Virtue Talk Podcast: Psychologist Heather C. Lench on Emotions

virtuetalklogorsClick the link below to hear our scholar and psychologist Heather C. Lench discuss her research in how our emotions impact our thoughts about our futures and daily events, and how the conversations she’s having at our working group meetings have given her new ideas about emotions.

Heather C Lench | Virtue Talk

Heather C. Lench is Associate Professor and Department Head of Psychology at Texas A & M University.  Read more here.

Heather C. Lench with fellow scholar Marc Berman at the December 2015 working group meeting of the scholars of Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.



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Days 1-2 Working Group Meeting in Chicago – photos

Our 2nd working group meeting of scholars met June 6-10, 2016 at the University of Chicago in the beautiful Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Although the sessions were closed, you can read our scholars’ abstracts for their June Meeting Topics here and see more photos up in our Flickr album for the week.



Group photo: Working Group Meeting June 2016

Scholars Team June 2016
Click photo to make it larger. Photo by Marc Monaghan

We’re so happy our scholars are here in Chicago! Find out more about our scholars and their work this week in June here, and working group meetings in general, here.

Our scholars and team are:

From left to right, back row: Santiago Mejia, Michael Gorman, Matthias Haase, Jennifer A. Frey, Father Kevin Flannery, Candace Vogler, Katherine Kinzler, Howard Nusbaum, Talbot Brewer, Reinhardt Huetter, Marc G. Berman (not pictured: Tahera Qudbuddin).

Middle row: Christian Kronsted, Jean Porter, Father Thomas Joseph White, Mari Stuart, Nancy Snow, Heather C. Lench, Angela Knobel,  Erik Angner, Dan McAdams, Valerie Wallace, Jaime Hovey.

Front row: Paul Wong, David Shatz, David Carr, Anselm Mueller.

Questions our scholars are asking – round two


This coming week (June 6-10, 2016, at the Neubauer Collegium at the University of Chicago) is the second of four meetings for our  scholars (the first was December 2015 at the University of South Carolina). These meetings are immersive experiences for these scholars, who are philosophers, theologians, and psychologists; the meetings are aimed at generating systematic and integrated knowledge, including ultimately a new construct for empirical research on self-transcendence, new instruments of assessment, and new data.


Here are summaries of the questions and research our scholars will be discussing with each other in the coming week.


Matthias Haase: Can virtue be cultivated like a habit?


Tahera Qutbudden: Can one enjoy a happy and pleasurable life in this world while also preparing for the next?


Jennifer A. Frey: Is selfishness a particular kind of vice, or the nature of vice?


David Schatz: Is ignorance always a vice, or can it also be a virtue?


Heather C. Lench: Can boredom lead us to virtue?


David Carr: Does spirituality have a material dimension, and if so, can it be developed and educated?


Mari Stuart: Can the indigenous knowledge reflected in a moral ecology worldview teach things that climate science cannot?


Jean Porter: Can malice, like virtue, also give meaning to life?


Erik Angner: Is social well-being the same thing as happiness?


Paul Wong: Is it possible to measure Self-Transcendence?


Katharine Kinzler: Can infant food preferences teach us about the social world?


Mark Berman: Do ugly surroundings encourage criminal behavior?


Angela Knobel: Can the notion of virtue as a gift from God have broad appeal?


Father Thomas Joseph White: Can Aquinas help us understand Nietzsche’s ideas about truth and moral freedom?


Michael Gorman: Is a meaningful life also necessarily a good life?


Nancy Snow: Is magnificence—expenditure for the public good—virtuous, or vicious? Can it be both?


Tal Brewer: Are human beings irreplaceable, and due special forms of regard and good treatment?


Dan McAdams: What is the difference between habit and character? Do we narrate these things about ourselves in different ways?


Reinhard Hütter: How do we overcome the lure of self-sovereignty that surrounds us and attain true self-transcendence?


Father Kevin Flannery: What is the relationship between intention, choice, and virtue?



The Meaning of Boredom

Photo by shortono8

Boredom is a common experience – we experience it every day, often multiple times a day. People who are prone to experiencing boredom frequently are more likely to engage in a number of impulsive behaviors, including gambling, substance abuse, binge eating, and dropping out of school. Despite its frequency of occurrence and relation to negative outcomes, modern experimental psychology has largely ignored the effects of boredom until recently.


We proposed that boredom, like other emotions, occurs in response to a specific situation and organizes physiological, cognitive, and behavioral reactions. The situation that elicits boredom appears to be the perception that the current situation is no longer satisfying, and the experience of boredom organizes reactions to identify and pursue alternative activities that could be more satisfying. In other words, what you’re doing now is no longer satisfying, and boredom prompts you to look around for other options. Exactly what “satisfying” entails is a matter of debate. Some researchers have argued that satisfying activities are those that are personally meaningful. We have suggested that satisfying activities are those that are related to individuals’ goals, and could be aimed toward short or long-term goal pursuits. For example, boredom could prompt people to engage in an existentially meaningful examination of future plans, but it could also prompt people to play Candy Crush (which gives the illusion of goal pursuit).


In many studies people report that boredom is extremely aversive and unpleasant. In a series of recently completed studies, we randomly assigned participants to a boredom condition (viewing a long series of positive or neutral images) or a non-boredom condition (viewing a short series of images). Participants in the boredom condition expressed a preference for new experiences and they were more likely to choose novel over familiar images to view next. This preference for novelty was so strong that bored participants were even more likely to choose to view new negative images (e.g., cockroaches) over familiar positive images. These findings suggest that boredom creates a “seeking state” that motivates people to seek out new situations and stimuli, and that boredom is so unpleasant that people would rather view disgusting images than experience boredom.


Studies in our lab and other labs are currently exploring the relationships between boredom and creativity, mind wandering, and self-regulation. Given the ubiquity of boredom across individuals and cultures, this work has the potential to shed light on a core facet of human experience.

Heather C. Lench is Associate Professor of Psychology and Department Head, Texas A&M University, and a scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Recap: 1st Working Group Meeting, days 3, 4, and 5

Nancy Snow, Dan P. McAdams; Reinhard Huetter, Paul Wong, Fr. Thomas Joseph White; David Shatz, Michael Gorman; Matthias Haase, Talbot Brewer; Candace Vogler;  Reinhard Huetter, Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, Marc G. Berman;  Marc G. Berman, Heather C. Lench; Reinhard Huetter, Talbot Brewer; Fr. Thomas Joseph White, Paul Wong; Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, Heather C. Lench; Reinhad Huetter, Nancy Snow; Michael Gorman, Jennifer A. Frey; Candace Vogler, Michael Gorman; Jennifer A. Frey, Jaime Hovey, Matthias Haase; Kristján Kristjánsson; Erik Angner; Dan P. McAdams; Jennifer A. Frey; Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, Jean Porter; Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart; Marc G. Berman, Dan P. McAdams; Fr. Kevin Flannery, Matthias Haase;  Erik Angner, Jennifer A. Frey; Kristján Kristjánsson, Paul Wong; Jennifer A. Frey, Matthias Haase)

For more photos, visit our “December 2015 Working Group Meeting” Flickr album.

Welcome to our first working group meeting (December 14-19, 2016).

On Wednesday Father Thomas Joseph discussed the relationship between grace and nature, and Paul Wong talked about measuring happiness. In the afternoon Marc Berman discussed his research on nature restoration theory, or how nature commands attention from the mind in a way that restores cognitive energy and creativity. Michael Gorman discussed a purposeful life, and how sometimes we need to stop and listen rather than throw ourselves into “doing something.”


On Thursday Nancy Snow and her collaborator Jennifer Cole Wright discussed their work on measuring ordinary virtues. In the afternoon, Eric Angner spoke on the science of “happiness,” and Reinhard Hütter talked about doing without religion and the virtue of religion.


Friday morning Dan McAdams presented his work on stories of generativity, or the commitment to future generations. Jennifer Frey talked about happiness as a constitutive principle of action in the work of Aquinas. On Friday afternoon Mari Stuart spoke on Hindu moral ecology in an era of climate change, and the meeting week ended with Matthias Haase discussing G. E. M. Anscombe’s “stopping modals” and the necessity for justice.

Recap: 1st Working Group Meeting, days 1 and 2

(Jennifer A. Frey, Candace Vogler; David Shatz; Candace Vogler, Heather Lench, Marc G. Berman,  Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, Mattias Haase, Paul Wong, Jean Porter; Jennifer A. Frey, Michael Gorman, Nancy Snow, Fr. Thomas Joseph White; Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart, David Shatz, Paul Wong, Nathan Cornwell; Fr. Thomas Joseph White, Reinhard Huetter, Fr. Kevin Flannery, Heather C. Lench; Reinhard Huetter, Fr. Kevin Flannery; Candace Vogler, Jean Porter, Kristján Kristjánsson, Mari Jyväsjärvi Stuart; David Shatz, Kristján Kristjánsson, Candace Vogler; Talbot Brewer, Kristján Kristjánsson; John Haldane; Fr. Kevin Flannery; Talbot Brewer, Matthias Haase; Kristján Kristjánsson, Reinhard Huetter; Talbot Brewer)

For more photos, visit our “December 2015 Working Group Meeting” Flickr album.

Welcome to our first working group meeting (December 14-19, 2016).


Some of us started arriving in Columbia, South Carolina as early as Saturday. The weather was nearly 70 degrees when we left the airport that evening and drove into town. Columbia was teeming with graduating students and their families, everyone dressed in their best clothes to celebrate, and the air was golden. It did not feel like the middle of December, which everyone agreed was a good thing.


On Sunday evening we had a cocktail reception at the Hilton Columbia Center for arriving scholars, where we met and mingled for a couple of hours. On Monday things began in earnest, with breakfast at 8 a.m. followed by the first of our working group sessions. Our first morning session featured David Schatz talking about humility, and Kristján Kristjánsson talking about awe. Schatz argued that knowing your weaknesses was the crux of humility, while Kristjánsson suggested that awe makes us at once greater and more humble beings.


There was no afternoon session that day, so everyone was free to rest, take a walk, or explore downtown Columbia. That evening John Haldane delivered a lecture at the Law School on Virtue, Happiness, and Meaning. Haldane used images from the Columbia Museum of Art to discuss how we can recoil from a seeming absence of meaning in the world, or we can probe further for meaning. More than 100 people attended the talk and enjoyed the reception afterward.


The next day, Tuesday, Jean Porter presented on Thomas Aquinas and Justice, arguing among other things that what orients us towards justice is hope and charity. Heather Lench discussed her work on how seemingly disruptive emotions can be very productive for helping people achieve their goals. After lunch Tal Brewer talked about dialectical activity as spontaneous rather than fixed in its intention, and Father Kevin Flannery explored issues of complicity, guilt, and evil.