Award-Winning Study of Virtues
a Product of Academic Partnership between
UT Southwestern and UT Dallas

Nov. 14, 2007

A group of students and two faculty members from The University of Texas at Dallas played an important role in a study selected for a national award from the John Templeton Foundation.  

The study earned postdoctoral scholar Dr. Jason Berman of the University of California, San Diego, the Martin E.P. Seligman Award for Outstanding Dissertation Research in Positive Psychology from the foundation.  

Professor Marion Underwood and Dean Bert Moore, of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas, served as the faculty advisers to Berman for his dissertation project, which investigated the relationship between character strengths and psychological well-being.  The study involved 298 UT Dallas undergraduate students.

Berman earned a Ph.D. in clinical psychology at UT Southwestern Medical Center.  His research found that people who had virtuous traits and character strengths – called “signature strengths” in the study – experienced increased emotional well-being and happiness. 

Because positive psychology is a relatively new field, initially Berman could not find a dissertation adviser at UT Southwestern, so he turned to Moore, who has a joint teaching arrangement with both universities.

With Moore’s help, Berman became the first doctoral student at the medical school to pursue the field of positive psychology.  His colleagues dubbed him the “happiness guy.”

“This trailblazing quality in Jason is what makes him such an original thinker,” said Moore.  “Jason is the embodiment of his study: He always has a positive outlook; he is innovative and doesn’t let obstacles stand in his way.”

Berman is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, San Diego.  He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Baylor University. 

 “I am deeply encouraged that the best and the brightest within the field of psychology view my ideas and findings about character strengths as meaningful … and have included me in the international conversation about how a strength-centered life can contribute to individual, group and societal flourishing,” Berman said.

Berman hopes to further examine the cognitive and behavioral dimensions of individuals with highly accessible signature strengths with the same vigor that researchers currently investigate areas of personality dysfunction.  According to Berman, his present and future work “seeks to help psychology forge a new trail –  the study and advancement of the psychologically flourishing, signature strength-aware and virtue-prominent self.”  

Now in its ninth year, the Seligman Award seeks to recognize talent and promise among young researchers exploring topics in the expanding field of positive psychology.  Psychology traditionally has been problem-focused, but the more recent movement stresses building human strengths and focuses more on positive vs. negative behavior.

About the John Templeton Foundation
The John Templeton Foundation (www.templeton.org) serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in the areas engaging life's biggest questions. These questions range from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness and creativity.

For more information on the Seligman Positive Psychology Award go to www.templeton.org/SeligmanAward .


News contacts:  Meredith Dickenson, UT Dallas (972) 883-2293, meredith.dickenson@utdallas.edu
or Pamela Thompson, John Templeton Foundation, (610) 941-5194, thompson@templeton.org

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