Capstones

Descriptions of final capstone projects completed by former Master of Applied Positive Psychology students are provided below. The project abstracts below provide you with a sense of the breadth of topics that can be explored through the culminating capstone process. If you are interested in exploring more capstones, visit Penn Libraries ScholarlyCommons.

Soaringwords Empirical Research to Measure the Well-being of Hospitalized Children

by Lisa Honig Buksbaum

Positive psychology interventions can potentially significantly enhance the quality of life for pediatric patients and their loved ones. This study was designed to empirically measure the impact of a positive intervention on the well-being of pediatric patients. In a one-time 30-60 minute session, 220 patients received an inspirational SoaringSuperhero® message and artwork (from a stranger) and then were invited to create a superhero message/artwork for someone else. Before and after, participants completed a questionnaire, compiled from reliable, accredited survey instruments, administered by hospital employees, child life specialists and hospital volunteers. For every emotion, both adolescents and children were significantly more positive and less negative after the intervention than before the intervention.  Findings suggest that these positive interventions should be part of pediatric healthcare to encourage patients to take active roles in their own healing and the healing of others.  Future endeavors include expanding the study to other hospitals and testing the efficacy of other Soaringwords’ positive interventions. Altogether, this study suggests that the power of the Soaringwords’ intervention comes from impacting both physical and psychological systems in a measurable way to allow the child and his or her support system to SOAR (Somatic response, Outcomes, Agency, Reciprocity), despite the many challenges of illness.

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Thirteen Universal Assessments Which May Contribute to the ‘Good Life’

by Jeremy D. W. Clifton

Beliefs matter. This paper examines the “biggest” of all possible beliefs, universal assessments (UAs), which consist of our “take” on the whole universe. UAs are a subset of worldview, which is in turn a subset of schema. After discussing the development of Weltanschauung in continental philosophy and the capacity of schemas to generate expectancy, three previously researched UAs are identified (universal benevolence or safety, universal meaningfulness and belief in a just world). All have been shown to influence life outcomes, but three is only a beginning. Moreover, the focus of research thus far has been on alleviating the "miserable life," so we do not yet know which UAs lead to the "good life." A speculative analysis is conducted that identifies 13 UA continuum opposite pairs that might influence the "good life," defined here as the development of strengths and positive emotions. The 13 pairs include is the universe good/bad, beautiful/ugly, malleable/unchangeable, improving/declining, safe/dangerous, just/unjust, comprehensible/incomprehensible, subject-centric/not subject-centric and intentional/mindless, as well as should it be accepted/changed, explored/avoided and experienced with others/alone? This list, though only preliminary and based on the intuitions of the author, can be a point of departure for what comes next. A call is made for a coordinated and systematic UA classification program that would catalyze future research.

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The Awe Instinct: The Search for Self-Transcendence in a Secular Age

by Emily Esfahani Smith

This capstone is about self-transcendence and the related emotions of awe, admiration, inspiration, wonder and elevation. Self-transcendent experiences are those ecstatic moments when we step outside of ourselves and merge with something bigger than ourselves. In so doing, our petty day-to-day concerns become less pressing (Haidt & Morris, 2009). Different self-transcendent experiences can evoke different self-transcendent emotions. These emotions are all related. They orient an individual’s thoughts, emotions and actions away from the self and they fall into what psychologists call the “awe family” of emotions (Jonathan Haidt, MAPP class lecture, December 5, 2012). Awe occurs when people perceive something so vast that it overwhelms their current mental faculties and therefore leads people’s minds to try to accommodate this new information (Keltner & Haidt, 2003). With the rise of positive psychology, interest in self-transcendence has increased in recent years. In this capstone, I present four preliminary chapters of what will be a book on awe and transcendence. The awe emotions, I argue, are social emotions. They arose in a social context. Their biological, physiological and emotional consequences enhance social ties. And experiencing them increases well-being.

Banking on Empowerment: The Why, What and How of Strategy for High Performance

by Andrew Soren

Organizations striving to create high-performance strategies often look to the empowerment of employees in hopes of increasing innovation, engagement, customer experience and financial results. This paper applies more than two decades of empirical research from positive psychology, positive organizational scholarship and positive organizational behaviour about empowerment. It explores the veritable benefits a financial institution can achieve by engaging in an empowerment strategy, what psychological empowerment is and how to build it within large organizations. Specifically, this paper explores the HR structures, individual characteristics and leadership qualities that are the foundation of empowerment, as well as opportunities for further research.

The Well-Being Index: A Landscape of Worldwide Measures and the Potential for Large-Scale Change

by Karen Warner

Around the world, across a spectrum of disciplines and by many different pathways, measures of well-being are emerging as a means for institutions and individuals to join forces in their efforts to balance material growth and development with the rights of humans to preserve, protect and pursue those interests that lead to well-being, for both individuals and for society. Well-being indices are an important and innovative addition to the global conversation about the economics of happiness. Their rising viability with nations, communities, Nobel laureates, ordinary citizens, academics, economists and policymakers, speaks to a growing questioning of the validity and adequacy of traditional measures of national progress — notably, the gross domestic product. Through the lens of positive psychology, this capstone provides an overview of the landscape of well-being indices, identifying in one place who is measuring what, by what indicators and why. As scientific interest in the measurement of population well-being and national performance begins to deliver and document empirical results, this capstone makes a case for the well-being index as an instrument of massively disruptive and contagious change — a grand-scale positive intervention that has the potential to change the world.

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