The Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab, a research and development unit within the organization, was created to apply behavioral and brain science to real world issues and to design and promote new tools that reduce conflict, increase tolerance, and facilitate positive social change.

Why Brain and Behavioral Science?

At the Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab, we aim to use relevant neuroscience and psychology research to revolutionize the field of peacebuilding and transform how we design interventions to measurably promote social change.

The human brain contains unconscious biases that help drive conflict and prevent reconciliation. As a result, our intuitive approaches to resolving conflict can fail or even backfire. Through careful, controlled experimental research, cognitive and behavioral sciences have been able to characterize and measure a number of these biases.

The Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab is uniquely placed at the intersection of science, practice, and theory to generate new insights from science, apply what we know and learn, and share what we’re learning to advance human understanding and greater peace and coexistence.

Core Strategies and Approach

Brain and behavioral science raise critical new questions, generate important new insights, and create new methods for understanding how the human brain moves individuals and societies towards and away from conflict. As we lead the way in leveraging insights, tools, and expertise from science, we will operate using three specific strategies – research, science-informed design, and knowledge & education – in order to ensure depth and breadth of innovation and achieve sustainable and measurable impact.

Research – In-house and with partner labs, we are generating new scientific evidence and data by launching applied research projects on a range of social challenges from combating racism and reducing Islamophobia to addressing polarization and hate speech.

Science-Informed Design – Through our unique process, which combines the hard-earned experience of our practitioners and the rigorous application of scientific process, we are designing science-informed interventions, tools and evaluation metrics which are then applied and tested in the field.

Knowledge and Education – We are educating key audiences about the critical role brain science plays in reducing and preventing social conflict. We do this by developing new curriculum, conducting trainings, and disseminating new tools, metrics and insights to these audiences.

Guiding Themes

Social conflict and division has many facets, causes, and manifestations. Among the most virulent forms of conflict in our generation are racism, xenophobia, hate speech and hate crimes, sexual assault, forced migration, and violent extremism. These issues represent key areas of exploration and dedication over the next two years in the Innovation Lab, but our challenge and mandate are broader than specific issues.

The current challenges and divisions in our society reflect deeper truths about the way the human brain understands survival, belonging, exclusion, and threats. Our years of experience around the world have shed light on key specific building blocks of social conflict, and specific barriers to social cohesion and change. These building blocks are reinforced by emerging evidence from brain science that elucidates some core mechanisms, processes, and issues in the brain that directly affect social conflict.

Building on our experience and insights, we will focus the efforts of the Innovation Lab on four guiding themes, each linked to known mechanisms in the brain, and each linked to research and action agendas that we are confident can help move society away from conflict and towards greater cohesion and tolerance.

  • Social Belonging and Identity: What are the psychobiological and social effects of systemic exclusion and systemic belonging for individuals and communities? How do belonging, inclusion, and exclusion affect the development, escalation, and cessation of conflict and violence? How does group identity encourage conflict, or, on the other hand, peace?
  • Dehumanization and Empathy: Why do our minds readily and deeply understand the minds and feelings of certain “others,” but not all “others”? What is the role of dehumanization in social conflict, and to what extent does empathy matter for conflict prevention and resolution? How do we drive empathy that leads to pro-social behavior, and how can we intervene to prevent dehumanization that spurs conflict?
  • Violence, Trauma, and Victimhood: People kill people for a multitude of reasons, but how can we better pinpoint who commits violence, and why? When does intergroup tension escalate to full-blown violence? And after violence, how do individuals and communities overcome the effects of trauma? How do trauma and victimhood affect personal and collective identity, and what role does this play in future conflict? How does systemic and multigenerational trauma affect individuals and communities?
  • Rebuilding Social Trust: How do societies rebuild themselves following division, injustice, or violence? How do we prevent the breakdown of trust and cohesion in increasingly divided, polarized, and pluralistic societies? What can brain science tell us about how social trust is formed and strengthened, but also how it erodes and breaks down?

To learn more about our current initiatives, click here.