The science of ProSocial World is centered on studying and stewarding positive cultural evolution in any group on Earth.

Modern evolutionary science tells us that behaviors and cultural traits evolve based on their consequences within a given context. Transformative change does not happen through force, but by changing contexts to reinforce certain behaviors and cultural traits over others.

Many, many times a day we face a choice between doing what's best for us, and doing what's best for the groups to which we belong. "Should I put in that extra bit of effort at work when I would much prefer to be taking some leisure time?" Or even, "Should I stop trying to convince this person that I am right, and start to listen to them?"

This continual tension is a fundamental human dilemma.

Despite being a wonderfully social species, we often face contexts in which acting for the benefit of others is at the expense of our own individual interests. It may be that a context rewards individual success rather than group success. Or it may be that acting prosocially leaves us vulnerable to those who can take advantage of our efforts.

The science of ProSocial is focused on understanding and fostering social contexts in which individual and group interests are aligned, such that cooperative behaviors are reinforced more than selfish behaviors. These prosocial groups act more like a single organism, rather than a collection of individuals.

Prosocial groups have increased sharing of resources and information, greater coordination and trust between group members, and are able to successfully pursue goals that would be difficult or impossible for individuals to achieve alone.

What Prosocial Groups Need


Social context that reinforces helpful, group-beneficial behavior and discourages disruptive, self-serving behaviors


Capacity to flexibly move in the direction of valued goals despite changing contexts

ProSocial World has developed an interdisciplinary practical scientific framework to help groups understand and meet these needs.

Practical Scientific


ProSocial World applies Elinor Ostrom’s Nobel prize-winning* Core Design Principles (CDPs). These eight principles are used as a practical guide to enhance a group's basic ability to cooperate.


Shared identity and purpose


Fair distribution of contributions and benefits


Fair and inclusive decision-making


Monitoring of agreed behaviors


Graduated responding to helpful and unhelpful behavior


Fast and fair conflict resolution


Authority to self-govern


Appropriate relations with other groups

*Elinor Ostrom received the Nobel prize in economics in 2009 for showing that groups are capable of avoiding "the tragedy of the commons" when managing common-pool resources if they implement 8 core design principles. ProSocial World has generalized these principles from an evolutionary perspective as core conditions for successful cooperation in any group.

The Core Design Principles (CDPs) are almost always accepted as logical and desirable by groups. But of course, there is a big gap between knowing something and being able to implement it in the reality of the world. The CDPs are cultural design heuristics which groups must iteratively experiment with to evolve expressions that work for their context.

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ProSocial World catalyzes adaptability of behavior and culture by applying the discipline of Contextual Behavioral Science.

Contextual Behavioral Science is a pragmatic approach to behavior change built upon predicting and influencing human behavior in the context of everyday life. It draws upon the traditions of Pragmatism, Behaviorism, Cognitive and Mindfulness training, and the population-level disciplines of Prevention Science and Public Health.

We help groups learn to notice the ways in which they relate one event to another in the world. From this awareness, groups can reflect on their current behavior and pursue alternatives that better move them towards cherished values and goals. This process cultivates psychological flexibility.

Psychological Flexibility

A combination of mindfulness and value directed action

ProSocial World uses the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) Matrix to foster psychological flexibility in individuals and groups.

ACT as Managed
Personal Evolution

The ACT Matrix helps us notice our Sensemaking (thoughts and emotions) and our Action (responding). These are separated into two repertoires of behavior: those behaviors that move us towards valued living and the experience of thriving, and those that move us away from aversive experience in the process of just surviving. By mapping these different aspects of their lived experience, individuals and groups can exercise psychological flexibility and choose to act more in line with their most cherished values.

Over 1,000 Randomized Control Trials have demonstrated the efficacy of ACT as a social change method, in many cases with statistically significant improvements. Applications are numerous and wide-ranging, including treatment of COVID induced anxiety and depression, medical compliance, intimacy and family functioning, immune function, chronic pain interference, spiritual health, body dysmorphia, and insomnia.

Our Research Approach

We've developed an evidence-based approach for managing the three basic components of evolutionary processes:

Establishing outcomes of selection that align with prosocial goals


Orienting variation around the outcomes


Replication of best practices, realizing that what works in one context might well need to be tailored to work in other contexts.


Our approach follows the philosophy of use-inspired basic research, which combines inquiry into "The Big Questions" with value in practical applications.

Pure Applied Research
‍‍‍[Temple Grandin / Thomas Edison]

Use-inspired basic research
[Elinor Ostrom / Louis Pasteur]

Pure foundation research
[Marie Curie / Nils Bohr]

Value for Foundational Research

*Adapted from: Stokes, D. E. (2011). Pasteur's quadrant: Basic science and technical innovation. Brookings Institution Press.

Value for Practical Application

Models of “use-inspired basic research” include the work of Louis Pasteur, who made fundamental contributions to microbiology at the same time as he cured diseases, and Elinor Ostrom, who made fundamental contributions to political economic theory with immediate policy applications on governing the commons.

Research Agenda

In collaboration with stakeholders, we co-design Theories of Improvement which we evolve on the basis of our research to continually drive community-based cultural evolution.

Process of
Community-Based Cultural Evolution

Eirdosh, D. & Hanisch, S. (in review). A community science model for interdisciplinary evolution education and school improvement. Chapter in Reydon & Huneman (2022) Evolutionary thinking across disciplines.

Broad Research and Evaluation Aims

Co-design evaluation plans and identify metrics of success (outcomes) with community partners & field sites

Build an evidence base for ProSocial methods in a range of contexts

Improve practice and evaluation through iterative cycles of inquiry and development of more robust evaluation methods

Reflect on our understanding of human behavior

Evaluation Approach/

Participatory Action Research (PAR)

Design-Based Research

Case Studies
- Most Significant Change (MSC) method
- Sense-making and in-depth interviews

Idionomic measurements of behavioral data

Social network analyses of cultural transmission

Biomarker assessment studies


Matured theoretical frameworks and solution systems

Improved theoretical understanding and generalization of cultural evolution to other contexts

Increased flexibility and awareness of values, goals, and group culture; of oneself (inner and outer); of CDPs and psychological flexibility; of conditions for learning

Increased adaptivity with respect to:
- normative aims
- others in one’s cultural network
-outcomes and consequences
- successfully managing a commons

For more information on our research efforts and/or to collaborate with us in developing your own research project, please reach out to ProSocial World's

Director of Research, Beth Hawkins
Get in touch