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Professor’s Team Earns $1.95 Million To Study ‘Feel-Good’ Stories

College of Communications professor Mary Beth Oliver, along with Florida State University’s Arthur Raney, was awarded a $1.95 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study whether the ‘feel-good’ stories we see on social media and in newspapers can help make us better people, according to Penn State News.

Oliver also serves as co-director of the Media-Effects Laboratory at Penn State, and primarily focuses her research on the link between media and psychology, particularly the emotional and cognitive response that people have to media. Oliver will serve as the co-primary investigator to Raney, the project leader and James E. Kirk Professor of Communication at FSU.

The grant will help the team’s proposal,“Your Daily Dose of Inspiration: Exploring How People Use and Are Impacted by Media Content that Elicits Self-Transcendent Emotions,” by funding psychological experiments, content analyses, and national surveys on inspirational media. “Inspirational media” can include anything from viral videos and social media posts to television, film, and even newspaper stories.

“Research in media psychology has been dominated by explorations of harmful effects such as media violence,” Oliver said. “Our research acknowledges the potential of media to also have beneficial outcomes, such as enhancing our sense of well-being and heightening feelings of interconnectedness with others.”

The research, beginning in August, is slated to take three years, culminating in a two-day conference at Florida State in 2018. The research team will take a deeper look at what makes media inspiring, who seeks out such inspirational content and why, and how people use it to stimulate positive emotions. Oliver and her group will also look to see how those emotional experiences might build character and make individuals act in a way that shows more care and concern for others.

The grant from The Templeton Foundation is awarded as a philanthropic catalyst to discoveries that ask the “big questions” of human purpose and ultimate reality. So next week, when you’re trying to justify watching that video of a dog rescuing his owner on Facebook in procrastination of studying for your finals, assure yourself that Oliver and her team are out there to prove that it is in fact worth it, and you are ultimately just working to become a better person.

About the Author

Lexi Shimkonis

Lexi is an editor-turned-staff writer who can often be found at either Irving's or the Phyrst (with the chances she'll have her backpack being the same). Lexi is a senior hailing from Spring City, PA (kind of) and studying Civil Engineering. Please email questions and/or pleas for an Instagram caption to [email protected], or for a more intimate bond, follow her on Twitter @lexshimko.

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