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.

2022 Capstones

By Christine Cornwell

This capstone explores and highlights the key ingredients that foster self-efficacy and build the character strength of perseverance, especially in children of primary age. By understanding how these positive psychology concepts relate to each other, this capstone discovers that children can achieve a life of excellence when they believe they can and choose to persevere despite difficulties and failures. Further, this capstone demonstrates why a story is the most compelling way to engage and connect with children. Through the power of story, a positive psychology children's picture book and story-related activities will bring the concepts to life in a fun, fantastical, and fictional way. These applications aim to introduce and familiarize children with valued skills to build a stronger sense of self-efficacy and develop their character strengths that societies and cultures around the world value and consider worthwhile cultivating.

By Kimberly Dickman

The empirical evidence of the incredible power of touch to both ameliorate the negative and to bolster the positive is undeniable. From Harlow’s monkeys to the Romanian orphans, the lack of touch is shown to impact the quality of life and the ability to live. Research on tactile therapy with premature babies has shown the potent impact of touch on growth, development, and connection. This paper proposes that touch be included in the science of applied positive psychology. Though there are factors such as sexual violence and contagious diseases that caution us from physically engaging with others, we cannot allow these nuanced factors to stop us from investigating a potential arena for well-being, thriving, and living a good life. A call for future empirical research and positive interventions with touch will be presented in this paper.

By Mark O’Brien

Background: Posttraumatic growth (PTG)—positive changes that people may experience in the aftermath of highly distressing experiences—has been observed in survivors of a variety of events but has not been previously studied among people who have caused accidental death or injury (PCADIs). In addition, questions remain about the role, in PTG, of changes in the assumptive world and the relationships between PTG and distress, personality, and social support.

Method: Participants (N = 528), included PCADIs (n = 44) and a non-trauma comparison group (n = 484), who completed the Primals Inventory and measures of personality, anxiety, and depression. PCADIs (n = 43) also completed measures of PTG, PTG behavioral changes, social support, and life satisfaction.

Results: Modest levels of PTG commensurate with survivors of other relevant forms of distress were observed. Results demonstrated significant differences between primal world beliefs Good, Safe, Enticing, Just, Regenerative, Funny, and Improvable in PCADIs and non-trauma survivors as well as significant positive relationships between PTG and the primals Good, Safe, Alive, Just, Regenerative, Funny, and Improvable and between PTG and reported behavior changes related to PTG, but no significant relationships were found between PTG and distress, PTG and social support, or PTG and personality traits Extraversion, Openness to Experience, Conscientiousness, or Agreeableness (though a significant negative relationship was observed between PTG and Neuroticism).

Conclusions: PCADIs may experience PTG that both influences and is influenced by primal world beliefs, but the hypothesized relationships between PTG and distress, personality, and social support were not observed. Additional studies with larger PCADI populations may find these relationships exist at a statistically significant level. And future research should aim to develop interventions addressing the distress and growth potential of this population.

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

By Abimbola Tschetter

The stories we tell can shape our lives and our experiences. Unfortunately, many African American adolescents are often subjected to stereotypes and one-sided deficit narratives that can become self-fulfilling prophecies undermining their achievement, aspirations, and well-being. However, the college admission process offers an intervention opportunity to help these students tell a different story—their story. In this paper, the author presents an analysis of the threats and opportunities inherent in the college admission process and a literature review on topics aligned to three pillars—beliefs, belonging, and becoming. The paper concludes with the application plan for an intervention that leverages the college admission essay and essay-writing process to reframe beliefs and shape positive personal narratives. Inspired by research from narrative psychology, social psychology, and positive psychology, OurStory challenges dominant deficit narratives and aims to improve academic outcomes, college matriculation rates, and adolescent flourishing and well-being.

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

By KC White

In people with cystic fibrosis, a genetic, progressive disease with a shortened life expectancy, depression rates have been measured at twice the global average, which is concerning because depression is itself a risk factor for people with chronic illnesses. This empirical study aims to assess 1) how positive views in the form of optimism, hope, or positive primal world beliefs in people with cystic fibrosis compared to the general population, and 2) whether positive views correlate with better health and greater well-being in people living with cystic fibrosis. A cross-sectional design was employed using validated psychology questionnaires to determine levels of well-being in people with CF (n = 117) compared to control groups (n = 88, n = 599). Independent T-tests and ANCOVA data showed that positive views in the form of optimism, hope and primals in people with cystic fibrosis are similar to those of the general population. Linear regression models showed that optimism, hope and primals did not correlate with FEV1, the standard metric for measuring lung function. Data suggests that positive views about the future and the world can co-exist with elevated rates of depression and are independent from physical health metrics. Further research could assess if cultivating positive views could reduce levels of depression in people with cystic fibrosis.

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