Category Archives: Publications

New Publication by Former BABLab Research Assistant!

Based on her honors thesis with advisor Dr. Van Cappellen during her undergraduate years at Duke University, Gwyn Reece has published her first paper!

Reece, G. A., Van Tongeren, D. R., & Van Cappellen, P. (In press). Eternal outgroups: Afterlife beliefs predict prejudice. Personality and Individual Differences, 214.


Both religious and nonreligious people hold beliefs about what happens after death. The eternal criteria embedded in afterlife beliefs – for example, what happens for the morally good versus the morally bad — may implicate intergroup attitudes and behavior in the present.


The set of 4 studies aimed to investigate whether and how afterlife beliefs have direct implications for real-life intergroup prejudice.


In Study 1, religious afterlife beliefs were associated with more prejudice towards nonreligious people. In extension, Study 2 used nationally representative archival data and found that among religious people, specific beliefs in hell and heaven mediated the association between religiosity and prejudice towards atheists. In Study 3, religious afterlife beliefs continued to be associated with prejudice towards value-threatening outgroup members, even when controlling for religiosity. This was shown in a specific context in Study 4: Christians with exclusionary views of heaven expressed more prejudice towards atheists than those with inclusionary views.


Together, these studies show that both religious and secular afterlife beliefs relate to prejudice towards value-incongruent outgroup members, consistent with the group exclusionary hypothesis. Specific religious afterlife beliefs, such as hell or heaven, explain some of the association between religiosity and prejudice against ideologically dissimilar groups.

New publication!

New publication stemming from our grant-funded project on the scientific study of gratitude to god!

Van Cappellen, P., Clapp, A., & Algoe, S. (in press). God of the good gaps: Prevalence, eliciting situations, and demonstrations of gratitude to god as compared to interpersonal gratitude. Journal of Positive Psychology.


Gratitude for another person’s actions has received exponential attention from the scientific community for its many benefits. Yet, this research is virtually silent on one key target of gratitude god despite billions of people believing in a personal, intervening, and benevolent god. In a large multimethod study, we sampled U.S. Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Christians (N=1270). First, we document the prevalence of spontaneous mentions of god as the target of a gratitude expression following a personal success. Only 16% of our religious participants did mention god but priming god increased this number to 29%. Second, we documented a wider array of eliciting situations of gratitude to god (GTG) compared to gratitude to another person (GTO) and particularly for broad good things in life that don’t have a clear agent. Finally, we documented ways that GTG vs. GTO is demonstrated, suggesting that GTG sustains religious practice and builds morality.

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.



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.



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

Freeburg, P. A., Van Cappellen, P., Ratchford, J. L., & Schnitker, S. A. (in press). Meaning
behind the movement: Attributing sacred meaning to fluid and nonfluid arm movements
increases selftranscendent positive emotions and buffers the effects of nonfluidity on positive emotions. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Pre-print.




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 nonfluid (as a replication attempt) and to ascribe sacred or nonsacred 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, selftranscendent 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 selftranscendent positive emotions (and lower negative emotions) and protected against the deleterious effects of nonfluid 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.



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.

New publications!

Lots of announcements to make!

First, we published two papers providing needed empirical data on Christian prayer postures and how they connect to emotions and the religious experience more generally.

Van Cappellen, P., & Edwards, M. (in press). Emotion expression in context: Full body postures of Christian prayer orientations compared to secular emotions. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior. Pre-print

Van Cappellen, P., Cassidy, S., & Zhang, R. (in press). Religion as an embodied practice: Organizing the various forms and documenting the meanings of Christian prayer postures. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Pre-print

Second, we are super proud to announce Maria Naclerio’s first publication! Maria did her senior thesis with us when she was an undergrad at Duke. She even earned the 2019-2020 Jerome S. Bruner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research for this research! Preprint to come, check out our list of publications.

Naclerio, M., & Van Cappellen, P. (in press). Awe, group cohesion, and religious self-sacrifice. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion.

Third, stay tuned for a new book chapter summarizing the latest research, including research from our lab, on positive emotions and religion/spirituality. Happy to send a private copy if you email me.

Van Cappellen, P., Zhang, R. & Fredrickson, B. L. (forthcoming 2022). The scientific study of positive emotions and religion/spirituality. To appear in W. Davis, E. Worthington, & S. Schnitker (Ed.), Handbook of positive psychology, religion, and spirituality. Springer.

New Publication: Same-day, Cross-day, and Upward Spiral Relations Between Positive Affect and Positive Health Behaviours

Fredrickson, B. L., Arizmendi, C., & Van Cappellen, P.

Read the paper here.


This project investigated same-day and lagged (i.e., from one day to the next) associations between daily positive affect and three distinct positive health behaviours: physical activity, fruit and vegetable intake, and meditation. Cross-day analyses also examined the role of positive affect felt during the targeted health behaviours.


Secondary data analyses used a 9-week daily diary study in which midlife adults (N = 217) were randomized to learn one of two contemplative practices (i.e., mindfulness meditation or loving-kindness meditation) while reporting nightly on their emotions and health behaviours.


Results of same-day analyses revealed positive associations, both between-person and within-person, for the three positive health behaviours with daily positive affect. Results of lagged analyses revealed that positive affect experienced during fruit and vegetable intake on a given day predicted next-day fruit and vegetable intake, and that fruit and vegetable intake on a given day predicted next-day positive affect.


The observed same-day relations between daily positive affect and engagement in positive health behaviours illuminate one path through which positive affect may contribute to health. The observed cross-day relations reveal a need for interdisciplinary research on mechanisms through which fruit and vegetable intake may shape next-day positive affect.

New publication: Understanding Engagement in and Affective Experiences During Physical Activity: The Role of Meditation Interventions

Objective: Meditation interventions promote an array of well-being outcomes. Yet, the way in which these interventions promote beneficial outcomes is less clear. Here, we expanded on prior work by examining the influence of mindfulness and loving-kindness meditation on a key health behavior: physical activity. Methods: To test our hypotheses, we drew upon two randomized intervention studies. In Study 1, 171 adults (73.0% female) received 6 weeks of training in either mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, or were assigned to a control condition. In Study 2, 124 adults (60.0% female) were assigned to a 6-week mindfulness or loving-kindness meditation group. Results: Study 1 demonstrated that individuals who received mindfulness training reported sustained levels of physical activity across the intervention period (Pre: M = 4.09, SD = 2.07; Post M = 3.68, SD = 2.00; p = .054), while those in the control (Pre: M = 3.98, SD = 2.25; Post M = 3.01, SD = 2.07; p < .001) and loving-kindness (Pre: M = 4.11, SD = 2.26; Post M = 3.45, SD = 1.96; p < .001) conditions reported lower levels. Study 2 demonstrated those who received mindfulness training experienced increases in positive emotions during physical activity from pre to post-intervention (Pre: M = 6.06, SD = 2.51; Post: M = 6.54, SD = 2.43, p = .001), whereas those trained in loving-kindness meditation experienced decreases in positive emotions during physical activity (Pre: M = 6.45, SD = 2.35; Post: M = 6.09, SD = 2.46, p = .040). Conclusions: These results suggest mindfulness training (but not loving-kindness training) promotes sustained physical activity, and one plausible reason why this occurs is enhanced positive emotion during physical activity.

Don, B., P., Van Cappellen, P., & Fredrickson, B. L. (in press). Understanding engagement in and affective experiences during physical activity: The role of meditation interventions. Psychosomatic Medicine.