Core Research Initiatives

Project Leaders: Dr. Sarah Schnitker, Dr. Benjamin Houltberg
Project Dates: January 2, 2015 – December 31, 2017
Student Researchers: Leanne Bishara, Amber Blews, Luke Durain, Dennette Boyd-KingRachel Falco, TJ Felke, Nathaniel Fernandez, Madison Gilbertson, Kimberly Griswold, Daniel Mendoza, Christa Nelson, Yasha Paul, Nanyamka Redmond

Project Description: The purpose of this grant is to examine the best ways to develop virtues in adolescents, focusing on how particular activity framings (i.e., instrumental, moral, or spiritual) or contexts (i.e., athletics) can affect the efficacy of activities meant to build patience and self-control. In Study 1 we will experimentally test the effects of (a) framing self-control and patience intervention activities as instrumental, moral, or spiritual and (b) presenting intervention activities as opportunities to build strengths vs. fix weaknesses. By comparing adolescents involved in athletics vs. other extra-curricular activities, we will test how character interventions in the context of athletic participation can maximize the development of virtues. In Study 2 we will track the character development of adolescents running half or full marathons with Team World Vision, a non-profit raising money for clean water in Africa through sponsored runs.

Study activities include (1) participant recruitment and data collection of (a) high school athletes and non-athletes (tracking participants for 6 months) in Study 1 and( b) adolescents running marathons with Team World Vision (tracking participants for 4-6 months), (2) development of a smart phone application to build virtue, (3) data analysis and publication, and (4) writing an RFP for JTF on virtue interventions in youth. Concrete outputs include results from two studies reflected in 2-4 peer-reviewed journal articles and 6+ conference presentations, a character strength smart phone application, an RFP proposal, 1-2 articles in magazines ready by youth-serving practitioners, press releases to applied organizations, and a research report in Fuller Youth Institute’s e-journal. Our project will utilize a scholar-practitioner model and will illuminate the best ways to develop virtues in adolescents in real-world contexts using rigorous methodology so that findings can influence the academic community and be directly applied to youth programs.

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Principal Investigator: Richard M. Lerner
Co-Investigators: Jacqueline V. Lerner, Pamela Ebstyne King, Kara Powell, Alistair Sim, Guillermo Iraheta
Project Dates: Fall 2016–2021

Project Description: More than one billion children across the globe live in persistent and pervasive poverty, with about 400 million in extreme poverty. Such marginalization creates a trap of hopelessness that greatly diminishes chances to thrive or grow into healthy, fulfilled, and responsible adults. This research partners with Compassion International (CI), whose holistic youth development programs with 1.6 million of the world’s poorest children constitute an ecologically valid, scalable, and sustainable remedy to this global catastrophe, and Tufts University’s Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development (IARYD), Boston College, and Thrive Center in the School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Building upon recent independent, peer-reviewed evidence that CI’s programs produce sustained impact in adults (Wydick, 2013), this project will study the longitudinal development of youth involved in CI’s programs starting in El Salvador. The study compares the development of CI program participants to that of youth who are not participating in CI’s programs to identify what works, with what children, in what context, over what time period.

The results of this project will demonstrate how a proven model synthesizing a faith-based approach to youth development—with 15+ years of evidence-based research on the individual and ecological bases of PYD—can be scaled globally to enhance the likelihood that poor youth will become fulfilled and responsible leaders in their nations. The results will catalyze CI’s global efforts, expand the numbers of youth they are reaching in 26 nations, and be relevant to promoting thriving among the world’s youth.

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Other Active Research Projects

Principle Investigator: Benjamin Houltberg
Co-Investigators: Kenneth Wang, Pamela Ebstyne King & Sarah Schnitker
Doctoral Student Researchers: Nanyamka Redmond, Christa Nelson
Project Dates: January 2015–Present

Project Description: There is a wealth of knowledge in the sports psychology literature on the many different factors that contribute to enhancing performance. However, very little attention has been focused on the spiritual and emotional development within these high-pressured sporting contexts. This study will utilize a group of elite athletes to examine the link between achievement orientations (thriving orientation vs performance-based orientation) and emotional health as well as explore how one’s view of God and spirituality interact with these links.

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Project Lead: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King
Doctoral Student Researcher: Casey Taylor
Project Dates: July 1, 2016–June 30, 2017

Project Description: There is an abundance of literature about the positive influence of mentorship in the lives of adolescents. In order to further explore the influence of mentorship in the lives of adolescents, we are studying 1:5 Circles of Care, a mentorship program developed at Village Christian School in Sun Valley, California. This study observes the qualities of the mentor relationships in the lives of the high school students at Village Christian School. The qualities of these relationships are being studied with the aim of discovering the effects of trust, quality time, and shared vision in the mentor relationships on adolescent thriving.

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Project Leader: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King
Doctoral Student Researchers: Aaron Rosales
Project Dates: 2013–Present

Project Description: A follow up to the original Adolescent Spiritual Exemplar study, this project investigates longitudinal influences on adolescent and emerging adult spiritual development.

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Project Leader: Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Project Dates: Ongoing
Student Researchers: Nathaniel Fernandez, Ryan Thomas

Project Description: This project examines the dynamics of goal pursuit across time as well as the well-being effects of goal content in diverse contexts. A major focus of this project is utilizing cutting-edge statistical methodologies (e.g., Multi-level SEM) to examine personality dynamics.

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Project Leader: Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Project Dates: February 2, 2015–Present
Student Researchers: Tyler Greenway, Abigail Shepherd

Project Description: The Project on the “Good” Physician is the first national longitudinal study of moral and professional formation of American physicians over the course of medical training. The purpose of this paper is to examine the mechanisms by which spirituality influences virtue and moral formation of medical students. In particular, the influence of spirituality on moral intuitions (from Haidt’s Social Intuitionist Theory of Morality) and the virtues of generosity, mindfulness, and empathic compassion are examined.

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Project Leader: Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Project Dates: February 11, 2016–present
Student Researchers: Tyler Greenway, Abigail Shepherd

Project Description: This study investigates the effects of moral intuitions and intercessory prayer on generosity expressed towards someone in the same faith tradition versus another faith tradition.

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Project Leader: Dr. Sarah Schnitker
Project Dates: 2011–present
Student Researchers: Abigail Shepherd, Tyler Greenway, Paul Reppas, Kelsey Richardson

Project Description: Several studies are examining how sanctification of activities and goals affects the development of three virtues: gratitude, generosity, and thrift.

One study examines how praying one’s thanks versus thinking about or sharing thanks influences the well-being effects of gratitude practice. Kelsy Richardson and Dr. Sarah Schnitker have analyzed data from 196 college undergraduates. They found that participants in the prayer condition experienced a decrease in negative affect, and participants in the prayer condition who also exerted high effort demonstrated gains in gratitude, positive affect, and hope. The researchers are currently submitting findings from this study for publications.

In another study, Paul Reppas and Sarah Schnitker examined the various factors of the virtue of thrift, including sanctification of resources. They also conducted a second study modeling the relations between thrift and the virtues of gratitude and generosity. They are currently preparing these findings for publication.

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Completed Research Projects

Project Leader: Dr. Justin L. Barrett
Project Dates: July 1, 2012 – June 20, 2015
Student Researchers: Matthew Jarvinen, Thomas Paulus

Project Description:  What does it mean to be intellectually humble and how can intellectual humility be encouraged?   This question was the subject of the Thrive Center’s John Templeton Foundation funded project, “The Science of Intellectual Humility,” which ran from 2012 to 2015. Two postdoctoral researchers and two doctoral student researchers examined specific questions surrounding intellectual humility (IH) such as:

  • What is the “folk” understanding of intellectual humility? What is the nature of intellectual virtues?
  • What role does trust play in the development of intellectual humility in children?
  • What is the interface between ethics and epistemology?

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Project Leader: Dr. Justin L. Barrett
Project Dates: July 1, 2011 – June 30, 2014
Student Researchers: Gregory Foley, Tyler Greenway, Brianna Bently

Project Description: As part of “The Chinese Challenge” project, funded by TWCF and led by Dr. Justin Barrett and Dr. Ryan Hornbeck in collaboration with Dr. Liqi Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, we have examined a variety of topics related to religion and cognition among the people of China. These topics range from the study of supernatural beings in ancient Chinese texts to the study of natural cognition in children.

This project concluded with the Chinese Challenge Conference held in Hong Kong on April 23, 2014. From that conference, we produced 13 videos  (5 introductory ones and the 8 sessions); a full-color chartbook, which summarizes the project’s rationale, the experiments used, findings, and their implications; as well as 5 infographic reports detailing the findings in an easy-to-share format.  These are available below.

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Project Leader: Dr. Justin L. Barrett
Project Dates: May 1, 2012 – October 31, 2014
Student Researchers: Candance Coppinger Pickett, Rebecca Burnside

Project Description: Ministry staff members often exceed the relational capacity limit, potentially rendering them ineffective ministers. They deliberately try to add more relationships and view it as their obligation to do so. Volunteers are more likely to be within the relational limit. Perhaps this difference accounts for Barrett’s analyses of field data that showed adding volunteers but not staff to an area increased ministry outcomes. We will examine field staff and volunteers’ relational network sizes, ministry outcomes, and their life and ministry satisfaction from three large ministries.

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Project Leader: Dr. James L. Furrow
Project Dates: 2010–2015
Student Researcher: Lisa Criswell

Project Description: The Thriving Conversation pilot program will measure the effectiveness of a specialized therapeutic program in promoting initiative, self-confidence, and a positive future orientation for youth ages 11 – 17 who have been involved in prostitution. Youth and caseworkers at Children of the Night residential facility will complete measures of self-concept (Self-Perception Profile for Adolescents), intentional self-regulation (Selection, Optimization, and Compensation Questionnaire), and future orientation (Thriving Subscale) before the start and after the completion of therapy. Scores will be calculated and compared to determine in which areas improvement has occurred.

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Project Lead: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King
Doctoral Student Researchers: Jon Weber
Project Dates: 2013 – 2016

Project Description: Based on the Adolescent Spiritual Exemplar study, this project investigates social influences on the religious and spiritual development of highly spiritual youth around the world.

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Project Co-Leaders: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King, Dr. Justin Barrett, Dr. James L. Furrow
Project Dates: May 1, 2013 – August 31, 2015
Student Researchers: Tyler Greenway

Project Description: Even for Christians open to evolutionary creation, evolutionary psychology is still regarded with anything from suspicion to outright hostility. With its emphasis on humans as gene-vehicles or reproductive machines, surely the underlying teleology of evolutionary psychology is antithetical to Christianity, right?  Perhaps not. Because Christian psychologists have largely stayed away from evolutionary psychology, the metaphysical and ethical assumptions of its non-theist practitioners have tended to become passively accepted and conflated with the genuine scientific insights of this area of science.  Evolutionary psychology need not be practiced in a way hostile to theism or Christianity, but holds intellectual and methodological resources that may invigorate Christian psychology around some of humanity’s biggest questions.  We will demonstrate the fruitfulness of placing evolutionary psychology and Christian theological anthropology into direct conversation by considering the question: What is human thriving?

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Project Leader: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King
Project Dates: 2007–2013
Student Researchers: Casey Clardy, Jenel Ramos
Funding: From the John Templeton Foundation in collaboration with the Center for Spiritual Development at the Search Institute

Project Description: Using an exemplar methodology, the project explored core principles of spiritual development evident in diverse highly spiritual youth. Data included in-depth interviews with 32 adolescent spiritual exemplars from Peru, Kenya, India, Jordan, Great Britain, and the United States. The research team continues to explore related topics of awareness, fidelity, transcendence, purpose, contribution, spiritual coping, and influences on spiritual development.

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Project Leader: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King
Consultants: Dr. James Furrow, Dr. Sung Kim, Dr.Osvaldo Benitez and Paul Stephenson, World Vision
Project Dates: 2009 – 2013
Student Researchers: Drew Carr, Casey Clardy, Lisa Criswell
Funding: From the Tyndale House in collaboration FYI and World Vision.

Project Description: Based on findings from the Adolescent Spiritual Exemplar Study, this study proposed and tested a measure of adolescent spirituality that is based on the concepts of transcendence, fidelity, and contribution.  Data was collected in Tijuana, Mexico.

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Project Leaders: Dr. Sarah Schnitker, Dr. Justin Barrett

Project Dates: 2006-2013

Student Researchers: TJ Felke

Project Description: In this project, we examined character development across time of adolescent attending Young Life religious summer camps. Study findings are presented in the following publications:

Schnitker, S. A., Felke, T. J., Barrett, J. L., & Emmons, R. A. (2014). Longitudinal study of religious and spiritual transformation in adolescents attending Young Life summer camp: Assessing the epistemic, intrapsychic, and moral sociability functions of conversion. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 6, 83-93.

Schnitker, S. A., Felke, T. J., Barrett, J. L., & Emmons, R. A. (2014). Virtue development following spiritual transformation in adolescents attending evangelistic summer camp. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 33, 22-35.

Schnitker, S. A., Porter, T., Emmons, R. A., & Barrett, J. L. (2012). Attachment predicts adolescent conversions at Young Life religious summer camps. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 22, 198-215. doi: 10.1080/10508619.2012.670024

Barrett, J. L., Porter, T., Emmons, R. A., & Schnitker, S. A. (2009). Different styles reach different kids: An empirical enquiry into Young Life camping outreach programs in the USA and Europe. Journal of Youth and Theology, 8, 10-27.

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Projects Completed Before 2011

Project Leader: Peter Benson, Search Institute
Project Team:Duncan Campbell, Friends of the Children, William Damon, Center on Adolescence, Stanford University; James Furrow, Fuller Theological Seminary; Richard Lerner, IARYD, Tufts University; Pamela Ebstyne King, Fuller Theological Seminary; Cynthia King-Guffey, Thrive Foundation for Youth; Linda Wagener, Fuller Theological Seminary.
Project Dates: 2003 – 20010

Project Description: Led by the late Peter Benson, the Thriving Indicators Project aimed to promote and understand the nature of thriving in young people. At a time in history when the “deficit orientation” of young people dominated research and practice, the team members endeavored to further understand the nature and promotion of positive youth development. We understood a thriving young person to be on the pathway to a hopeful future, doing the best with what they have personally and contextually, living a satisfied life, and contributing to the greater good. “TIP” continues to have enduring ripple effects in the applied research of the team members as they have pursued research in the areas of assets, character, emotions, entrepreneurship, fidelity, goal pursuit, identity development, mentoring, purpose, social capital, spark, self regulation, spiritual and religious development, thriving outcomes, and virtue.

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Thrive Research in Numbers

Active Research Projects
Completed Research Projects