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Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. (born 1964) is a professor in the department of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is a Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology.

Dr. Fredrickson is a social psychologist who conducts research in emotions and positive psychology. Her main work is related to her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, which suggests that positive emotions lead to novel, expansive, or exploratory behavior, and that, over time, these actions lead to meaningful, long-term resources such as knowledge and social relationships. She is the author of Positivity, a general-audience book that draws on her own research and that of other social scientists.

Dr. Fredrickson earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1990. She was a professor at the University of Michigan for 10 years before being hired by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Fredrickson's mentors include Robert Levenson and Laura Carstensen.

Research[edit | edit source]

Broaden-and-build[edit | edit source]

Main article: Broaden-and-build

Studies from Fredrickson's lab have randomly-assigned participants watch films that induce positive emotions such as amusement and contentment, negative emotions such as fear and sadness, or no emotions. Compared to people in the other conditions, participants who experience positive emotions show heightened levels of creativity, inventiveness, and "big picture" perceptual focus. Longitudinal studies show that positive emotions play a role in the development of long-term resource such as psychological resilience and flourishing.[1]

The undo effect[edit | edit source]

Fredrickson and others hypothesize that positive emotions undo the cardiovascular effects of negative emotions. When people experience stress, they show increased heart rate, higher blood sugar, immune suppression, and other adaptations optimized for immediate action. If individuals do not regulate these changes once the stress is past, they can lead to illness, CHD, and heightened mortality. Both lab research and survey research indicate that positive emotions help people who were previously under stress relax back to their physiological baseline.[2]

Sex differences in self-objectification[edit | edit source]

Prior to her work on positive emotions, Fredrickson researched social and environmental cues that can carry sexist messages and enhance stereotypical gender differences. She found that when women are randomly assigned dress in a way that calls attention to their bodies, they show impaired performance on a math task and were literally more likely to "throw like a girl". This research suggested that drawing attention to women's bodies also activated stereotypical beliefs about their gender.[3]

Recognition[edit | edit source]

Fredrickson received the Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology in 2000 for her work on the broaden-and-build theory, which included a $100,000 grant to fund her work. She received tenure at the University of Michigan and is Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina. Her work has been published in American Psychologist, the general professional publication of the American Psychological Association, and in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which is the most prominent journal in the fields of personality psychology and social psychology. Her work has been supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Publications[edit | edit source]

  • Fredrickson, Barbara (2009). Positivity. New York: Crown.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions. American Scientist, 91, 330-335.
  2. Fredrickson, B. L., Mancuso, R. A., Branigan, C., & Tugade, M. M. (2000). The undoing effect of positive emotions. Motivation and Emotion. 24, 237-258.
  3. Fredrickson, B. L. Roberts, T., Noll, S. M., Quinn, D. M., & Twenge, J. M. (1998). That swimsuit becomes you: Sex differences in self-objectification, restrained eating and math performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 269-284.

External links[edit | edit source]


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