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Plenary Speakers

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Meike Bartels, Ph.D.

Differences in Happiness: From heritability to the interplay with the environment

This talk will summarize the developments in the field of genetics and well-being, and will give an overview of the latest results from a large-scale heritability meta-analysis to the interplay of genes and environment.
Prof. dr. Meike Bartels is Professor in Genetics and Wellbeing at the department of Biological Psychology, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Over the past years, she made important progress in quantifying and identifying causes of individual differences happiness and subjective well-being by conducting a large scale meta-analysis that revealed that about 36% of the variance in SWB is accounted for by genetic influences. Furthermore, she published a ground-breaking paper providing the first evidence ever for molecular genetic influences on SWB, and, together with international colleagues, she found the first genomic locations for SWB. The importance of a focus on gene-environment interplay is supported by her recent finding of significant associations of SWB with DNA methylation. To share her ideas with the scientific community at large and to disseminate her findings, she published over 150 peer-reviewed publications, including papers in Nature Genetics, PNAS, Behavior Genetics, Psychological Methods, and JAACA). International acknowledgement of her expertise and scientific accomplishment is reflected in the Thompson Award and the Fuller-Scott Award awarded by the Behavior Genetics Association and her honorary and competitive University Research Chair position.

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George A. Bonanno, Ph.D.

Loss, Trauma and Human Resilience: From Heterogeneity to Flexibility.

This talk will describe research on human resilience in the face of extreme adversity, reviewing research and presenting a framework that can be used to further study and understand resilience across different types of events and people.
George A. Bonanno, Ph.D. is a Professor of Clinical Psychology, Director of the Loss, Trauma, and Emotion Lab, and Director of the Resilience Center for Veterans and Families at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Professor Bonanno’s interests center on the question of how human beings cope with loss, trauma and other forms of extreme adversity, with an emphasis on resilience and the salutary role of flexible emotion regulatory processes. Professor Bonanno’s empirical and theoretical work has focused on defining and documenting resilience in the face of loss or potential traumatic events, including disaster, loss, terrorist attack, bio-epidemic, traumatic injury, life-threatening injuries medical events, and military deployment, and on identifying the range of psychological and contextual variables that predict both psychopathological and resilient outcomes. His research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation, and is featured in various print, television, and radio media. He recently authored The Other Side of Sadness (Basic Books).

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Steve Cole, Ph.D.

Genomic perspectives on human well-being

This talk summarizes findings from recent functional genomics studies that have sought to understand the molecular pathways that link psychological well-being to human health and longevity.
 Steven Cole is a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology-Oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. His research utilizes molecular genetics and computational bioinformatics to analyze the pathways by which social and environmental factors influence the activity of the human genome, as well as viral and tumor genomes. He pioneered the field of human social genomics, and serves as Director of the UCLA Social Genomics Core Laboratory. Dr. Cole is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research. He is also a member of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Norman Cousins Center, the UCLA AIDS Institute, and the UCLA Molecular Biology Institute.


Angela Duckworth, Ph.D.

Character: A Tripartite Taxonomy

Dr. Duckworth will present empirical data on middle school students suggesting that character has interpersonal, intrapersonal, and intellectual dimensions.
 Angela Duckworth is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and a 2013 MacArthur fellow. She is also the founder and scientific director of the Character Lab, a nonprofit whose mission is to advance the science and practice of character development. In addition to grit, Angela studies self-control: two attributes that are distinct from IQ and yet powerfully predict success and well-being. Previously, Angela founded a summer school for low-income children that was profiled as a Harvard Kennedy School case study and, in 2012, celebrated its twentieth anniversary. She has also been a McKinsey management consultant and a math and science teacher. Angela completed her undergraduate degree in Advanced Studies Neurobiology at Harvard, an MSc in Neuroscience from Oxford University, and a PhD in Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.


Elissa Epel, Ph.D.

Flourishing as we age: a view from our telomeres

Cellular aging (as measured by the length of our telomeres) offers a view of the positive and negative influences on our rate of aging. By examining telomere length in large populations and in intervention studies, we have learned two lessons. Long term toxic stress damages telomeres.  Fortunately, positive states of mind appear to boost the enzyme telomerase and maintain telomeres through the years. We will take a close look at the emerging science of stress resilience, flourishing, and cell aging.
 Elissa Epel, Ph.D, is a Professor in the Department of Psychiatry, at University of California, San Francisco.   She studies psychological stress obesity, and healthy aging.   She directs an obesity center that is devoted to understanding the interactions between stress, sugar, and addiction.  She studies caregivers, both dementia caregivers, and parents of children with developmental disorders to try to identify what makes some people vulnerable to stress and others resilient.  She is very interested in contemplative interventions, and their ability to bring people who are suffering to a state of balance,  as well as help interested people reach more optimal functioning, with enhanced purpose in life and connections to others.  With her collaborators, she is conducting clinical trials to examine the effect of mindfulness training on health.  She examines how mindfulness can affect cellular aging, and excess weight (including during pregnancy).  She co-leads an NIH funded Stress Measurement Network, where the aim is to develop better ways to assess stress —from the environment, as well as within the individual.  Epel studied psychology and psychobiology at Stanford University, and clinical and health psychology at Yale University.  Epel has received awards including the APA Early Career Award and Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research Neal Miller Young Investigator Award.

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Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D.

Whither Happiness? When, How, and Why Positive Activities Might Undermine Versus Boost Well-Being

Happiness not only feels good; it is good. Guided by her “positive activity model,” Sonja Lyubomirsky will present new research on how small and simple activities can sometimes transform people into happier and more flourishing individuals, and on how sometimes the pursuit of happiness can backfire.
 Sonja Lyubomirsky (Harvard, A.B., summa cum laude; Stanford, Ph.D.) is Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside.  Her teaching and mentoring have been recognized with the Faculty of the Year (twice) and Faculty Mentor of the Year Awards, and her research has been honored with a Templeton Positive Psychology Prize and grants from the Science of Generosity Initiative, Character Lab, a Psychology-Philosophy of Well-Being grant, the John Templeton Foundation (twice), and NIMH. Lyubomirsky’s best-selling 2008 book, The How of Happiness has been published in 23 countries, and the 2013 Myths of Happiness in 20 countries.  Her work has been featured in hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, as well as TV shows, radio shows, and feature documentaries across the globe.  She lives in Santa Monica, California, with her family.

Tania Singer, Ph.D.

Plasticity of the Social Brain: Effects of a One-Year Mental Training Study on Brain Plasticity, Social Cognition and Attention, Stress and Prosocial Behavior

In the last decades, plasticity research has suggested that training of mental capacities such as attention, mindfulness, and compassion is effective and leads to changes in brain functions associated with increases in positive affect, pro-social behavior, and better health.

I will show first results of the ReSource Project, a large-scale multi-methodological one-year secular mental training program in which participants were trained in attention-based mindfulness, compassion and perspective taking on self and others. The differential effects of these different mental practices on measures of brain plasticity, social stress, attention, compassion and Theory of Mind as well as prosocial behavior will be reported and discussed with regard to their relevance for society.

 Tania Singer is the Director of the Department of Social Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig since 2010. After receiving her PhD in Psychology in 2000 at the MPI for Human Development in Berlin, she became a PostDoctoral Fellow at the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience and the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in London and later Full Professor of Social Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics at the University of Zurich. Her research focuses on the behavioral, neural, and hormonal basis of human social cognition and emotions and the motivational underpinnings of economic decision making. In the ReSource Project, a longitudinal study, she investigates the psychological and neuroscientific effects of mental training techniques. Tania has published her findings in many high-impact peer-reviewed journals and books.


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Onsite Registration Begins July 12th!