The Positive Psychology Laboratory - Dr. JoAnn Tsang

Dr. Tsang has three general programs of research: gratitude, forgiveness, and the psychology of religion. One large program of research involves gratitude and the use of behavioral measures. Prior research in gratitude has relied predominantly on scenario inductions of gratitude and self-report dependent measures. This standard methodology poses several limitations, including the possibility that scenarios do not induce actual grateful emotion, as well as the confound of social desirability in the use of self-report. In this program of research, our lab has worked to refine an experimental induction of gratitude that distinguishes between grateful emotion and general positive mood. This methodology also includes a behavioral dependent measure of gratitude that is both costly and covert, which helps insure that participants are providing sincere answers, rather than responding as they think the experimenter might want them to respond. This methodology has provided us with a foundation for testing many different variables known to affect gratitude but which previously have been investigated only through self-reports. These include the relationship between gratitude and favor value, the effect of religious priming on gratitude, and whether grateful behaviors are fueled by egoistic or altruistic motivations. In addition to this methodology, our lab has employed retrospective and scenario methodology to investigate the differences between gratitude and indebtedness.

I have recently been pursuing a similar line of research examining forgiveness and behavioral measures. This program of research is funded by a small grant from the Fetzer Institute. Using an experimental transgression and a behavioral measure of forgiveness, our lab has examined the effects of restitution, apology, and religious primes on both self-reported and behavioral forgiveness. Fetzer has also funded our lab to investigate self-forgiveness in populations of clients recovering from substance abuse, as well as in veterans from the Gulf War and Afghanistan. This self-forgiveness project is being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Sara Dolan, a clinical psychologist in our department. Lastly, we are in the beginning stages of creating an implicit measure of forgiveness to complement the self-report and behavioral measures of forgiveness currently being used in our laboratory.

My third program of research involves the psychology of religion. In collaboration with Dr. Wade Rowatt, a social psychologist in our department, we have looked at the relationship between religious personality variables and implicit prejudice. I also often include religious variables in my studies of gratitude and forgiveness.