New 2-year grant funded project on gratitude to God

On Thanksgiving: How Gratitude to God is Demonstrated, with Consequences for the Grateful Person and Witnesses

Principal Investigator: Patty Van Cappellen, Ph.D., Duke University

Co-Investigator: Sara Algoe, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The expression of gratitude to God (GTG) is present in virtually all religious practices. However, despite the recent rapid growth in scientific knowledge of gratitude, we still know little about the expressions and functions of GTG. In particular, the study of GTG compared to interpersonal gratitude (IG) poses an interesting set of scientific questions made all the more important by the pervasiveness of GTG in human experience. Building on the PI’s expertise in affective processes in religious cognition and the Co-I’s find-remind-and-bindtheory of gratitude (Algoe, 2012) and evidence on the functional value of public expressions of IG (Algoe, Dwyer, Younge, & Oveis, 2019), we propose to address three specific aims that will work together to elucidate the basic distinctions between GTG and IG, deeper understanding of expressions of GTG, and the functions of GTG.

Specifically, like prior research on IG, it is critical to take a systematic approach to understand the personal and social (public) functions of GTG, which may be similar to IG but may also bear unique features. A key starting point is to characterize demonstrations of GTG, using this foundation to begin to test personally-relevant functions and social reactions to these expressions. Collectively the proposed studies are designed to provide a generative foundation for future research on GTG. Simultaneously, they speak to the broader literature in affective, relationship, and behavior maintenance science.

Aim 1: Characterizing how people demonstrate GTG. 

Aim 2: Illuminating factors that predict negative vs. positive reactions to GTG demonstrations. 

Aim 3: Collecting preliminary evidence on two personally-relevant functional outcomes of GTG demonstrations: relationship with God strength and spiritual quest. 

New Publication

Łowicki, P., Zajenkowski, M., & Van Cappellen, P. (in press). It’s the heart that matters: The relationships among cognitive mentalizing ability, emotional empathy, and religiosity. Personality and Individual Differences, 161, 109976.

Exciting new research on empathy and religion conducted by our visiting scholar, Paweł, in collaboration with Dr. Van Cappellen will soon be published on the Personality and Individual Differences journal!

Check out the work in advance here:

SPSP 2020

Please join us at the 2020 Society for Personality and Social Psychology Convention in New Orleans, LA. BAB Lab will be presenting five posters at the Convention and the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality Preconference. Here are the contents and times of our presentations:

SPSP Convention (Friday, Feb 28 and Saturday, Feb 29)

Friday, Feb 28, 1:30-2:30pm

Shaken to the core: A naturalistic study of awe’s effects on values, meaning, and religiosity.

Edwards, M. E., Perlin J. D., & Van Cappellen, P.


Saturday, Feb 29, 9:15 – 10:15am

Shades of expansiveness: Full-body expressions of joy, awe, hope, and dominance.

Van Cappellen, P., Edwards, M., & Shiota, M.

Religion and Spirituality Preconference (Thursday, Feb 27, 8:00am – 4:30pm)

Prayer postures associations with religious experience among Muslims, Christians, and Hindus.

Edwards, M. E., & Van Cappellen, P.


Examining the religious functions of awe through group cohesion and self-sacrifice. 

Naclerio, M. & Van Cappellen, P. 


The interdependence between prayer posture and religious mindset.

Zhang, R., & Van Cappellen, P.

Maria Receives Jerome S. Bruner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research!

Congratulations to Maria, the recipient of the 2019-2020 Jerome S. Bruner Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Research!

Maria has been conducting research at the BAB lab since Fall 2019. Currently, she is writing her honors thesis on awe with Dr. Van Cappellen.

For more information about her award-winning thesis project, please read:

New Publication

Van Cappellen, P., Catalino, L. I., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2019). A new micro-intervention to increase the enjoyment and continued practice of meditation. Emotion. doi:10.1037/emo0000684
New work revealing the importance of experiencing positive emotions during spiritual practices in order to sustain engagement in the practice.
New health behaviors are difficult to maintain and meditation is no different. We tested two key pathways of the upward spiral theory of lifestyle change (Fredrickson, 2013), which identifies positive emotions as critical ingredients for the maintenance of new health behaviors. The present experiment combined a laboratory session that introduced novices to meditation with a 3-week follow-up period to assess the extent to which study participants maintained this new health behavior. In a 2 × 2 experimental design, midlife adults (N = 240) were randomized to (a) learn about judicious ways to prioritize positivity (labeled “prioritizing positivity plus”) or about a control topic that also featured the science of positive emotions and (b) follow a guided meditation based on either loving-kindness, which provided an opportunity to self-generate positive emotions, or mindfulness, which did not. All participants rated their emotions following the initial guided meditation and reported, week by week, whether they meditated during the ensuing 21 days. Analyses revealed that being exposed to the prioritizing positivity plus microintervention, relative to a control passage, amplified the effect of engaging in loving-kindness (vs. mindfulness) meditation on positive emotions. Additionally, the degree to which participants experienced positive emotions during first exposure to either meditation type predicted the frequency and duration at which they practiced meditation over the next 21 days. These findings show that the enjoyment of meditation can be experimentally amplified and that initial enjoyment predicts continued practice. Discussion spotlights the importance of differentiating effective and ineffective ways to pursue happiness.