Brain Health

Psychological Geographies: Mapping Minds for Social Health

By Beyond Conflict Innovation Lab

Location

United States

Team Leader

Michael Niconchuk

Our solution:

We combine data visualization and GIS technology with psychometrics and neuroscience tools to map indicators of conflict potential, trauma, and polarization in vulnerable communities. We create "psychological geographies" that capture critical differences in how communities think, in order to inform grassroots and policy interventions for mental and social health.

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Our pitch:

We create psychological geographies, or heat maps of psychological, cognitive, and biological data for a given geography. These maps visually represent geo-tagged data on issues such as trauma and stress, aggression, intergroup empathy, dehumanization, and social trust, each of which have been uniquely implicated in neuroscience and psychology research as drivers of conflict. First, we work with clients to isolate relevant indicators (e.g. depression, intergroup perceptions, trauma exposure, aggression, executive function) for the context of their social and brain health problem. In other words, we first establish what we want to measure, based on the social problem at hand. Our teams then work with community partners to collect geo-tagged data that will indicate if and where these problems are more significant. This geographic data then informs how interventions are tailored down to the neighborhood level, improving outreach, increasing specification of intervention, and saving resources.

Psychological geographies are, at their core, a diagnostic tool rooted in our growing recognition that our shared neural and biological architecture is implicated and involved in the spread of pressing social conflicts and challenges. For example, dehumanization, which is a failure of the mind to engage in emotion recognition and mental state inference of an "other," is quite simple to measure and can greatly inform how we understand dynamics of potential conflict. 

The creation of psychological geographies comes out of years of work in the conflict negotiation and reduction sectors, where it became clear that an understanding of social violence and poor social health requires a nuanced understanding of how we think, how the brain works, and how different communities are psychologically shaped by their unique histories, experiences, and contexts. These maps provide earlier and more accurate diagnosis of social problems, and can greatly improve how we address mental and social health across the world. 

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The problem:

Racism, oppression, and violence are present across culture. It seems as if these problems are spreading, not confined to specific geographies. In many ways, these common challenges jeopardize the health of our selves and societies, and these challenge have origins in how our minds work when confronted by injustice, trauma, perceived threats, and competition. To date, there have been no concerted efforts to explore and visually represent psychological and cognitive underpinnings of violence and social conflict. Through this project, we are enabling "earlier and more effective" diagnosis of social conflict by measuring and mapping critical elements of how we think.

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Why our solution will solve the problem:

We believe that if we capture unique mental and behavioral profiles of communities, then we can design better interventions for social wellbeing, conflict prevention, and mental health. Fundamentally, our brains affect our societies, and the health of our societies affects the health of our brains. For example, neuroscience literature indicates that dehumanization, bias, and empathy gaps increase the likelihood of conflict, and on the other hand, trauma, stress, and conflict subsequently affect information processing, memory, and intergroup cognition and perception. Nuanced mapping of key indicators of the drivers and impacts of conflict is a critical step in ensuring better programming.

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Our solution's stage of development:

Research

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Target Outcomes

Our target outcomes:

As a diagnostic tool, our Psychological Geographies will benefit organizations working in conflict management, violence prevention, and social cohesion with more accurate and deeper data to inform their programs. In turn, their programs directly affect thousands of individuals and families in vulnerable communities. Ultimately, psychological geographies strive to make programming more granular, and more responsive to subconscious realities that create objective policy challenges. We will focus initial efforts on the United States and Middle East, working through field partners (including INGOs and local organizations) interested in better mapping conflict potential and conflict dynamics.  

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How we will measure our progress:

  • Outcome: 5 organizations utilize our tools for improved programming
    Measurement Plan: Track contracts and manage these 5 clients
  • Outcome: 20,000 individuals "mapped" across programs
    Measurement Plan: Track data points collected
  • Outcome: Improved program outcomes for partner organizations
    Measurement Plan: Commission impact studies for each partner/field site to assess program improvement
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The populations we will benefit initially:

  • Adult
  • High-income economies
  • Low-income economies (< $1005 GNI)
  • Urban
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The regions we will benefit initially:

  • Middle East and North Africa
  • US and Canada
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The countries we will benefit initially:

  • Germany
  • Jordan
  • Lebanon
  • Turkey
  • United States
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Technology

The technologies we employ:

  • Consumer-facing software (mobile applications, cloud services)
  • Digital systems (machine learning, control systems, big data)
  • Imaging and sensor technology
  • Management & design approaches
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Why our solution is unique:

While there has been tremendous innovation in portable and deployable technology for capturing neural, cognitive, and physiological data over the past decade, most of these technologies are either exclusively utilized in lab settings, or are utilized in the context of response measurements (i.e. in response to specific stimuli like advertisements or messaging). Very little has been done to leverage such technologies as predictive measures of conflict, and furthermore, this technology has not yet influenced the humanitarian or development sectors. 

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Why our solution is human-centered:

Technology is only a part of the puzzle in developing robust, accurate, and actionable psychological geographies. The production of these maps requires deep consultation with local communities and experts in those contexts, in addition to technical and academic expertise in the brain and behavioral sciences. Conflict dynamics and neural processes, to a certain extent, are culturally-influenced, so communities in the developing world must be brought into the process of designing and brainstorming indicators to capture data that predicts and maps conflict drivers.  

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How people will access our solution:

Our maps aim to transform the big data of subconscious cognitive and psychological factors into actionable pathways for international and community organizations working in conflict areas. We will work with existing and new field partners (INGOs/community orgs), for a fee, to choose the relevant data points and collect data in the field, and they, through their programs (mostly grant and donor-funded) will target specific communities. There is no fee-for-service for those in affected communities, and Beyond Conflict maintains an active network of development and humanitarian organizational partners. 

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Technology-Readiness Level:

1-3 (Formulation)
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Business Plan

Our organization:

Non-Profit

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Where we are located:

United States
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How we will sustain our team financially:

The Psychological Geographies project is part of a set of larger initiatives housed within the Innovation Lab for Neuroscience and Social Conflict. Our team consists of regional experts, former aid workers, psychologists, and neuroscientists, all of whom have worked together to develop the initiative. 

The Innovation Lab works on other initiatives focusing on dehumanization and empathy, stress and trauma, and social identity, and these initiatives, in addition to private fundraising, sustain R&D of new projects like Psychological Geographies. 

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The factors limiting our success:

Our team is rich in expertise, but we lack data scientists or data visualization experts. While we have bootstrapped some short-term solutions, we currently lack capacity to improve the product and merge the innovations from data science with innovations form neuroscience. We maintain a robust network of field partners with access to populations of interest in the United States and the Middle East, in particular. Early trials of the concept have relied on sample sized between 600-1000 and have yielded positive results, but we will need to ensure larger sample sizes moving forward. 

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How long we have been working on our solution:

Less than 1 year
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How long it will take to develop a pilot:

3-6 months
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How long it will take to scale beyond our pilot:

6-12 months
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Our expected annual budget:

$300000

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How much of our budget we've secured to date:

$0

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Our promotional video:

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Our promotional materials:

http://www.beyondconflictint.org/

https://www.facebook.com/BeyondConflictInt/

https://twitter.com/beyond_conflict?lang=en

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Partnership Needs

We're looking for partners in these fields:

  • Behavioral / Mental Health
  • Diagnostics & Testing
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Why we're applying to Solve:

SOLVE convenes a unique network of individuals who share an interest in improving the state of the world. Our project needs technology support and mentoring, particularly on the data visualization, analysis, and user interface aspects. MIT is the ideal starting point for cooperation and partnerships where we can really leverage our expertise in neuroscience and conflict prevention to meet technologists and data mappers and further develop this product to improve conflict programming for thousands of individuals.

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Our current partners:

Current relevant partners include MIT's SaxeLab for Social Cognitive Neuroscience, the Bruneau Lab at UPenn, the New School for Social Research, and Ashoka/ MeWeSyria (SOLVERs), the Ford Foundation, Open Society Institute, Questscope, and IRC.

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