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.

2021 Capstones

By Kym Baum

Mobile expatriate employees frequently relocate around the world, living and working in foreign locations for one to five years at a time. Research shows expatriate relational skills and the ability to form social connections with others in a host country are vital for overall adjustment and work success. Despite academic calls for training to develop these capabilities, strategies and fundamental components have not been proposed to achieve this objective. The current paper posits positive psychology can fill this gap in the expatriate literature by offering empirically supported interventions that enhance essential relational skills, specifically through mechanisms that build and strengthen high-quality connections. This paper reviews the positive psychology literature and evaluates constructs and interventions that may help and hinder cognitive, emotional, and behavioral mechanisms underlying high-quality connections. Future directions for training, coaching, and research using positive psychology interventions with expatriates are noted, and limitations of the extant literature and this review are discussed.

By Cheryl Eisen

This capstone seeks to explore the complex emotion of awe and the effects of flow and anxiety on the experience of awe in scuba diving. Scuba diving is a strong elicitor of awe and is a challenging, high-risk activity requiring both technical skill and a calm mind. In this mixed methods study, awe elicited by scuba diving was studied immediately following a scuba dive (Study 1) and via the internet through recollection tasks (Study 2). Results of Study 1 indicate that in the context of scuba diving, flow is correlated with the connectedness component of awe. Results of Study 2 indicate that when scuba diving experiences are recalled using a writing task, (1) awe is experienced differently based on context, (2) flow is correlated with Composite Awe and negatively correlated with anxiety, (3) flow is correlated with the vastness, altered time perception and connectedness components of awe, when recalling a positive dive experience, and (4) anxiety is correlated with the small-self and accommodation components of awe when recalling a negative dive experience. This study reveals additional complexity in the study of awe, leads to further understanding of the subcomponents of the experience of awe, and provides evidence that in the experience of awe–context matters.

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

By Frank Jackson

Consider this question: If happiness is found in the pursuit of a goal, could it be that an oppressed group, that is eternally in a struggle for something better, could have a subconscious and profound relationship with well-being? Is it possible that the human spirit finds ways to survive and thrive with pride regardless of the oppression? The spirit is unique. It survives independently of the oppression with no goal to emulate. Flourishing in the Black community is long under-identified and misunderstood. This is primarily due to the lens from which history has analyzed it. Due to the white lens through which we see and judge most things, inequality prevails in America, and propagates a negative message of trauma for African Americans; that they are an oppressed group and nothing more. Even joy is exaggerated and misplaced as an aid to white supremacy through the mistral stereotype, a happy slave grateful for his or her inferior position in society. As Mia Bay (unpublished) asserts, this creates a problematic dichotomy of where African Americans fit in with the flourishing discussion. This paper offers a different lens through which to define thriving in the Black community under a new trait, the ‘pearl’ or essence of an oppressed community. Furthermore, it offers an original theory, ‘The Pearl Effect,’ which is an original term that I have coined to describe the capacity of individuals or groups to create something positive or of beauty in the face of unsurmountable odds and oppression. It is exemplified by the African American community embedding their essence into positive institutions as a resilient act in the face of continuous oppression. It provides examples of the institutions that throughout history personified the Effect and created opportunities for the black community to exhibit the ‘pearl’ trait and experience flourishing, specifically the Black Church, the Harlem Renaissance, and hip hop.

By Sogol Karkouti

The urgent need for innovation in mental health and well-being has ignited renewed focus on psychedelics as tools for enhancing lives. The empirically-demonstrated potential of psychedelics in supportive settings to enable thriving in the face of depression, end-of-life anxiety, and addiction has captured the attention of prominent scientists, physicians, policymakers, innovators, and, increasingly, the general public. Research in psychology and neuroscience suggests positive self-change and enduring psychological well-being is possible through psychedelic-induced, non-ordinary states of consciousness. Psychedelics—and the transformative experiences they can reliably occasion—are shown to enhance satisfaction with life, mindfulness-related capabilities, and the sense of meaning across dimensions relevant to positive psychology and human flourishing. This paper introduces positive psychological constructs that psychedelic experiences have the capacity to shift—the sense of self, creativity, outlook on life, prosociality, and others. These potential benefits are evaluated along with risks associated with psychedelic experiences. Personal readiness is emphasized alongside set and setting as critical factors impacting outcomes. Perspective is offered on how positive psychology concepts could support preparation for the psychedelic experience and integration into daily life. Limitations in the current state of the research are discussed and possible directions for future psychological research and psychedelic-assisted therapy are proposed.

By Michelle Kwan

Curiosity is a universal and malleable positive character strength. It has been linked to physical, social, emotional, and psychological well-being, academic success, and success in adulthood. Curiosity is especially important in early childhood because this is a critical stage of development when children’s curiosity is still abundant and organic. But for all its value, curiosity remains under-recognized and under-studied. There is no universally agreed upon definition of curiosity in adults or children. As a result, the research community has varying opinions on how to define, measure, and enhance curiosity. And in many current-day classrooms, an overly rigid top-down structure contributes to a disconcerting trend of diminishing curiosity as children grow older. Reviewing the scientific research across various fields, I describe seven psychological constructs (attention, novelty, solitude, inquiry, exploration, surprise, and awe) that can foster curiosity behaviors. I designed a Curiosity Toy Kit incorporating these seven curiosity components to be used as positive interventions for enhancing curiosity in early childhood, when children are five to six years old and entering formal education. Adults can use the Curiosity Toy Kit to encourage children to develop positive curiosity behaviors, helping them to flourish in school and beyond.

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

By Maggie Zhao

As positive psychology has flourished for over 20 years, the fundamental question about whether well-being and ill-being are bipolar or bivariate remains controversial. Leveraging methodological advances, the present study seeks to provide new empirical evidence to the longstanding controversy through three operationalizations, including a variable-centered approach (i.e., confirmatory factor analysis), a person-centered approach (i.e., latent profile analysis), and a two-way visualization clustering both variables and persons. Analyses were performed based on a large sample of 7,448 participants worldwide who voluntarily completed the PERMA-Profiler (Butler & Kern, 2016) and Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale (CES-D; Radloff, 1977) via the Authentic Happiness website. Findings from all three operationalizations suggest that well-being and ill-being are bipolar, located at opposite ends of a single bipolar continuum. No strong evidence was found in support of the bivariate view that considers well-being and ill-being as two independent continua. Regarding the implications of the findings, conceptual and methodological clarifications of bipolarity are made. Bipolarity does not contradict the goal of positive psychology, nor does it disagree with the notion that well-being is not the absence of ill-being. Advocating an integrative and parsimonious perspective on the bipolar/bivariate controversy, I further discuss the consequences of bipolarity on understanding, measuring, and cultivating well-being.

Capstone project location map

This map shows the locations of the capstone projects in our database. You can click on the title of the project to get more information.

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