The landscape of prosociality

Published online 8 June 2011 | Nature 474, 146-149 (2011) | doi:10.1038/474146a

In Evolution: Darwin’s City, Emma Marris explores the work of David Sloan Wilson who is using the lens of evolution to understand life in the struggling city of Binghamton, New York. Wilson comes originally from the field of  evolutionary biology with a long-standing focus on understanding the puzzle of altruism. However, his work has turned so much towards a mixture of evolutionary social sciences, community organizing and urban design that he is sort of viewed within his field as a oddity.

Marris writes about how Wilson’s studies led him to “see whether he could raise up the prosocial valleys by creating conditions in which cooperation becomes a winning strategy — in effect, hacking the process of cultural evolution (see ‘A map of prosociality’). He set about this largely by instituting friendly competitions between groups. His first idea was a park-design project, in which neighbourhoods were invited to compete for park-improvement funds by creating the best plan.


3 thoughts on “The landscape of prosociality

  1. Very interesting and thought-provoking stuff, as were the earlier links to interviews with Nina Lister and the SWA guy. Thanks.

    As a small side comment on altruism, I’d be curious to see how Wilson fits spirituality into the picture, i.e. do a lot of people act altruistically partly because of their belief or sense that they are being watched by a benevolent higher power? i suppose that’s one of the commonly identified motivations for altruistic behavior.

  2. Pingback: Social Design using feedback loops: guides and manuals « Thoughts on Everything under the Sun or I am a guilty Secularist

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