Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. has been advancing the science of positive emotions for more than 25 years. She is currently Kenan Distinguished Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she holds appointments in psychology and neuroscience and directs the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology (PEP) Lab. She has authored 100+ peer-reviewed articles and book chapters, and her books "Positivity" and "Love 2.0" have been translated into more than 20 languages.
Dr. Fredrickson’s award-winning research, funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, reveals how micro-moments of love and other forms of positivity nourish your health, wisdom and longevity. As one of the most highly cited contributors to psychological science, Dr. Fredrickson is best known for her broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. It describes how your positive emotions were sculpted by the discerning chisel of Darwinian natural selection to serve as life-giving nutrients for growth.
Dr. Fredrickson’s scientific contributions have influenced scholars and practitioners worldwide, within business, education, counseling, health care, the military and beyond. She is president of the International Positive Psychology Association and her work has been featured in The New York Times, NPR, CNN, PBS, The Atlantic, The Economist and elsewhere. She has also been invited to brief His Holiness the Dalai Lama on her research on several occasions.
Industry Expertise (3)
Mental Health Care
Professional Training and Coaching
Areas of Expertise (8)
Best Professor Prize (2015) (professional)
Awarded by the students of the Executive Master in Positive Leadership & Strategy, IE Business School in Madrid
Christopher Peterson Gold Medal (2013) (professional)
Dr. Fredrickson is the recipient of the inaugural Christopher Peterson Gold Medal, the highest honor bestowed by the International Positive Psychology Association.
Distinguished Achievement Award (2011) (professional)
Bestowed by the Alumni Association of Carleton College
Society for Experimental Social Psychology's Career Trajectory Award (2008) (professional)
The Career Trajectory Award celebrates scientific contributions made in the early-to-mid stages of a research career.
Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology (2000) (professional)
Dr. Fredrickson is the recipient of the American Psychological Association's inaugural Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology.
Stanford University: Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Psychology 1990
Minor in organizational behavior
Carleton College: B.A., Psychology 1986
Summa Cum Laude
- American Psychological Association
- Association for Psychological Science
- International Society for Research on Emotion
- Society for Experimental Social Psychology
- Society for Personality and Social Psychology
- Association of Positive Emotion Laboratories (Founder and Co-Chair)
- International Positive Psychology Association (President)
Media Appearances (7)
Women Put Themselves Down Eight Times a Day, Study Reveals
Psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina found a surprising link between thinking positively and improving the ability to search and find possibilities in our lives.
A positive attitude leads to a longer retirement
An article drawing from Dr. Fredrickson's studies on psychology, health, and positivity.
A Better Way to Pursue Happiness
Trying to be happy is a recipe for neurosis. There's a better way.
Scientific evidence points to importance of positive thinking
As psychologists turn their focus to positive emotions, a growing body of research is showing that positivity has knock-on effects that can help humans flourish in all areas of life. Lynne Malcolm meets leading positivity scholar Barbara Fredrickson and gets some tips on how to enjoy life more.
The Big Idea: Barbara Fredrickson on Love 2.0
The Daily Beast online
On Valentine’s Day, UNC psychology professor Barbara Fredrickson, whose new book is Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become, gives The Daily Beast the latest scientific view of love.
Meaning is Healthier Than Happiness
People who are happy but have little-to-no sense of meaning in their lives have the same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic adversity.
What's love got to do with it?
UNC-Chapel Hill Office of Communication
According to Barbara Fredrickson, Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at Carolina and author of the new book "Love 2.0," love is not a second-hand emotion but an essential ingredient to our overall happiness and something to pay attention to on Valentine’s Day and beyond.
Event Appearances (4)
Have you had your compassion and love today?
Global Compassion Summit online event
Understanding the Good Life
Eve Marie Carson Lecture UNC-Chapel Hill
Mindfulness and Automatic Affective Reactivity
Positive Emotions Pre-Conference to Inaugural meeting of the Society of Affective Science Washington. DC
15th Annual Meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology Austin, TX
A functional genomic perspective on human well-beingPNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,
Fredrickson, B. L., Grewen, K. M., Coffey, K. A., Algoe, S. B., Firestine, A. M., Arevalo, J. M. G., Ma, J., & Cole, S. W. ABSTRACT: To identify molecular mechanisms underlying the prospective health advantages associated with psychological well-being, we analyzed leukocyte basal gene expression profiles in 80 healthy adults who were assessed for hedonic and eudaimonic well-being, as well as potentially confounded negative psychological and behavioral factors. Hedonic and eudaimonic well-being showed similar affective correlates but highly divergent transcriptome profiles. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from people with high levels of hedonic well-being showed up-regulated expression of a stress-related conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA) involving increased expression of proinflammatory genes and decreased expression of genes involved in antibody synthesis and type I IFN response. In contrast, high levels of eudaimonic well-being were associated with CTRA down-regulation. Promoter-based bioinformatics implicated distinct patterns of transcription factor activity in structuring the observed differences in gene expression associated with eudaimonic well-being (reduced NF-κB and AP-1 signaling and increased IRF and STAT signaling). Transcript origin analysis identified monocytes, plasmacytoid dendritic cells, and B lymphocytes as primary cellular mediators of these dynamics. The finding that hedonic and eudaimonic well-being engage distinct gene regulatory programs despite their similar effects on total well-being and depressive symptoms implies that the human genome may be more sensitive to qualitative variations in well-being than are our conscious affective experiences.
How positive emotions build physical health: Perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone.Psychological Science
Kok, B.E., Coffey, K. A., Cohn, M.A., Catalino, L.I., Vacharkulksemsek, T., Algoe, S.B., Brantley, M. & Fredrickson, B. L. ABSTRACT: The mechanisms underlying the association between positive emotions and physical health remain a mystery. We hypothesize that an upward-spiral dynamic continually reinforces the tie between positive emotions and physical health and that this spiral is mediated by people's perceptions of their positive social connections. We tested this overarching hypothesis in a longitudinal field experiment in which participants were randomly assigned to an intervention group that self-generated positive emotions via loving-kindness meditation or to a waiting-list control group. Participants in the intervention group increased in positive emotions relative to those in the control group, an effect moderated by baseline vagal tone, a proxy index of physical health. Increased positive emotions, in turn, produced increases in vagal tone, an effect mediated by increased perceptions of social connections. This experimental evidence identifies one mechanism-perceptions of social connections-through which positive emotions build physical health, indexed as vagal tone. Results suggest that positive emotions, positive social connections, and physical health influence one another in a self-sustaining upward-spiral dynamic.
Open hearts build lives: Positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resourcesJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M.A., Coffey, K.A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S.M. ABSTRACT: B. L. Fredrickson's (1998, 2001) broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions asserts that people's daily experiences of positive emotions compound over time to build a variety of consequential personal resources. The authors tested this build hypothesis in a field experiment with working adults (n = 139), half of whom were randomly-assigned to begin a practice of loving-kindness meditation. Results showed that this meditation practice produced increases over time in daily experiences of positive emotions, which, in turn, produced increases in a wide range of personal resources (e.g., increased mindfulness, purpose in life, social support, decreased illness symptoms). In turn, these increments in personal resources predicted increased life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms. Discussion centers on how positive emotions are the mechanism of change for the type of mind-training practice studied here and how loving-kindness meditation is an intervention strategy that produces positive emotions in a way that outpaces the hedonic treadmill effect.
Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences.. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Tugade, M.M. & Fredrickson, B. L. ABSTRACT: Theory indicates that resilient individuals “bounce back” from stressful experiences quickly and effectively. Few studies, however, have provided empirical evidence for this theory. The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions (B. L. Fredrickson, 1998, 2001) is used as a framework for understanding psychological resilience. The authors used a multimethod approach in 3 studies to predict that resilient people use positive emotions to rebound from, and find positive meaning in, stressful encounters. Mediational analyses revealed that the experience of positive emotions contributed, in part, to participants’ abilities to achieve efficient emotion regulation, demonstrated by accelerated cardiovascular recovery from negative emotional arousal (Studies 1 and 2) and by finding positive meaning in negative circumstances (Study 3). Implications for research on resilience and positive emotions are discussed.
The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.American Psychologist
2001 ABSTRACT: In this article, the author describes a new theoretical perspective on positive emotions and situates this in perspective within the emerging field of positive psychology. The broaden-and-build theory posits that experience of positive emotions broaden people's momentary thought–action repertoires, which in turn serves to build their enduring personal resources, ranging from physical and intellectual resources to social and psychological resources...