Publications

2022

Prinzing, M., Le Nguyen, K., & Fredrickson, B. “Does Shared Positivity Make Life More Meaningful? Perceived Positivity Resonance is Uniquely Associated with Perceived Meaning in LifeJournal of Personality and Social Psychology

Pleasantness and meaningfulness are sometimes seen as opposing pursuits. Yet past research has found that the pursuit of meaning often leads to pleasure. In four longitudinal studies—three observational, one experimental, ranging from 5 weeks to 18 months—we investigated an inverse process, whereby certain kinds of pleasant states foster a sense of meaning in life. We found that perceptions of positivity resonance, a form of co-experienced positive affect characterized by mutual care and synchrony, are experienced as particularly meaningful in the moment and, over time, build social resources (e.g., supportive relationships and communities) that foster an enduring sense of meaning in life.

Vazquez, M. & Prinzing, M. “The Virtues of Ethics Bowl: Do Pre-College Philosophy Programs Prepare Students for Democratic Citizenship?”, Journal of Philosophy in Schools

This paper discusses the rationale for, and efforts to quantify the success of, philosophy outreach programs. We focus on the National High School Ethics Bowl (NHSEB) specifically, articulating the program's democratic foundations and the civic and intellectual virtues that it might promote. We then describe our efforts to empirically assess the impact of NHSEB on students’ intellectual and civic virtues and offer recommendations for research design for further studies (including alternative methods, outcomes, and study designs).

Prinzing, M., Sappenfield, C., & Fredrickson, B. “What Makes Me Matter? Investigating How and Why People Feel Significant”, Journal of Positive Psychology

There are many ways in which, and reasons why, people can think that they matter. In three studies, we used observational, experimental, and qualitative methods to investigate individuals' perceptions of their own significance. We differentiated between mattering to other people in general, to close others (like family and friends), in society, and in the grand scheme of the universe. Results indicated key differences between these forms of perceived mattering and suggest that social factors play an outsized role in overall perceptions.

2021

Prinzing, M., De Freitas, J., & Fredrickson, B. “The Ordinary Concept of a Meaningful Life: The Role of Subjective and Objective Factors in Third-Person Attributions of Meaning”, Journal of Positive Psychology

This paper reports on the first empirical investigation of the ordinary concept of a meaningful life. In six experiments, we found that a person's psychological states (feelings of interest, engagement, and fulfillment) and the objective conditions of the person's life (e.g., their effects on others) each contribute independently to individuals' judgments that the person's life is meaningful.

Prinzing, M. “The Meaning of ‘Life’s Meaning’”, Philosopher’s Imprint

Life’s meaning is a deeply important topic, yet it is also notoriously perplexing. It is often unclear what people are talking about when they talk about life having “meaning”. This paper attempts to clarify things by providing a schema for understanding claims about meaning. It defends a theory according to which X means Y iff Y is a correct interpretation of X—i.e., if Y is a correct answer to an interpretive question, Z. I argue that this (perhaps surprising) claim has impressive explanatory power.

Prinzing, M., Van Cappellen, P., & Fredrickson, B. “More Than a Momentary Blip in the Universe? Investigating the Link Between Religiousness and Perceived Meaning in Life”, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

Why does religious faith lead people to feel a stronger sense of meaning in life? One hypothesis is that religions bring people into communities, leading to a sense of significance to other people. Another hypothesis is that, by positing a relationship between humans and a vast being (God), religious faith fosters a sense of cosmic significance. In five studies, we found support for both hypotheses. However, perceived cosmic mattering emerged as the stronger mechanism behind the link between religiousness and a sense of meaning in life.

Prinzing, M. “How to Study Well-Being: A Proposal for the Integration of Philosophy with Science”, Review of General Psychology

This paper argues against the two predominant approaches to studying well-being: purely a priori, normative theorizing (typical of philosophy); and atheoretical, empirical investigation (typical of the social sciences). I propose that these methods be brought together in a “conceptual engineering” approach, which involves an iterative process of normative theorizing, empirical investigation, and conceptual revision.

West, T. N., Le Nguyen, K. D., Zhou, J., Prinzing, M., Wells, J. C., & Fredrickson, B. “How the Affective Quality of Social Connections May Contribute to Public Health: Prosocial Tendencies Account for the Links Between Positivity Resonance and Behaviors that Reduce the Spread of COVID-19”, Affective Science

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people were hesitant to comply with social distancing, hygiene, and mask mandates. In this paper, we found evidence that "positivity resonance"—i.e., moments of co-experienced positive affect characterized by mutual care and synchrony—may cultivate prosocial tendencies (e.g., altruism and humility) that led to greater compliance with pandemic-era guidelines and mandates.

Zhou, J., Le Nguyen, K., Prinzing, M., West, T., & Fredrickson, B. “The Goods in Everyday Love: Positivity Resonance Builds Prosociality”, Emotion

In a longitudinal experiment, we found that encouraging people to create moments of positive connection with others led to increases in positivity resonance, which, in turn, led to increases in prosocial tendencies (altruism, humility, and a sense of connection to all life).

Prinzing, M. “Positive Psychology is Value-Laden—It’s Time to Embrace It”, Journal of Positive Psychology

Claims about human well-being necessarily involve claims about value and what people have reason to do. This paper argues that, accordingly, scientists who study well-being must embrace more openly the fact that their research is value-laden. Doing so would benefit the research by allowing for more rigorous theorizing, and would enable more public and inclusive discussion of the values that shape the research.

2020

Prinzing, M., Zhou, J., West, T., Le Nguyen, K., Wells, J., & Fredrickson, B. “Staying ‘In Sync’ with Others During COVID-19: Positivity Resonance Mediates Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Links Between Trait Resilience and Mental Health”, Journal of Positive Psychology

The COVID-19 pandemic represented a major challenge to mental health. In a longitudinal study we found that highly resilient individuals managed to create moments of high-quality social connection (i.e., positivity resonance) even during times of "social distancing." These moments appear to have played a uniquely important role in maintaining their mental health during the early months of the pandemic.

Prinzing, M. “Going Green is Good for You: Why We Need to Change the Way We Think about Pro-Environmental Behavior”, Ethics, Policy & Environment

Many people seem to believe that pro-environmental behaviors (i.e., behaviors that reduce one's impact on the environment) are burdensome and self-sacrificial. I argue that this often false. In fact, many of the things that one can do to help mitigate climate change are also good for one's health and happiness. Hence, I also argue, environmentalists should be spreading this message.

Prinzing, M. “Explanatory Perfectionism: A Fresh Take on an Ancient Theory”, Analysis

Perfectionism is the view that flourishing involves fulfilling one's nature. That is, facts about the sort of being that one is (i.e. one’s nature) reveal certain ideals whose fulfillment constitutes one’s well-being. I argue that this theory is not plausible when understood as a "first order" theory of well-being—i.e., a theory that purports to explain why particular things (e.g. taking a vacation) are good for a person by positing prudentially good-making properties (e.g., pleasantness). But it is a very compelling theory when understood as a "second order" theory—i.e., a theory that purports to explain why a certain properties are prudentially good-making.

Prinzing, M. “Pathological Moralizing: Is Moral Judgment a Commitment Device?”, Ethics

Some researchers argue that a proper understanding of the psychological function of moral judgments reveals that such judgments are problematic. Specifically, they lead to "practical pathologies," like hypocrisy and self-delusion. I argue that the theory of moral judgments behind this claim only captures one kind of moral judgment. Thus, even if one accepts the claims of these researchers, the practical implications are fairly limited.

2018

Prinzing, M. Friendly Superintelligent AI: All You Need is Love” In V. Müller (Ed.), Philosophy and Theory of Artificial Intelligence 2017. Springer.

Many AI researchers believe that artificial general intelligence (AI) will one day surpass human-level cognitive ability, and go on to become “superintelligent—i.e., vastly more intelligent than any human. This paper proposes a strategy for ensuring that superintelligent AI systems will consistently act in ways congenial to human interests. The strategy is to incorporate emotions, particularly love, into their design. The paper compares this strategy with competitors proposed by Yudkowsky and Bostrom.

Prinzing, M. The Revisionist’s Rubric: Conceptual Engineering and the Discontinuity Objection”, Inquiry

"Conceptual engineering," which involves intentionally revising the meanings of words to suit certain (practical or theoretical) purposes, is ubiquitous in many areas of academic inquiry. A common objection to this practice is that it risks changing the subject. Why care about, say, scientific discoveries about "love" if that word had been redefined from what people normally mean when they use the term "love?" In this paper, I argue that concepts can be understood as functional kinds, and hence there is no change of subject so long as the revised concept preserves the point and purpose, or the function, of the original concept.

Works in progress and under review

Prinzing, M., & Fredrickson, B. “No Peace for the Wicked? Immorality Is (Usually) Thought to Disrupt Intrapersonal Harmony

Past research has found that people attribute less happiness to morally bad agents than to morally good agents. In these experiments, we find that that moral considerations also affect a wide range of emotional states. We also find evidence that this is because immorality is seen as disrupting intrapersonal harmony. That is, because people tend to assume that "deep down" people are good, immorality is seen as a source of intrapersonal conflict, that precludes happiness and other, similar states.

Prinzing, M., Earp, B., & Knobe, J. "Why Morality Affects Happiness Attributions: Judgments About Fittingness Versus the True Self"

Building on the paper above, we find strong evidence that moral considerations do not affect attributions of emotions like happiness because they affect the fittingness of these emotions. Rather, our results indicate that moral considerations affect emotion attributions because they affect the degree to which people think emotions reflects a person's "true self."

Prinzing, M. “Learning about the personal benefits of sustainability increases pro-environmental motivation and the persuasiveness of subsequent communication

Sustainable lifestyles are often seen as burdensome or self-sacrificial, which impairs pro-environmental motivation. However, a growing body of research shows that pro-environmental behaviors often support individuals' health and happiness. In two experiments, I found that messages about how sustainability can support individual well-being increase pro-environmental motivation and make people more persuasive in their subsequent efforts to encourage others to live sustainably. Such messages might reshape the way that people think and talk about sustainable lifestyles, thereby supporting the sustainability movement.