Penn State researcher, team earn $1.95M grant to study feel-good stories

April 22, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Watch the evening news, scroll through Facebook or pick up a newspaper -- stories, videos and posts that make you feel good are everywhere you look.

While inspirational media messages may be quick to bring a smile, can they also help to make us better people?

Distinguished Professor Mary Beth Oliver of the College of Communications, who serves as co-director of the Media Effects Laboratory at Penn State, will be a co-primary investigator to Arthur Raney, project leader and the James E. Kirk Professor of Communication at Florida State University, on a three-year grant to examine the answers to this question.

In August, they will begin a research project to analyze the daily use and effects of inspirational media through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation, which serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the “big questions” of human purpose and ultimate reality.

The Templeton Foundation awarded the research team $1.95 million for the proposal, “Your Daily Dose of Inspiration: Exploring How People Use and Are Impacted by Media Content that Elicits Self-Transcendent Emotions.”

“Research in media psychology has been dominated by explorations of harmful effects such as media violence,” said Oliver, a member of the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies. “Our research acknowledges the potential of media to also have beneficial outcomes, such as enhancing our sense of well-being and heightening feelings of interconnectedness with others.”

Over the next three years, the grant will fund psychological experiments, content analyses and national surveys on inspirational media. The project will culminate in a two-day conference hosted by Florida State’s College of Communication and Information in 2018.

Inspirational media can take many forms: viral videos, social media, television and films, and even newspaper stories. The research team will take a deeper look at what makes media inspiring, who seeks out such content and why, and how people use it to stimulate positive emotions. It will also explore how those emotional experiences might build character and promote greater care and concern for other people.

Research team members also include Sophie Janicke, University of Arkansas, and Robert Jones, Public Religion Research Institute.


  • Headshot of Mary Beth Oliver

    Mary Beth Oliver

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated July 28, 2017