Thrive Center for Human Development

"...exploring the science and practice of nurturing optimal development."

(Thrive) with a vision to explore the science and practice of nurturing optimal development, is committed to promote human thriving by researching the development of child and adolescent spirituality, character and competence and also by providing resources for individuals and organization that assist young people to become flourishing adults.

Faculty (in alphabetical order): Drs. Justin Barrett, James Furrow, Pamela Ebstyne King, Sarah Schnitker, and Maria Wong

Is Religion Natural? The Chinese Challenge

Project Leader: Justin L. Barrett

Research in the cognitive science of religion (CSR) has converged on the thesis that tendencies toward religious and spiritual thought, feelings, and actions may be part of largely invariable human nature. The fact that the worlds largest nation-China-is officially secular, allegedly has a long history of dominant non-religious philosophies, and reportedly has a large proportion of atheists challenges the naturalness of religion thesis, doesn't it? The proposed project and its collection of selected sub-projects will address this big question empirically using state-of-the-art techniques.

The proposed project has been designed with two aims in mind: (1) scientifically address one of humanity's big questions, and (2) create a blue print for a new and growing body of scholars to continue asking and answering such questions in the world's largest nation. The project is comprised of ten coordinated work-packages (WPs) involving 11 relevant experts, including collaborations between scholars from Fuller, University of Oxford, Boston University, Calvin College, Cal State Fullerton, Wuhan University and the Chinese Academy of Science.

  • WP1: Teleological and Intentional Reasoning about the Natural World
    • Dr. Deb Kelemen & Dr. Liqi Zhu
  • WP2: What Constitutes a Person
    • Dr. Melanie Nyhof
  • WP3: Afterlife and Pre-life Beliefs
    • Dr. Liqi Zhu
  • We are optimistic that we can bring clarity to this area by conducting this work package in close coordination with WP 2: how one conceptualizes mind-body relations bears directly upon how one thinks about disembodied states such as the afterlife. We see much of the confusion in this area due to failure to first develop well-validated indices of what are regarded as 'body-independent' mental states and processes versus 'body-dependent ones'. Once developed by WP2, we will be better placed to investigate whether afterlife beliefs are a natural default position and how cultural context can serve to either elaborate or tamp down such natural intuitions. The Chinese context will force us to consider how reincarnation beliefs and ancestor veneration practices are related to such natural cognition.
  • WP4: Revisiting the Preparedness Hypothesis
    • Dr. Justin Barrett
  • WP5: Religious Practices in Contemporary China
    • Dr. Justin Barrett & Dr. Ryan Hornbeck
  • WP6: Religion and moral development: Contemporary and Historical Perspectives
    • Dr. Ryan Nichols & Dr. Liqi Zhu
  • WP7: Ancient Chinese Conceptions of Divinity
    • Dr. Kelly Clark & Dr. Ted Slingerland
  • WP8: Counterintuitiveness in Communication and Oral Tradition
    • Dr. Justin Gregory
  • WP9: Spiritual Expression in the Wake of Forced Secularization
    • Dr. Ryan Hornbeck
  • WP10: On-line research hub for Chinese CSR
    • Dr. Ryan Hornbeck

Major outputs of the project will include an on-line hub, resources, and virtual laboratory for cross-cultural studies in the cognitive and evolutionary scientific study of religion; numerous academic journal articles in religious studies, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, and Chinese studies; at least three books; and a major multi-site conference.

The Science of Intellectual Humility

Project leader: Dr. Justin L. Barrett
Post-doctoral researchers: Dr. Ian Church, Dr. Peter Samuelson
Doctoral student researchers: Matt Jarvinen, Tom Paulus
Center staff: Rebecca Sok, Julia Stewart
Funded by: The John Templeton Foundation at $5.3 million dollars
Project dates: July 1, 2012 - June 20, 2015

What does it mean to be intellectually humble and how can intellectual humility be encouraged?

This question is the subject of the Thrive Center's John Templeton Foundation funded project, the "Science of Intellectual Humility" slated to run from 2012-2015. It currently involves two postdoctoral researchers and two doctoral student researchers examining specific questions surrounding intellectual humility (IH) such as:

  • Is IH domain specific or general?
  • Is it stable and trait-like or more variable in its expression?
  • What social and cognitive factors lead to or hinder its development?
  • Do some roots of intellectual arrogance likewise promote religious fundamentalism and intolerance?

Although humility has received significant attention, its distinctively intellectual side needs much further exploration. Intellectual humility concerns how we come to hold and retain our beliefs. It is constituted by a state of openness to new ideas, receptivity to new sources of evidence and the implications of that evidence, and willingness to revise even deeply held beliefs in the face of compelling reasons. The project's ultimate goal is to inform work in philosophy, theology, and clinical psychology in ways that will lead to greater openness, more civil discourse, and flourishing in human relationships.

The three-year project will produce a significant volume of research with the goal of leading other scientists-as well as theologians, traditional philosophers, and experimental philosophers-to devote more attention to the subject of intellectual humility.

Fuller will distribute $4 million of the grant to 16 "sub-grantees" who will engage in scientific research on the nature, implications, and ultimate causes of intellectual humility and arrogance-resulting in a body of literature and two conferences that will promote dialogue and collaboration on the topic.

This project will:

  • Support research on under-explored areas in psychology and evolution of intellectual humility / arrogance
  • Foster critical engagement between the cognitive and evolutionary sides
  • Digest the results of work in the field in order to advance its philosophical and theological significance
  • Assess the relevance of the results to determine the impediments to intellectual humility, and to identify concrete strategies for overcoming these native tendencies

Relational Capacity and Ministry Effectiveness

Project Lead: Dr. Justin L. Barrett
Doctoral Student Researchers: Candance Coppinger Pickett, Rebecca Burnside
Funded by: The John Templeton Foundation at $221,189
Project dates: May 1, 2012 - October 31, 2014

How do interpersonal relationships impact the effectiveness of one's ministry? Is there a limit to the amount of relationships one can manage? If there is, what is that limit and what are the effects of extending beyond it?

Many ministries place loving relationships at their core. Relationship numbers are constrained by what might be termed 'relational capacity.' Evolutionary psychology suggests limits to the number of personal, loving relationships a person can effectively maintain, approximately 150 based on R. Dunbar's work. But what happens if this limit is exceeded? We don't know. People generally don't do it, but some ministers do. Do the relationships, the minister, and the ministry suffer? This 35-month project seeks answers.

Youth ministry staff members often exceed the 150 mark, 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 spanning .

This study would contribute to general scientific knowledge of human relationships and constraints on exercising love. Further, it would have direct implications for ministries that rely on a relational model for doing ministry.

Exemplars of Spiritual Thriving in Adolescence: An Exploratory Study

Principle Investigator:
Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King

Project Summary:
This study is a joint effort between the Center for Spiritual Development in Childhood and Adolescence at Search Institute and the Center for Research in Child and Adolescent Development in the Graduate School of Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary and is funded by the John Templeton Foundation. The study aims to identify core principles of spiritual development that are found in youth recognized in their culture for living with profound spirituality.

In addition to developing a model of spiritual development, students are also exploring related topics of fidelity, transcendence, purpose, and spiritual coping.

The study involves in-depth interviews of 32 adolescent spiritual exemplars. These are young people nominated for living out their spirituality both inside and outside of religious tradition. The interviews were conducted in Peru, Kenya, India, Jordan, Great Britain, and the United States. The sample includes atheist, Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant youth. The practice of studying exemplary individuals has been demonstrated to be an effective means for exploring the emerging domains of study or new directions of study within the field of developmental psychology. This study draws on the current understandings of spirituality/spiritual development existing in the literature and uses consensual qualitative research methods in order to explore dimensions of spiritual development.

Tijuana Youth Project: Measuring Spiritual Development among Diverse Youth

Principle Investigator: Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King

Co-Investigator: Dr. Osvaldo Benitez, M.D., World Vision

As part of the larger Child Well-Being Indicators Project at World Vision International and co-jointly with the Center for Child & Adolescent Development and the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller, this study aims to develop a measurement tool for assessing spiritual development among diverse adolescents. Although the tool is intended for use among broad populations of young people, this original pilot test will be conducted with World Vision in Tijuana, Mexico.

Based on findings from the Adolescent Spiritual Exemplar Study, this study proposes and tests a measure of adolescent diverse spirituality that is based on the concepts of transcendence, fidelity, and action. The sample includes 391 youth from the Tijuana area in Mexico. Exploratory and confirmatory analyses will be conducted as well as other tests for construct and concurrent validity.

Religion as Resource for Positive Youth Development

Principle Investigator:

Dr. Pamela Ebstyne King

Project Summary:
This ongoing research program draws on various existing data sets in order to explore how religion and spirituality serve as developmental resources for adolescents. In addition to exploring positive correlates are related to various expressions of religion and spirituality, these studies also explore the mechanisms behind these relationships.

The Thriving Conversation Project

Principle Investigator:
Dr. Jim Furrow

Project Summary:

The primary goal of the Thriving Conversation Project is to assess the potential use of thriving principles in a therapeutic setting with at-risk youth. The project is based on the Thriving Conversation(TM) tool that was adapted into a 9-session therapeutic intervention program. A multi-level evaluation procedure will provide a preliminary assessment of the program's effectiveness with youth formally involved in street prostitution. Findings from this evaluation will be used to inform similar programs using Thriving principles in interventions with at-risk youth.

Character Development and Spiritual Transformation in Adolescents

Sarah Schnitker, PhD
This longitudinal study looks at the relation between spiritual
transformation and the development of character strengths
in youth attending Young Life summer camps. Utilizing a
prospective research design, we examine the effects of
spiritual change on virtue and well-being over time.

The Virtue of Patience and Well-Being

Patience, the propensity to wait calmly in the face of frustration, adversity, or suffering, is upheld as an important Christian virtue and critical component of human flourishing and well-being. This project seeks to examine ways in which patience relates to well being with a focus on mediation by goal achievement, emotion regulation, spiritual growth, and physiological reactivity.

Strivings and Well-Being

The research team is in the process of creating and validating a nomothetic measure of eudemonic, hedonic, and spiritual striving for use in adolescent populations. Relations between goals, traits, and well-being are examined to understand the interplay of personality levels in positive youth development.

Prayer Practices and Gratitude Sarah

Sarah Schnitker, PhD
This study compares the efficacy of gratitude and daily hassles
journaling to prayers of thanksgiving and supplication to (1) build
the virtues of gratitude and patience and (2) increase well-being.

Thrifty Behaviors and Beliefs

Sarah Schnitker, PhD
Thrift is an understudied virtue that is highly relevant in times of
economic and environmental pressures. We are constructing
and validating a scale to measure the multifaceted construct of
thrift. Relations between thrift and other virtues are examined.

Virtue Interventions in Adolescent Athletes

Sarah Schnitker, PhD
This project examines the efficacy of self-control and
patience interventions in adolescents on high school sports
teams. The relative effectiveness of interventions framed in
instrumental, moral, and spiritual terms will be tested.

(626) 584-5200
(800) 235-2222
135 N. Oakland Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91182