New publication

Van Cappellen, P. (in press). The emotion of joy: A commentary on Johnson. Journal of Positive Psychology.


In this contribution, I push for a deeper understanding of the emotion of joy as compared to happiness and to other discrete positive emotions, by specifying its appraisals and functions. I suggest that joy connects us to our core identity, values, and priorities. It is the emotion that makes life worth living in the moment. I further discuss the distinction between an objective versus subjective account of instances of joy, a distinction I find important to bear in mind when dealing with morally problematic cases of joy. Finally, I discuss points of connection between the psychologies of joy and religion and suggest multiple lines of future research.

American Psychological Association Div. 36 Award

Dr. Patty Van Cappellen received the Margaret Gorman Early Career award from the American Psychological Association Div. 36 and gave an address entitled:
“Religion/spirituality: From the mind to the body.”


I will present a summary of my own research that showcases the importance of studying religion as a practice in addition to a system of beliefs. First, I’ll discuss the fact that religious and spiritual practices (e.g., attending a place of worship, praying, meditating) are associated with the experience of meaningful positive emotions. To explain this association, I’ll specifically focus on embodied processes showing that the very body postures adopted in worship and prayer are associated with distinct religious experiences. I’ll then turn my attention to the implications of experiencing positive emotions in religious practice describing research on well-being and spirituality. Finally, I’ll briefly describe an ongoing investigation on the psychological and biological factors that amplify the positive emotions experienced in spiritual practices with attendant consequences for sustained adherence to these practices. Together, I aim to argue for the importance of moving the study of religion beyond the mind and for taking seriously the role that positive emotions play when experienced during religious and spiritual practices.

Mindfulness Publication

Do Contemplative Moments Matter? Effects of Informal Meditation on Emotions and Perceived Social Integration.

Fredrickson, B. L., Arizmendi, C., Van Cappellen, P., Firestine, A. M., Brantley, M. M., Kim, S. L., . . . Salzberg, S. (2019). Do Contemplative Moments Matter? Effects of Informal Meditation on Emotions and Perceived Social Integration. Mindfulness. doi:10.1007/s12671-019-01154-2

In this study we showed that informal meditation practice (both mindfulness and loving-kindness) increases daily positive emotions and perceptions of social integration over time (independently of the effects of a formal meditation practice). Think about it as you go about your day! “Informal mindfulness meditation (MM) may entail a simple shift of awareness toward one’s breath, whereas informal loving–kindness meditation (LKM) may entail a passing, yet heartfelt wish for another person’s well-being.”

See full paper here:

SPSP 2019

BABLab will have the following presentations at the 2019 Society for Personality and Social Psychology Convention in Portland, OR.


Please join us at the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality preconference on Thursday, February 7th. Two of our presentations will cover current research related to our ongoing Embodiment of Worship grant funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

Data Blitz

Embodying the Religious Experience: Full body representations of religion related feelings and prayer orientations.

Authors: Megan Edwards & Patty Van Cappellen, PhD

Poster Presentation

Are Postures Adopted During Church Service Related to Worship Experience?

Authors: Stephanie Cassidy & Patty Van Cappellen, PhD


Also! Poster Presentation from a visiting graduate student from the University of Warsaw, Poland

Religious belief and social cognition: The role of empathy and self-reported mind-reading skills

Authors: Pawel Lowicki & Marcin Zajenkowski


Early Career Award!

Congratulations to Patty Van Cappellen, PhD. for receiving the

Margaret Gorman Early Career Award

Recipients of this award have shown innovative research in the psychology of religion, marked by scholarly excellence, and has implications for theory, practice or further research. Dr. Van Capellen received her Ph.D. in Psychology at the Université catholique de Louvain in 2012. Her research in religion and spirituality has encompassed the topics of emotions, health, biology, embodiment, antisocial behaviors, as well as qualitative research with the Hebrew Bible. You can read more about her research on the psychology of religion and spirituality here.

International Association of the Cognitive Science of Religion

Two presentations were given at this year's International Association of the Cognitive Science of Religion conference in Boston, MA.

The panel - Embodiment of Religion in Mind and Experience - was lead by Dimitris Xygalatas, PhD. and showcased two presentations related to our current research on the Embodiment of Worship:

"The Physicality of Religious Experiences: Relationships Between Body Postures and Feelings"    Presenter: Megan Edwards    Co-authors: Patty Van Cappellen, PhD & Stephanie Cassidy

"Influence of Religious Postures on Emotions, Humility and Image of God: Preliminary Findings"    Presenter: Stephanie Cassidy    Co-authors: Patty Van Cappellen, PhD, Kevin Ladd, PhD & Megan Edwards

On Pew’s Podcast: Why Americans Are More Spiritual Than Ever

After the Fact, Episode 23: Rising Spirituality. Listen to it here.

Does one have to go to a church, temple, or mosque to be religious or spiritual? According to the Pew Research Center, a growing number of American adults would say no. In fact, U.S. spirituality is at its highest level ever even as traditional religious beliefs and practices decline. To dig into this phenomenon, I recently sat down with Dan LeDuc. He’s the host of “After the Fact,” a podcast from The Pew Charitable Trusts. We talked about the reasons people turn to religious or spiritual practices in the first place, and the benefits that come from both.

Divine Data

“After the Fact” begins each episode with a data point that reveals something about our world – and in this case, it’s the number 59. That’s the percentage of Americans who say they experience a “deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being” at least once a week, and it’s up seven points since 2007. Nearly 40 percent also say they feel a “deep sense of wonder about the universe” on a weekly basis. What’s more? Even those who say they are agnostic, atheist, or don’t belong to a particular religion are feeling increasingly spiritual. Before talking with me, Dan explored this finding and other trends with the Pew Research Center’s Greg Smith. The numbers show that adherence to traditional religious beliefs and practices such as attending services or identifying with a formal religion has dropped—but America is far from being a nation of non-believers.

Seeing the Forest

How do we explain this spiritual surge? And what are the effects of religious and spiritual experiences? My research at Duke University’s Belief, Affect, and Behavior Lab (“The BABLab”) offers a few clues.

  • It feels good: Research has shown that religion and spirituality can create many positive outcomes, whether by sparking greater connection with others, healthier habits, or a greater overall sense of well-being.
  • The power of positivity: While it’s long been accepted that people turn to religion in order to cope with difficult life events, my research suggests that positive emotions are just as important for sparking religious and spiritual feelings. For example, when we show people video clips eliciting a meaningful positive emotion—such as viewing a beautiful sunset or the birth of a child—they tended to say they felt a higher sense of benevolence or meaning in the world.
  • Beyond the bear: Positive emotions like awe and wonder may actually change how people look at the world by allowing them to focus on the bigger picture. For example, if you’re experience something negative such as being attacked by a bear, you are unable to focus on anything but the bear. But when you’re able to relax, your perspective broadens. You can see the forest—or imagine a higher connection and purpose to life.

Whatever the cause may be, there’s no doubt that religion and spirituality have a significant impact on the lives of many Americans. I encourage you to listen to the full episode to learn more, as well as hear how Greg and I came to our findings. You can also follow my research at the BABLab here.

More from “After the Fact”

“After the Fact” goes beyond the data to bring you nonpartisan analysis and compelling stories. If you like what you heard, click here to check out more “After the Fact” episodes, subscribe to the podcast, and share.