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January 31, 2024

New PDN Paper Published in Nature: Communications Psychology

We're excited to share that PDN's Science Board has its first published article! 

We're excited to share that PDN's Science Board has its first published article! 

We're excited to share that PDN's Science Board has its first published article! 

"A framework for promoting online prosocial behavior via digital interventions", published last month in Nature: Communications Psychology, highlights PDN's library of prosocial interventions while recommending how independent researchers and tech platforms can better coordinate to share and generate new research insights.

Both academics and tech platforms hold vast stores of research that shed light on effective prosocial design, yet those insights are often not  shared. One of the many barriers to cross-pollination is the lack of common frameworks, which can bridge research to practice by communicating the contexts for a design's application. 

In the paper, authored by members of PDN's Science Board with David Grüning as principal author, we recommend adopting a temporal framework for applying research to practice, describing and categorizing prosocial features and tools as either proactive, interactive or reactive. 

  • Proactive design, like reminders of norms, are upstream features that promote prosocial interaction and reduce the incidence and effect of harmful content. 
  • Interactive features, for example flagging before posting, intervene in at the moment to mitigate potential harm or encourage prosocial action. 
  • Reactive design, such as removal explanations, responds after a behavior with the intent of either reducing recidivism (if the behavior is harmful) or encouraging prosocial behavior.

We don't claim this is the only - or even best - framework for organizing and sharing information about prosocial design, although it is similar to frameworks and principles used by colleagues in the responsible tech movement. Indeed, PDN has previously also rallied for prosocial researchers and practitioners to adopt other common frameworks around the goals and principles of prosocial design. Researchers, likewise, have created multiple conceptual distinctions, for example, between interventions that "nudge" behavior in the moment or "boost" users' internal capacity to be prosocial. We are excited to continue to explore with researchers and practitioners other frameworks that can help share and build knowledge. 

Along those lines, the paper also makes a series of observations and recommendations on how we can collectively better share and build knowledge, including developing infrastructure to facilitate sharing of platform data, building on the directives of the EU's Digital Services Act, and encouraging platforms to share more detailed results of their in-house tests on prosocial design, giving researchers and other practitioners an ability to evaluate their effectiveness. Since submitting this paper, PDN has continued to encourage the acceleration of public facing research by co-hosting a convening of researchers with colleagues at Jigsaw.

Finally, we call for more research on proactive and prosocial design. The vast majority of existing research focuses on reducing harmful online behavior, often as a reaction to that behavior. This is understandable; platforms, researchers and civic groups want to be sure users and societies are not harmed by technology. But, as PDN colleagues have made the case for, vast potential gains can come from studying and integrating design that signals healthy interactions between users. When platform users are engaging in healthy and fulfilling interactions, harmful content will necessarily be drowned out. With proactive and prosocial design we can set the bar higher than "reduce harm".

Check out the paper in Nature!

About the Prosocial Design Network

The Prosocial Design Network researches and promotes prosocial design: evidence-based design practices that bring out the best in human nature online. Learn more at prosocialdesign.org.

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