Positivity professor to speak at December Commencement

Acclaimed psychology professor Barbara Frederickson, who studies positive emotions and human wellbeing, will speak at UNC’s December Commencement ceremony.

Chancellor Holden Thorp will preside at the Dec. 18 ceremony at 2 p.m. in the Dean E. Smith Center on Bowles Drive.

Thorp chose Fredrickson, UNC’s Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology, in consultation with the University’s Commencement Speaker Selection Committee, made up of an equal number of students and faculty. The selection continues Carolina’s tradition of faculty speakers at December Commencement.

Fredrickson studies how positive emotions affect people’s thinking patterns, social behavior and physiological reactions. Her goal is to understand how positive emotions might accumulate and compound to transform people’s lives for the better. Psychologists had long pointed to the evolutionary need for negativity. But positive emotions? They chalked them up to the mechanics of mating and moved on.

“That could not be the whole story,” Fredrickson says. “There had to be an adaptive function beyond reproduction.”

Twenty years of emotions research later, her bestselling book, “Positivity,” makes a solid claim: not only do we need positive emotions to survive — we need them to flourish, to survive well.

“I hope to convey to our graduates that beyond all the direct knowledge they gained here at Carolina – the math, the social and natural sciences, the arts and humanities, the professional skills – they’ll also carry forward with them many indirect lessons,” she says.