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Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude

 

Dissertation Research Awards

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To galvanize young researchers in the study of gratitude, the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley offered up to 15 awards for dissertation-level research projects with the greatest potential to advance the science and practice of gratitude.

The application period for these grants has now closed. Eight excellent researchers received $10,000 awards in the first cycle of this program; seven more recipients will be announced in the summer of 2013.

If you have any questions about the application process or the awards themselves, please consult our Dissertation Research Awards FAQ; if you don’t see your question there, please email it to gratitude@berkeley.edu.

This Dissertation Research Award program is part of a larger project, Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, funded by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Background

Gratitude is derived from the Latin gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness and has been conceptualized as an emotion, an attitude, a moral virtue, a habit, a personality trait, and coping response. Broadly defined, gratitude is an acknowledgment that a person has received something of value from another moral agent. Most existing theoretical treatments agree that gratitude results most often from a specific set of attributions: (1) when a benefit is evaluated positively; (2) when the benefit that one has encountered is not attributed to one’s own effort; and (3) when the benefit was rendered intentionally by the benefactor. There is consensus that gratitude can be regarded as a moral emotion, in that it leads to behavior intended to benefit others. The experience of gratitude results from acknowledging the “gratuitous” role sources of social support may play in promoting the well-being of others.

As a trait, gratitude refers not only to the gratitude that arises following help from others but also to a habitual focusing on and appreciation of the positive aspects of life. Gratitude may be explicitly “other-directed” or benefit triggered in the context of having received a valued gift from another, or it may be a more generalized orientation toward life that is independent of an exchange-based relationship. Benefit-triggered gratitude is elicited by a specific transfer of a benefit, whereas generalized gratitude includes being grateful for that which is valuable and meaningful to oneself. As part of Expanding the Science and Practice of Gratitude, research may address these multiple meanings of gratitude in terms of either interpersonal or transpersonal gratitude, religious or nonreligious gratitude, benefit-triggered or generalized gratitude.

Gratitude is foundational to well-being and mental health throughout the life span. In the past few years, there has been an accumulation of scientific evidence showing how gratitude contributes to psychological and social well-being. A growing body of research has documented the wide array of psychological, physical, and relational benefits associated with gratitude from childhood to old age.

Yet the scientific study of gratitude is still in its early stages. The overall aim of this initiative is to stimulate scientific research on gratitude in the social and biological sciences, with a goal of spurring investigations of this essential virtue across levels and domains of human functioning.

The Dissertation Research Awards were geared toward projects that address one or more of the following themes:

1. Gratitude and Health. How does gratitude contribute to mental and physical health, well-being, and other outcomes indicative of optimal human functioning across the lifespan? In what ways does gratitude contribute to psychological resiliency and the prevention of mental health problems, or recovery from them? Does a lack of gratitude confer a risk for developing psychiatric illnesses? Is gratitude related to improved physical health, faster recovery from illness, or even to a longer life? If so, what are the biobehavioral mechanisms by which gratitude promotes healthier functioning? Is gratitude related to distinct patterns of neuroendocrine response, immune system function, cardiovascular health, or other indicators of biological functioning? In older populations, does gratitude contribute to positive aging and even to a deceleration of the aging process? Is gratitude a consequence or determinant of healthy adaptation in later life?

2. Gratitude in Youth. What is the developmental trajectory of gratitude in children? What developmental experiences facilitate or thwart gratitude? What can the people with the greatest influence over a child’s life—parents, teachers, coaches, etc.—do to foster gratitude in children? Is there a critical period when the capacity for gratitude is best transmitted from an older to a younger generation? In what ways can gratitude alleviate or prevent developmental problems in childhood and adolescence? To what degree does gratitude promote positive outcomes such as school success, overall well-being, community service, resiliency, healthy behaviors, and less risk taking?

3. Gratitude in Social Contexts. As gratitude is inherently a relational phenomenon, another focus of the RFP is on gratitude’s role in social contexts, especially as it relates to relational well-being. What is the function of gratitude in building, promoting, and maintaining social relationships? What are the benefits of gratitude in close relationships? In what ways is gratitude related to trust, cooperation, generosity, intimacy, conflict reduction, and other pro-relationship behaviors? What factors hinder or thwart expression of gratitude in relationships? Are there conditions in which gratitude might be harmful for relationships?

4. Gratitude in Practice. How can gratitude be practiced and encouraged in medical, educational, or organizational settings and in schools, workplaces, homes and communities, and how can interventions to increase gratitude in these settings be evaluated? What evidence-based gratitude interventions are most effective with which populations, and why? What school-based interventions can promote sustainable increases in grateful character traits? To what degree can gratitude be incorporated into patient care?

Evaluation Criteria

The evaluation criteria for the dissertation award applications included the following:
1. Significance: Does the study address an important problem or question in research on gratitude? Does it build upon prior findings? How does it advance the science or practice of gratitude? What will be the impact of this project on future research on gratitude?

2. Approach and methods: Is the design adequately developed and rigorous for the purpose of the study and commensurate with the research question(s) addressed? Does the study seek to identify causal mechanisms between gratitude and health outcomes or mechanisms that foster or impede the development of gratitude?

3. Creativity: Does the project employ novel and innovative ideas or methods? Would it be considered leading-edge research?

4. Potential influence: Will the results be publishable in scholarly journals? Will the results enhance public awareness of the importance of gratitude or increase knowledge about how it can be successfully practiced?

5. Capacity for success: What are the qualifications of the investigators? Can they carry out the project in a timely manner? Can they effectively communicate their findings to both academic and nonacademic audiences?

 

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