• Group Science

To be or not to be (prosocial) that is the question?

'Prosocial' or 'Prosociality' is not a word/concept that one is likely to hear in discussion down at your local eatery or drinking establishment! However its meaning is probably something that is relevant to most people in most aspects of their lives. 'Prosocial' refers to anything - attitude, belief, behaviour or institution - that is oriented towards the welfare of others. So when thinking of our daily lives it would be unusual not to be faced with the choice (conscious or subconscious) of 'doing good' for others. On the prosaic level obeying traffic lights and speed limits are overt prosocial behaviors. On the more tangible level it could be giving of your time to a charity, agreeing to stay back and help a colleague meet a deadline, participating in a fundraiser for your children's school...etc. OK interesting but this is important to know...? Well mainly because on an evolutionary front, 'survival of the fittest' and co., there are the natural counter forces that promote more self-serving behaviour by each of us. Without wanting to dive into the considerable depths of 'altruism' and the allied concept of 'self-sacrifice' suffice it to say a naturally evolved tension exists between purely 'selfish' behaviour and purely 'selfless' behaviour, and the myriad of potential responses between these two extremes. When applied to our highly evolved state of cooperation and collaboration as a species in general terms and our counter-balancing drive to succeed on a personal level there is bound to be 'tension' when individuals are also members of a 'group'.

From the pioneering work of the Nobel prize winner for Economics, Elinor Ostrom, in working with groups around the world to more effectively manage scarce and/or shared resources and the subsequent research, refinement and application of 'prosociality' within local communities by the evolutionary biologist, David Sloan Wilson, we now have a set of core design principles that any group in any context can apply to optimise team performance. What these established principles essentially achieve is a blueprint that accounts for our natural evolutionary responses whilst at the same time coalescing individual interests with group interests to deliver a 'prosocial' outcome of optimised performance.

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