Grantee: Barbara L. Fredrickson

Barbara L. Fredrickson

Barbara L. Fredrickson, PhD

Psychologist and Affective Scientist
  • University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

As Kenan Distinguished Professor and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., investigates how pleasant affective states shape people's cognitive processes, behavioral choices, and development trajectories across the lifespan. Her Broaden-and-Build Theory of Positive Emotions (1998) changed the way scientists and others understand the evolved adaptive functions of pleasant affective states. The Broaden-and-Build Theory also provides a foundation for Dr. Fredrickson's more recent theorizing about sustained behavior change.

Sedentary lifestyles contribute to premature deaths from cancer and other costly chronic diseases. Cancer control is currently stymied by the perplexing fact that among those who act on their intention to become physically active, 60 to 90 percent revert to inactivity within 6 to 12 months. Good intentions are thus insufficient for long-term behavioral maintenance. Day-to-day health behaviors are instead shaped by affective experiences and nonconscious motives. Dr. Fredrickson's Upward Spiral Theory of Lifestyle Change integrates discoveries across affective science to illuminate the affective, biological, and nonconscious processes that underpin sustained behavior change. The Upward Spiral Theory identifies nonconscious motives as a central mechanism of behavioral maintenance. Specifically, positive affect experienced during positive health behaviors (e.g., physical activity) increases nonconscious incentive salience for cues associated with those behaviors, which in turn, implicitly guides attention and everyday decisions to repeat those behaviors. The theory also identifies endogenous vantage resources -- biological, psychological, and social -- that amplify the positive affect experienced during positive health behaviors, and in turn accelerate behavioral allegiance to a healthy lifestyle. Dr. Fredrickson's National Cancer Institute-supported research program on the maintenance of positive health behaviors seeks to unlock scalable, low-cost interventions to promote health and save money and lives.

When people experience positive affect while being physically active, they unwittingly trigger a chain of nonconscious and biological processes that can ultimately transform physical activity from a chore into a lifelong passion.”

Selected Grants

Project Title Grant Number Program Director
Promoting Cancer-related Behavior Change through Positive Emotions (PQ4) 5R01CA170128-04 Rebecca Ferrer