Barbara L. Fredrickson

Wednesday, May 16

08:15 - 09:00
How Positive Emotions Heal

Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD

Kenan Distinguished Professor

Director, Social Psychology Doctoral Program

Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina

Director, Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory


Presentation Overview

The ability to self-generate meaningful positive emotions is essential to health from infancy to old age. In this presentation, world-renowned researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson will justify this claim by drawing on her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions and the latest evidence that supports it. The theory holds that, in the moment of experience, positive emotions expand people’s awareness (the broaden effect) and that, over time, moments of expanded awareness accumulate and compound to increase people’s resources for living well (the build effect).  Experiments from multiple laboratories now support the broaden effect of positive emotions, using behavioral measures as well as eye-tracking and brain imaging.  More recently, field experiments have tested the build effect of positive emotions, finding that people can reliably increase their daily diets of positive emotions through the contemplative practice of loving-kindness meditation, and by doing so, they nourish growth in their personal resources.  Improved resources, including perceived mindfulness, environmental mastery, self-acceptance, positive relations with others, and physical health, in turn contribute to increases in life satisfaction and reductions in depressive symptom.  Moving beyond self-reported resources, a recent field experiment finds that the practice of loving-kindness meditation also increases people’s cardiac vagal tone, a biological marker of health and flexible self-regulatory capacity. These new data deepen the evidence that contemplative practices transform enduring biological functioning in ways that may promote both mental and physical health.



Barbara Fredrickson is Kenan Distinguished Professor and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory (a.k.a. PEPlab, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she holds appointments in Psychology and the Kenan-Flagler School of Business.  She earned her undergraduate degree from Carleton College and her doctorate from Stanford University and has previously held faculty positions at Duke University and the University of Michigan. She is most known for her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions, which she and her students have tested in laboratory and field experiments, using self-report, behavioral, and physiological measures. She has received numerous honors for her research on the benefits of positive emotions, including the American Psychological Association’s Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology and the Society for Experimental Social Psychology’s Career Trajectory Award.  Her work has also received more than fifteen consecutive years of research funding from the National Institute of Health. She is co-author of a leading Introductory Psychology textbook, and with the publication of Positivity (Crown, 2009) she has written about her research for general audiences as well. For more information on Fredrickson’s work, please visit