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June 1, 2001 -- A University of Virginia researcher received psychology's largest monetary prize May 29 for research on how people are motivated to do pro-social deeds by witnessing "saintly" behavior in others. Jonathan Haidt, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, was the unanimous choice for the John Templeton Positive Psychology Prize first place award of $100,000.

The American Psychological Association (APA), with underwriting support from the John Templeton Foundation (JTF), created the awards program. Now in its second year, the prizes are intended to encourage first-rate mid-career scientists to devote their best efforts to positive psychology topics, such as optimism, moral identity, self-control, goal-focused living, thrift, courage and future-mindedness.

Dr. Haidt's research focuses on an emotion he calls "elevation," which is the human reaction to witnessing human moral beauty. This emotion is the opposite of moral disgust. His research suggests that elevation is triggered by manifestations of humanity's higher or better nature, which generally causes a warm or glowing feeling in the chest and motivates people to do pro-social deeds themselves. Dr. Haidt's main research goal is to map out the details and uses of elevation to discover the range of events that trigger it, the conditions that maximizes its impact and the age at which children begin to feel it. "I hope to design projects that attempt to use elevation as a kind of 'moral reset button,' that is, a sudden, powerful emotional experience, shared with others, that makes people re-orient their goals and feelings in a more pro-social direction," said Dr. Haidt.

Three other researchers also received Templeton Positive Psychology Prizes during a ceremony in Philadelphia. Laura King, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University, received the second place prize of $50,000 for her research on how our daily goals can have a positive affect on our thoughts, mood, behavior and well-being. Dr. King's research also examines how people create good lives within sometimes unexpected circumstances, such as parenting a child with Down Syndrome, experiencing a divorce, or finding oneself to be infertile. Her work focuses on the stories people tell about their life circumstances, and how those stories relate to the experience of meaning and happiness.

Michael E. McCullough, Ph.D., won the third place prize of $30,000. He is an associate professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University. Dr. McCullough's research focuses on forgiveness, gratitude and religion/spirituality and how they can improve health, happiness or good interpersonal relationships.
And the fourth place prize of $20,000 was won by Gustavo Carlo, Ph.D., associate professor and Gallup Research fellow at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for his research on individual, parenting and cultural influences of positive social and moral behaviors in children and adolescents. Dr. Carlo's future research plans include conducting a longitudinal study of prosocial development in ethnic minority children and also researching how prosocial behaviors lead to positive self-concept development in adolescents. The Templeton Positive Psychology Prize is open to researchers in all the social sciences, not just psychology. The first place award of $100,000 is divided as a prize of $30,000, to be used any way the recipient chooses, and a grant of $70,000 to support research in the positive psychology field. The second place award of $50,000 includes a prize of $15,000 and a grant of $35,000; the third place award of $30,000 includes a prize of $10,000 and a grant of $20,000; and the fourth place award of $20,000 includes a prize of $7,500 and a grant of $12,500.

The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 155,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 59 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.


FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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