Psychology of Progress

Progress is powered by people.

Who We Are

Psychology of Progress, a project of the Challey Institute at North Dakota State University, seeks to launch a new area of psychology focused on human progress. Our goal is to help individuals and organizations understand and apply psychological science to promote progress and flourishing.


Our Director

Clay Routledge, Ph.D. (@clayroutledge) 

Dr. Clay Routledge, an existential psychologist, is the director of the Psychology of Progress Project. He is the Arden and Donna Hetland Distinguished Professor of Business in the Department of Management and Marketing and a scholar at the Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth at North Dakota State University.

Read more about Dr. Clay Routledge.


Our Research Team

Rachel Delaney, Graduate Research Assistant 

Rachel Delaney is a first-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Psychology at North Dakota State University. She received her B.A. in psychology and communication from Purdue University Fort Wayne in 2021. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she joined the Psychology of Progress Project as a graduate research assistant in January 2022. 

Thomas Stueland, Research Assistant 

Thomas Stueland is a junior studying psychology at North Dakota State University. Originally from Fargo, ND, he joined the Psychology of Progress Project as a research assistant in January 2022. 


Our Partners

Our work is supported by a number of organizations and collaborative partners, including the Archbridge Institute and Institute for Humane Studies.

Why We Started

In order to sustain and accelerate human progress, it is important to understand the psychology of progress.

Over the last several centuries, scientific, technological, medical, and social advances have made people’s lives easier, safer, and freer. Yet, there are a number of trends that tell a story of growing cynicism, distrust, disconnection, anxiety, and hopelessness among Americans, perhaps especially among young adults. This juxtaposition of progress and pessimism suggests that despite the many advantages we enjoy today, many Americans believe we are a society and world in decline. People are losing faith in their nation and each other, and are increasingly mentally distressed. These views could prove prophetic to the extent they encourage individuals to retreat from the shared institutions, beliefs, and goals that have contributed to human progress. Mental distress is a major barrier to progress because people who are anxious and afraid are less inclined to take risks, explore unfamiliar ideas, be tolerant of those who are different, and have the confidence and optimistic mindset needed to take on big challenges. 

These and related observations suggest that a new area of scholarship focused on the psychology of progress is needed. Progress relies on motivated and hopeful people. To make the world a better place, people must want the world to be a better place, believe it can be a better place, and view themselves as agents of progress - individuals who have the ability and responsibility to positively contribute to the cause of progress. In addition, progress requires curiosity, creativity, tolerance, resilience, meaning in life, and other cognitive and affective characteristics and states that cultivate entrepreneurial, innovative, and solution-focused individuals and societies. These are all areas in which the field of psychology has much to offer and discover. 

What human progress thought leaders are saying:

"Psychology of Progress has arrived at a critical time for the nation and world. Pessimism threatens to derail the advances that have saved billions of lives and turn us against one another. Dr. Routledge and his team use the highest standards of research and communication to refocus us on the miraculous progress we have made as well as that yet to come. They are building a happier and more hopeful society."

- Arthur C. Brooks, Professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, and New York Times bestselling author


“An awareness of progress is not a matter of “optimism”: of seeing the glass as half full through rose-tinted glasses. It’s a matter of knowing some of the most important facts in human history, and of being committed to improving the world through understanding it. Exploring the nature of progress and people’s grasp of it is necessary to ensure that progress will continue, and The Psychology of Progress Project is ideally situated to achieve those goals.”

- Steven Pinkner, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University


“I spent the last decade collecting data about human progress and giving talks on the improving state of the world. When presented with facts showing humanity's progress over the last few hundred years, some people appear delighted. Others seem incredulous. I have even encountered people who seemed genuinely angered by what they saw and heard. As far as I can tell, the more ideologically committed people are to a set of apocalyptic beliefs, the less likely are they to accept the empirical evidence and change their outlook on the world. That's where a statistician's toil ends, and a psychologist's work begins. Why do people believe ideas unsupported by facts? What utility do they derive from embracing doom and gloom? I can't think of anyone better suited to answer those questions than Professor Routledge and his team.”

- Marian Tupy, editor of and Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute


What We Do

We conduct original research, identify and highlight existing knowledge, and engage in outreach activities within and beyond the academy to promote progress and flourishing. 




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