructions for a group to “imagine what a preferred and probable future might look and feel like,” gaining in the process “a much clearer understanding of the systemic trends and drivers shaping the behavior of the people within and outside the group” very much speaks to the importance of exploring “outer” variables in the service of cultural change.

An additional consideration involves the possibility of further elaborating upon Ostrom’s Core Design Principles for the Efficacy of Groups. As the authors so clearly state, “Developing a sense of shared purpose and vision is the first of the eight principles (CDP 1). Defining who is in the group and folding their respective needs and values into a shared vision provides the context for implementing the remainder of the CDP’s.” While the CDP’s are then listed in Table 1, there is no further explanation of CDP’s 3, 4, 5, and 6 until the following page, when it is stated that “CDP 7 and 8 apply the same principles that govern interactions within groups to interactions between groups.” For those readers encountering the CDP’s for their first time, they might be better served by having connections drawn between the Table 1 listings and the narrative that follows. Even parenthetical references might be helpful, such as denoting CDP 2 when describing how “…there much be protections against activities that benefit some members at the expense of others and the group as a whole,” or CDP 4 when commenting that, “All groups might require monitoring, for example, but how they monitor can be highly contextual.”


It is refreshingly important that there is longitudinal data available regarding the consultation that was provided to both an Australian Government Agency and to a Division of the Australian Government. The authors also note that “Two detailed case reports are available online (Adkins and Styles 2020, Wilson and Styles 2020).” The summaries in the current article certainly serve to demonstrate the flexibility in approach necessary when consulting in a contextually sensitive fashion. One of the distinguishing features between the more detailed case reports and the current summaries, also noted above in the previous point about referencing the CDP’s, is the extent to which the CDP’s are explicitly delineated throughout the more detailed online narratives. Again, keeping in mind the agenda for the current article of linking theory with practice, it might again be helpful, especially for the reader just being introduced to ProSocial, if at least parenthetical reference could be made to the specific CDP’s that were being addressed throughout the narratives about the two case studies. 


The “Three processes of positive conscious cultural evolution” diagram in Figure 1 clearly and uniquely illustrates the ProSocial endeavor. Perhaps some reference could be made back to this, as simply as a parenthetical reference at the end of the first sentence in the final paragraph as in: “ProSocial generalizes to the work of both the Ostroms and Contextual Behavioral Science to be a coherent worldview focused on enhancing human thriving through more adaptive relationships to ourselves and to each other (See Figure 1).” Then again, perhaps a more explicit reference or comment might be made, perhaps even incorporating another version of this diagram, one in which the three circles are shown as an overlapping Venn diagram, which also would be reflective of the way the consultative focus moved around during the two case studies?

Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment upon an article that richly deserves to be read and shared within and beyond ProSocial World.


 REFERENCES (in addition to those already referenced in the article):

Barnes-Holmes, D. & Harte, C. (2022). Relational frame theory 20 years on: The Odysseus voyage and beyond. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior, 117(2), 240-266. 

Hayes, S.C., Barnes-Homes, D. & Wilson, K.G. (2012). Contextual behavioral science: Creating a science more adequate to the challenge of the human condition. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 1, 1-16.