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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, you can visit Penn's Scholarly Commons website to browse project abstracts or download full projects.

By Adam Burgoon

This paper outlines a novel theoretical framework intended to act as a bridge to the “promised land.” Originally a religious reference, the promised landis now generalized to mean “something and especially a place or condition believed to promise final satisfaction or realization of hopes” (Merriam-Webster, 2018). Positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship have accomplished much, including the memorialization of aspects of such a promised land, but they have not yet effectively engineered a bridge that enables people, and society as a whole, to confidently and consistently cross into the promised land. In this paper, Adam describes five design challenges for building such a bridge and addresses each of them with a design principle capable of overcoming the design challenge in question. Together, these five design principles compose a theoretical framework—the engineering blueprint for a bridge to the promised land. The fifth and final design principle is a specific bridging formula that paves the way for mass exodus to the promised land. Lastly, Adam describes an example of the bridging formula that is currently underway and proposes ways to accelerate such examples so that the novel theoretical framework contained herein, unlike much of academic theory, need not remain theoretical.

By Christina Cheuk

We are healthier, richer, safer, and better educated than ever before. Yet, paradoxically, depression is on the rise in the United States. Given the strong emphasis that positive psychology places on the importance of social relationships, I review direct and proxy evidence that relationships are deteriorating in the United States. Additionally, I outline next steps to strengthen this hypothesis. The implications of this work point toward a need to complement the joys of modernity with interventions and policies that support strengthening our weakened relationships.

By Scott Clewis

In the aftermath of a medical error or adverse event, physicians can experience a range of unproductive negative thoughts and emotions, as well as psychologically and emotionally debilitating symptoms, generally referred to as second victim syndrome (SVS). The literature in positive psychology suggests that there are numerous evidence-based interventions related to managing thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that can help mitigate against adverse psychological consequences when confronting negative events. This paper hypothesizes that by arming medical students, residents, and established physicians with five science-based resilience interventions related to cognitive and emotional regulation, they will be better equipped to maintain resilience, or perhaps even thrive, in the face of medical errors and adverse events, thereby preventing or mitigating against the severe consequences of SVS.

by Jennifer Cory

Arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy is a life-threatening, inherited disease, and a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young, otherwise healthy adolescents and adults. Through the advances of modern technology, those who receive this once-devastating diagnosis, now stand an excellent chance at survival through the use of medication and a life-saving device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. However, living under the peril of life-threatening arrhythmias and life-saving shocks can cause considerable psychosocial disturbances, and potentially contribute to diminished medical outcomes. Though living with a chronic, life-threatening illness poses many challenges, it is both possible and imperative that we provide those dealing with such a diagnosis the skills necessary to go beyond surviving to thriving. Borrowing heavily from the research and collaborative efforts from the field of positive psychology, Civilian Resilience Training is an empirically-informed set of interventions designed to protect patients with these diagnoses against psychopathology and promote their ability to be resilient in the face of the significant health crises that inevitably arise as a result of their disease, as well as the lesser day-to-day crises life brings. The program is designed to help diminish the negative effects of diagnosis, reduce disease symptomology, and encourage effective coping with defibrillator intervention, while enhancing psychosocial well-being and flourishing. It is hoped this program will serve as an interventional model to build flourishing among patient populations with other chronic diseases as well.

See Jen's full capstone on Penn's Scholarly Commons website.

By Marianna Graziosi

This capstone seeks to further what is known about the complex emotion of awe. In most studies on awe, the stimuli used to elicit the emotion involves nature, music, space or grand theories—but awe elicited by the actions of other people has generally not been studied. The current study explores whether awe can be elicited in close interpersonal relationships and how this experience may be distinct from awe elicited by other stimuli. This capstone begins by exploring awe in existing psychological literature, focusing on findings related to awe in the interpersonal domain. Then, an empirical study (N = 636) on awe is described. Using both quantitative and qualitative approaches, this mixed methods study found empirical support for the claim that awe is elicited by close relationships, referred to here as “interpersonal awe.” Interpersonal awe seems to sit somewhere between the experience of awe in nature and general positivity, as revealed by significant differences in ratings of awe between all three conditions. Qualitative analyses revealed that interpersonal awe was defined by themes of virtue or excellence of character. Interpersonal awe is positioned as a distinct form of emotional experience, distinguished from related states of admiration and elevation, and, lastly, discussed in terms of the implications of these findings for well-being. Perhaps awe, while an ordinary response to the extraordinary, is also an extraordinary response to the ordinary.

By John Hollway

Like any complex, dynamic system, the American criminal justice system makes mistakes. Unfortunately, criminal justice organizations lack a systematic process enabling them to learn from cases of error. Ignoring or minimizing errors erodes organizational legitimacy and contributes to a downward spiral of legal cynicism that increases violent crime. This paper describes the application of positive psychology and procedural justice to restore legal optimism—confidence and trust that the criminal justice system will respond in a just fashion to criminal activity—through Just Culture Event Reviews (JCERs), non-blaming multi-stakeholder reviews of cases where the system has erred. JCERs identify contributing factors to error and generate corrective actions designed to prevent those errors in the future, while accurately allocating systemic, organizational and individual accountability to protect communities and criminal justice professionals. JCERs offer the potential to enhance the legitimacy of participating organizations, generating increased engagement and affiliation with the criminal justice system from community members and criminal justice professionals. Infusing JCERs with specific positive psychological interventions designed to inspire trust, innovation and empathy can optimize their outcomes, creating a newfound legal optimism that has the potential to reduce crime over time.

See John’s full capstone on Penn's Scholarly Commons website.

By Helen Kaye

Burnout first emerged as a subject of research in the United States over forty years ago, but the incidence of burnout worldwide has increased substantially over recent years. Today, burnout is recognized globally as a major concern. Despite the recognition of burnout as a costly and complex challenge to workers’ health and productivity, there is very little understanding of the burnout phenomenon by the public at large. Moreover, despite increasing globalization, and the realities of the multi-cultural workplace, there are very few cross-cultural studies on burnout and positive psychology research on burnout to date has focused on individual, rather than organizational, solutions. This paper’s intent is to begin filling this research gap by analyzing the different predictive factors and paradoxes of burnout from the cross-cultural perspective of France and the United States—two major world economies with distinctly different labor markets—to illustrate the complexity, paradoxes and misunderstandings surrounding burnout. Based on a review of research on the predictive factors of burnout, as applied to the American and French workplaces, a framework of suggested features is presented for creating sustainable and healthy workplaces by applying models and theories from the field of positive psychology. A call is made for further research on the design of workplaces based on these elements. 

By Amy O’Sullivan

Eating disorders are bio-psycho-social diseases that affect nearly 20 million women and 10 million men in America (National Eating Disorder Association, 2018). They are serious but treatable illnesses that develop when a genetic predisposition is paired with an environmental activation. Out of all mental illnesses, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate, with one person dying as a direct result of an eating disorder every 62 minutes (Smink, Van Hoeken, & Hoek, 2012). Eating disorders adversely affect every aspect of human life, including physical and mental health, intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships, professional pursuits, sense of meaning and purpose, and overall well-being. Existing treatment methods provide opportunities for individuals with eating disorders to interrupt and reduce symptoms. Relapse during and soon after treatment, however, is extremely common. The field of eating disorders has not yet pivoted to address what patients need to sustain recovery and thrive. Positive psychology’s theory, research, and interventions present a supplemental treatment approach for practitioners to implement to revive the recovery process to increase the success for those struggling with eating disorders. Positive psychology can operate to empower and motivate patients, reconnecting them to their meaning and purpose outside of the illness. This paper discusses eating disorders in-depth, recognizes and applauds traditional treatment methods, and proposes how enhancing positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment can further promote recovery.

See Amy’s full capstone on Penn’s Scholarly Commons website.

By Henry Richardson

Spirituality and business are generally thought to be in opposition. Spirituality is considered private, sacred, unbounded and religious in nature. Business, on the other hand, is thought to be practical, contained and at times cut-throat. However, spiritual practices like yoga and meditation have shown positive benefits for employees and organizations. In this paper, Henry defines “the spiritual business” and utilizing the definition of spirituality to give insight into how businesses may overlap management and leadership training with spiritual principles. Spirituality, coming from the Latin word spiritus, is defined as that which breathes life into living systems. In this paper, Henry uses this definition to explore how spiritual practices not only breathe life into individual living systems, but also breathe life into larger living systems like organizations. Yoga and mindfulness are ancient techniques that provide frameworks for how to most effectively generate sustainable energy for individuals. Henry applies these same frameworks to show how organizations can effectively breathe life into employees and the entirety of the organization. Henry looks closely at the benefits of yoga, the research on mindfulness and the effectiveness of appreciative inquiry for creating a sense of life for whole system flourishing. Utilizing the analogy that a healthy human is made of a vibrant body, mind and spirit, the spiritual business aims to breathe life into the body, mind and spirit of an organization.

See Henry’s full capstone on Penn's Scholarly Commons website.

By Mina Simhai

Positive psychology interventions can increase well-being, and this paper proposes three personalized interventions for enhancing meaning in life, one component of well-being. Part I lays a theoretical foundation, providing an overview of positive psychology; meaning, its benefits and its sources; and research on pursuing meaning. Part II explains the One Important Year Project and related book I plan to write entitled One Important Year: One Human’s Quest to Cultivate a Year that Matters. It proposes three pathways for cultivating meaning in life: seeing meaning, building meaning, and giving meaning. These pathways form the basis of twelve monthly meaning interventions that I will implement in the One Important Year Project. Finally, Part III proposes one representative monthly meaning intervention for each pathway and examines the empirical underpinnings: gratitude from the seeing meaning pathway, time in nature from the building meaning pathway, and caring for an elderly, widowed parent from the giving meaning pathway. The latter examines the meaninglessness trifecta and protective factors that buffer against meaninglessness. An outline of the book is contained in an appendix. The future vision is a community of people cultivating their own One Important Year projects, inspired by this paper and the book I will write.

By Katy Sine

Self-love is a prevalent topic in philosophical and academic literature, as well as contemporary culture. Some view self-love as a beneficial and necessary component to self-actualization, well-being, and loving others. However, many in the scientific community associate self-love with narcissism and selfishness. This paper advances a theoretical argument towards a healthy form of self-love. To better understand the relationship between self-love and narcissism, we also developed a measure of unconditional, non-narcissistic, self-love, called “The Whole Self Love Scale.” Whole self-love creates an integration from inside out, an important nuance that distinguishes it from other highly correlated positive self-constructs. The Whole Self-Love Scale showed a high degree of convergent validity when measured against similar constructs and a very high degree of divergent validity in relationship to narcissism and contingencies. Furthermore, whole self-love was highly correlated with measures of satisfaction with life and positive affect. Collectively, this evidence suggests that whole self-love is an important element of subjective well-being and should not be considered a form of narcissism.

by Paddy Steinfort

Many psychological constructs under the heading of Positive Psychology are important to the careers of athletes and other high-level performers. Grit and optimism have both been linked to performance outcomes in multiple disciplines, and interventions have been trialed to develop these factors in individuals and groups, with varying levels of success. Using an adapted version of the Penn Resiliency Program (PRP) and Master Resilience Training (MRT) programs used to train resilience in both education and military settings, we implemented a mental toughness training intervention with a group of professional football players (n = 22) and also followed a control group (n = 13) in the same team. Results show the training was effective at increasing optimism but not grit, and had a positive impact on performance over the following season that was moderated by previous performance levels. Correlations and regression models also showed that optimism and grit together were subsequently predictive of consistency and performance. We discuss the moderating effects of the player’s pre-training level of ability as well as potential leadership effects and offer recommendations for future research into the links between optimism, grit and performance.

See Paddy's full capstone on Penn's Scholarly Commons website.

by Shannon Thompson

The purpose of the following study is to explore the psychological practice and racing experience of competitive distance runners. It is proposed that a new mindset called DARE state be used to describe the mental experience of athletes when they are engaged in training that encompasses a “love of challenge,” deliberate practice and flow state in the same workout or race. The presence of both deliberate practice and flow in the same session is a new proposition as previously these two concepts have been viewed to be opposed. Seventy-four competitive college runners completed measures that assessed deliberate practice, flow state and athletes’ love of challenge after intense practices and races. We found that runners do experience aspects of deliberate practice and flow during the same session when both practicing and racing. In fact, deliberate practice and flow scales were found to be positively correlated. The second hypothesis of this study, which stated that DARE state scores would be positively correlated with running performance improvement was supported. DARE state scores were positively related to athletes’ subjective ratings of performance, coaches’ ratings of athlete improvement and the degree to which athletes were meeting their coach’s expectations. DARE state was also positively correlated with objective measures of running improvement, but this failed to reach significance. In sum, we found evidence that both deliberate practice and flow can be experienced by athlete’s in the same training session, and that athletes who experience both of these phenomena in the same session frequently may improve more quickly than athletes who do not.

See Shannon’s full capstone on Penn's Scholarly Commons website.

by Danny Torrance

Positive psychology can help individuals do the right thing. Doing the right thing is embedded in Aristotle’s definition of human flourishing (eudaimonia), which entails both being good and feeling good. This paper does not attempt to provide a formal definition of what is good but argues that discussing goodness in abstraction is important for any examination of the good life. Acting well is not always easy and we often fail to do what is right despite our best intentions. This is why we need practical wisdom (phronesis). Practical wisdom is defined as a master virtue that allows one to be morally perceptive, to deliberate between courses of action, and to make a reasoned choice that is aligned with worthwhile ends. It guides individuals towards human excellence by exerting our strengths in moderation to establish good habits, which ultimately forms a good character. Practical wisdom is needed to help individuals deliberate between internal and external goods and to find balance between conflicting aims. This paper argues that practical wisdom is necessary for any individual or professional to become the best that he/she can be and to truly flourish. Additionally, practical wisdom has the potential to bolster other constructs in positive psychology, including resilience, and is ripe for future research endeavors. By adopting practical wisdom as a master virtue, positive psychology can fulfill its original aims of making the lives of all people better and of building flourishing communities.

See Danny’s full capstone on Penn's Scholarly Commons website.

By Joel Treisman

In the opening line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, we read that all happy families are alike, yet all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. The Anna Karenina Principle is derived from this and is understood to mean that success in any endeavor is so elusive that failure to achieve even one condition for success will lead to certain doom. Applying this principle to the family, one might say that a deficiency in any one element of family well-being will prevent family flourishing and doom a family to be unhappy. Thus, there are many more ways for a family to be unhappy than to flourish. Is this a helpful frame through which to view family well-being and happiness? What have scholars from the science of human flourishing learned about the conditions for family well-being? How does individual well-being relate to family flourishing? How do positive psychologists conceptualize, define, and measure family well-being? Below, I present findings from a broad survey of the positive psychology literature related to defining and measuring individual and family flourishing. I conclude with a conceptual framework for a Family Flourishing Dashboard (FFD). The dashboard incorporates a curated subset of scales for measuring subjective individual and family well-being. Such a dashboard may help families and the practitioners who work with them by promoting informed and constructive discussion about individual family members’ hopes and goals for the family. Practitioners who work with families may find this dashboard of value in planning and developing positive interventions intended to boost family well-being.

by Katie Wallace

This paper introduces positive organizational ritual – defined as a formalized and enduring intervention that utilizes symbolism and collective experience to elevate individuals and unite them under a shared life-giving purpose and organizational identity. The positive use of ritual in organizational settings might offer value to businesses who hope to increase revenue and profitability while benefiting the lives, communities, and ecosystems they impact. Through its deeply meaningful and experiential nature, collective ritual can elevate individuals and build organizational cohesion and momentum. The first part of the paper provides an overview of relevant insights into individual and organizational flourishing drawn from the fields of positive psychology and positive organizational scholarship. In this section, a model for whole-system flourishing and excellence among individuals, organizations, and other life-systems is proposed as it provides a foundation that ritual will build upon. In the second part, positive organizational ritual is defined and its ability to weave whole-system flourishing is reviewed. Characteristics of positive organizational ritual are outlined in this section, possible varieties of rituals are suggested, and future directions for research are identified. Finally, because ritual has historically woven cultures that were disempowering and even potentially dangerous, cautions for applying ritual in the workplace are provided.

By Sari Wilson

Research has shown the benefits of religion and spirituality to an individual’s well-being. And yet, over the last several decades, the Catholic Church has seen a decline in affiliated members, especially amongst adolescents. Furthermore, this same population of adolescents has experienced exponential increases in anxiety, depression, and suicide rates, which begs the question: how must the Church respond? This paper examines this decline in religious affiliation and decrease in adolescent well-being, looking specifically towards character strengths and virtue for remedies. Finally, using the new science of positive psychology, this paper will propose that holiness is found through living the virtuous life, which ultimately leads to a life of fulfillment.

See Sari’s full capstone on Penn’s Scholarly Commons website.

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