Compassion, or the capacity to understand, share, and care about someone else’s emotions, is often viewed as a virtue that leads to helping behavior and a harmonious society. Yet, experiencing compassion is not automatic nor easy. This project sets to deepen our understanding of the factors that promote compassion. Specifically, we suggest that religion provides the teachings and the experiences necessary for people to overcome typical hurdles to compassion. Our first aim will be to examine specific religious practices’ associations with the latest measures of compassion, including behavioral measures. We will replicate and extend the limited available evidence and provide a preliminary test of the causal influence of religious practice engagement on compassion. Our second aim will be to explain why religiosity is related to greater compassion by testing whether religion 1) provides normative, affective, and social motivations for compassion, and 2) affects perceptions of the emotional and cognitive costs of compassion. We propose a series of 9 empirical studies, accompanied by direct and conceptual replication efforts. We will produce scientific publications and conference presentations to build robust scientific knowledge with practical interest for the religious communities.
All posts by Abigail Clapp
New Publication!: Bodily Feedback: Expansive and Upward Posture Facilitates the Experience of Positive Affect
Van Cappellen, P., Ladd, K. L., Cassidy, S., Edwards, M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (in press). Bodily Feedback: Expansive and Upward Posture Facilitates the Experience of Positive Affect. Cognition and Emotion. https://doi.org/10.1080/02699931.2022.2106945
Most emotion theories recognise the importance of the body in expressing and constructing emotions.
Focusing beyond the face, the present research adds needed empirical data on the effect of static full body postures on positive/negative affect. In Studies 1 (N = 110) and 2 (N = 79), using a bodily feedback paradigm, we manipulated postures to test causal effects on affective and physiological responses to emotionally ambiguous music.
Across both studies among U.S. participants, we find the strongest support for an effect of bodily postures that are expansive and oriented upward on positive affect. In addition, an expansive and upward pose also led to greater cardiac vagal reactivity but these changes in parasympathetic activity were not related to affective changes (Study 2).
In line with embodied theories, these results provide additional support for the role of postural input in constructing affect. Discussion highlights the relevance of these findings for the study of religious practices during which the postures studied are often adopted.
New Publication: Shades of Expansiveness: Postural Expression of Dominance, High-Arousal Positive Affect, and Warmth.
Van Cappellen, P., Edwards, M. E., Shiota, M. N. (in press). Shades of expansiveness: Postural expression of dominance, high-arousal positive affect, and warmth. Emotion. Pre-print.
In addition to the face, bodily posture plays an important role in communicating affective states. Postural expansion – how much space the body takes – has been much studied as expressing and signaling dominance and pride.
The present research aimed to expand research on the range of affect dimensions and affect-laden personality characteristics that are expressed via expansiveness, investigating specific forms of expansiveness and their interactions with other postural elements (e.g., arm position). Using an innovative expression-production method, Study 1 (N = 146) characterized full-body expressions of dominance, joy, hope, and awe, while Studies 2-3 (Ns = 352, 183) expanded on this by asking participants to rate photos of posed mannequins on a variety of affective dimensions.
Study 1 results indicated joy is communicated most expansively and suggested a signature arm position for most feelings. Studies 2-3 revealed that other postural features interact with expansiveness to signal dominance (arms akimbo, head raised, stability), as distinct from high arousal positive affect (arms high up, head raised), and warmth (arms high up, head raised, instability).
Together, this research adds needed data on full-body expressions of positive affect states and provides systematic analysis of different affective messages and varieties of postural expansiveness.
New Publication: A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing? Toward an Understanding of the Religious Dones
Van Tongeren, D. R., DeWall, C. N., & Van Cappellen, P. (in press). A sheep in wolf’s clothing?: Toward an understanding of religious dones. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0001269
People often favor their ingroup and derogate members of the outgroup. However, less is known about “religious dones,” who used to identify as religious but no longer do and have more transitional identities.
Across six studies (N = 5,001; four preregistered), we examined the affiliative tendencies of religious dones and how they are perceived by other religious groups.
In Study 1, using a Cyberball paradigm, religious dones included atheist targets relative to Christian targets. In Studies 2 and 3, currently religious participants demonstrated an attenuated tendency to demonstrate the conjunction fallacy (i.e., associating people with heinous acts of violence) for religious dones compared to never religious targets. In Study 4, using a behavioral sacrifice paradigm (e.g., reducing compensation to reduce an uncomfortable noise blast to a partner), religious dones favored never religious partners (who did not reciprocate) and did not sacrifice as much for currently religious partners (who sacrificed for them as a member of their ingroup). In Studies 5 and 6, investigating belief and identity, revealed that religious dones hold favorable attitudes toward other dones (and former believers) and the never religious (and never believers), whereas other groups view dones “in the middle.” We also identified mediating mechanisms of trust, ingroup identification, and belief superiority.
Taken together, these six studies suggest that religious dones are viewed as a sheep in wolf’s clothing, in which they are treated favorably by currently religious individuals but often prefer never religious individuals, even though that warmth is not consistently reciprocated.
New Publication: Meaning behind the movement: Attributing sacred meaning to fluid and non-fluid arm movements increases self-transcendent positive emotions and buffers the effects of non-fluidity on positive emotions
Sacred meaning is regularly attributed to body movements in a variety of religious and spiritual settings, but studies have yet to disentangle the effects of the sacred meaning attributed to body movements from the effects of body movements themselves.
Participants (n = 422) were randomly assigned to draw six lines that were fluid or non–fluid (as a replication attempt) and to ascribe sacred or non–sacred meaning to the arm movements (as an extension of prior research). The effects of movement fluidity, movement sacredness, and their interaction were examined on affective (positive emotions, self–transcendent positive emotions, affective response to a video about the impact of racism on health) and cognitive (creativity, race conceptions) outcomes.
The present study did not replicate previous findings that fluid movement leads to creativity and flexible race conceptions. Instead, the present study found that attributing sacred meaning to arm movements led to greater experiences of positive and self–transcendent positive emotions (and lower negative emotions) and protected against the deleterious effects of non–fluid movement on positive emotions (in addition to protecting against increases in negative emotions).
We highlight the importance of accounting for the meaning attributed to body movements and suggest embodiment may operate through more affective than cognitive processes. Future research should further investigate the amplifying and buffering effects of sacred meaning attributed to embodied actions within religious and spiritual
New Publication: More than a momentary blip in the universe? Investigating the link between religiousness and perceived meaning in life.
Prinzing, M., Van Cappellen, P., & Fredrickson B.L. (2022). More than a momentary blip in the universe? Investigating the link between religiousness and perceived meaning in life. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. https://doi.org/10.1177/01461672211060136
One longitudinal and four cross-sectional studies (total N = 3,141) tested two candidate explanations for the association between religiousness and perceived meaning in life. Religiousness may foster a sense of significance, importance, or mattering—either to others (social mattering) or in the grand scheme of the universe (cosmic mattering)—which in turn support perceived meaning.
We found that perceived social mattering mediated, but could not fully explain, the link between religiousness and perceived meaning. In contrast, perceived cosmic mattering did fully explain the association.
Overall, results suggest that perceived social and cosmic mattering are each part of the explanation. Yet, perceived cosmic mattering appears to be the stronger mechanism. We discuss how religious faith may be especially suited to support such perceptions, making it a partially unique source of felt meaning.