The Thrive Center is committed to providing relevant and accessible research of the highest quality. Our team is made up of seven faculty researchers from Fuller Graduate School of Psychology and Fuller Theological Seminary, five post-doctoral researchers, and numerous doctoral students. Our center aims to uncover the catalysts that allow for young people to develop into thriving adults. We aim to develop practical tools and resources to nurture optimal human development by uncovering the components of thriving through research.

Research Spotlight

This page provides a monthly, in-depth update on one of our many research projects. 

Research Projects

To learn more about the projects we are currently working on or have worked on in the past, please visit our “Research Projects” page. This page will provide you with links to detailed information and findings on all of our past and present projects.

Publications and Presentations

To keep the academic community up-to-date with the research that has been conducted within the Thrive Center, we have developed our “Publications and Presentations” page. Here you will find citations for publications and presentations on our various projects, as well as links when available.

Intellectual Humility

Our intellectual humility project, lead by Dr. Justin Barrett, is funded by a $5.3 million dollar grant from the John Templeton Foundation. We have put together pages to provide information and updates on the research being conducted on this project, along with each of its component sub-grants.

Thrive Center Research News & Articles

Searching for Explanations: How the Internet Inflates Estimates of Internal Knowledge

2015-04-06 09:24:01 gfoley

How often are you sitting at the dinner table, having a conversation about a unique and thought provoking topic, when someone sitting at the table (possibly you) pulls out his or her phone to do some on-the-fly research? Researchers Matthew Fisher, Mariel K. Goddu, and Frank C. Keil of Yale University explore how having the data of the internet always present at our fingertips inflates what we believe that we know. CLICK HERE to read more about this project and view the full article, which was funded through the Intellectual Humility Project and the Thrive Center for Human Development with a grant made possible by the John Templeton Foundation.


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Known Unknowns or: How we learned to stop worrying about uncertainty and love intellectual humility

2014-05-22 10:55:19 gfoley

Known Unknowns or:  How we learned to stop worrying about uncertainty and love intellectual humility


Peter L. Samuelson, Fuller School of Psychology,

Ian M. Church, St. Louis University,

Post-doctoral researchers in the Science of Intellectual Humility Project funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

In two recent articles on the NY Times opinion pages, the term “intellectual humility” has played a central role.  As “leading experts” on intellectual humility (we are researchers on a grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study the science of intellectual humility, and probably know more about intellectual humility than anyone else in the world!), our ears naturally perked up.

The first instance was in a column dated Feb. 22, 2014, in which Thomas L. Friedman interviewed Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations for Google, who claimed “intellectual humility” as one of the most important attributes Google looks for in hiring candidates. Bock went on to characterize intellectual humility in this way:

What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’

Contrast this conception of intellectual humility with a quote from the memoir of Donald Rumsfeld, cited in the second of a four-part series in the NY Times Opininator Blog posted on March 26, 2014 by Errol Morris, entitled “ The Certainty of Donald Rumsfeld: The known and the unknown.”

The idea of known and unknown unknowns recognizes that the information those in positions of responsibility in government, as well as in other human endeavors, have at their disposal is almost always incomplete. It emphasizes the importance of intellectual humility, a valuable attribute in decision making and in formulating strategy. It is difficult to accept — to know — that there may be important unknowns.

Both Bock and Rumsfeld are appealing to intellectual humility as a crucial virtue in human endeavors, especially in collaborative efforts like software development or strategy formation.  A virtue is classically defined as “doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.”  In what we will call the “Googlean” conception (expressed by Mr. Bock), intellectual humility is holding a position firmly until proven wrong.  In what we will call the “Rumsfeldean” conception, intellectual humility is holding a position loosely because knowledge is necessarily incomplete.

Both conceptions of intellectual humility have merit. The Rumsfeldean position has been used as the very definition of wisdom.  As tradition has it, Socrates was the wisest man in all of Greece because he knew his own intellectual limitations, because he knew that he didn’t know. In our own work on the intellectual humility project, we have defined intellectual humility as “holding a belief with the firmness the belief merits.”  Some beliefs, like the belief that 2+2=4, merit being held with the utmost firmness; to do otherwise—to have serious, lingering doubts as to whether or not 2+2=4—is to be intellectually diffident or intellectually self-deprecating. Other beliefs, like the beliefs regarding the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin, merit being held with very little firmness; to do otherwise, to be convinced that exactly five angels can dance on the head of a pin—is to be intellectually arrogant. To put it roughly, intellectual humility, as the virtuous mean between such vices, calls for us to proportion our beliefs, our convictions in accord with our justification, our warrant, our evidence.

The thin edge between virtue and vice, however, is not in having the right formulation of intellectual humility, but in exercising intellectual humility at the right time, for the right reason.  In the Rumsfeldean conception, intellectual humility might best be exercised as caution – not making a decision too quickly because any given bit of knowledge is incomplete.  Intellectual humility, then, would be the willingness to gather more evidence, from as many sources as possible, to make the knowledge as complete as possible, before a decision is made. It would be vicious, however, to embrace ignorance because knowledge is necessarily incomplete.  Even if our knowledge of the bus barreling down the road is incomplete, that doesn’t mean we should cross the road.

By Googlean lights (and our own), intellectual humility is virtuously exercised by a certain tenacity, when the belief is merited (even zealotry, according to Bock), and a willingness to adjust the belief when evidence warrants.  It would be vicious to hold a belief when there is not enough evidence to warrant such a belief, or when evidence exists that proves the belief wrong.  According to Errol Morris, this is precisely what Donald Rumsfeld did:  held a belief that Saddam Hussein had WMD’s, which justified the invasion of Iraq, when there was not enough evidence to support that belief.  If Morris is right, Rumsfeld is displaying intellectual arrogance – holding a belief more firmly than is merited.

What is interesting about Rumsfeld’s intellectual arrogance is that he justifies it based on his idea of intellectual humility.  Intellectual humility, by his lights, acknowledges that “there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. … there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” (Rumsfeld speaking at the Feb. 22, 2002 news conference). Rumsfeld seems to claim that since no knowledge is certain, we have to act on beliefs formed from uncertain or (highly) defeasible evidence.  This, however, is not intellectual humility. Morris is right to conclude that Rumsfeld’s certainty is vicious, because he held a belief without sufficient evidence, what we define as intellectual arrogance.

Intellectual humility, to be an intellectual virtue, must be exercised in the pursuit of truth, even if the “truth” cannot be completely known.  In this context, it will exhibit  characteristics such as curiosity, inquisitiveness, and love of learning.  Indeed, in our own research, these words are found to be uniquely prototypical attributes of a “folk” conception of an intellectually humble person.  In the face of the limits of our knowledge, we can neither throw up our hands and claim nothing can be known, nor can we arrogantly assert our claims because they have as much merit as any other, but must humbly collaborate to find the best evidence we can so that our actions are true.

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Religion in China: Is it Natural? Thrive Unveils Preliminary Findings at Hong Kong Conference

2014-04-23 10:24:38 gfoley

On Wednesday, April 23, researchers from the Thrive Center for Human Development, Boston University, and Chinese Academy of Sciences, among other institutions, will present initial findings from their research project “Is Religion Natural? The Chinese Challenge” at the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.


“Although there is extensive research to suggest that human religiosity may be a natural byproductof human instincts, very little research has been done with participants drawn from predominantly secular environments,” said Thrive Center director and Chinese Challenge principle investigator Justin L. Barrett, Ph.D. “Our project does just that by examining whether Chinese share core psychological characteristics driving religious belief and how these natural tendencies towards religious belief are manifested in a largely secular cultural environment.”

Conference attendees will hear from and engage some of the worlds foremost experts on the “naturalness theory of religious cognition,” including Drs. Justin Barrett, Ryan Hornbeck, Liqi Zhu, Deborah Kelemen, Melanie Nyhof and Justin Gregory.

Full reports of The Chinese Challenge research are forthcoming as journal articles, books, book chapters and infographics.

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Intellectual Humility & Children: Do children know what they think they know?

2014-03-20 14:46:14 gfoley

Does a young boy really know how his dad’s lawnmower works if he says that he does? Does a little girl know that the Tooth Fairy is really going to come to replace her incisor for a dollar bill with no more evidence beyond that her parents told her so? Intellectual humility, the understanding that you do not know everything, is a virtue that is the topic of research driving the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) funded, The Science of Intellectual Humility Project. Kristina Olson and the researchers from the University of Washington, one of 19 institutions funded by the Thrive Center and JTF, is investigating the markers of intellectual humility for young children in a cross-cultural sample.

Recently, Psychology Today has published two articles by the University of Washington team about the development of intellectual humility in children. Read more about this exciting new research by clicking on the links below.

To learn more about intellectual humility and the unique projects being pursued by our grantees, visit our Intellectual Humility sub-site. Click HERE to read the abstract about Dr. Olson and the University of Washington’s project.

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Is World of Warcraft a Religion?

2014-02-20 07:25:03 gfoley
Photo Credit:

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It is very unlikely that the lucky children who got to open an Atari 2600 video game console on Christmas in 1977 (or their parents) had a clue that the question of whether video games could become a religion would be a legitimate one some day. In our modern world, children as young as three or four learn to operate computers (cell phones and tablets) that are more powerful than those the astronauts used in the Apollo spacecraft.

Dr. Ryan Hornbeck of the Thrive Center has conducted research looking at how for some who play the video game World of Warcraft, the game is a way of life. Click Here to read the full article published online by to learn more about Dr. Hornbeck’s research.


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