Student Researcher Makes Scientific Discovery Involving Hope

Most people visualize test tubes and microscopes when they consider scientific research. But for Psychology Associate Professor Arne Weigold, Ph.D. and student researcher Emily Turkily, scientific research involves measuring the power of transcendence in people’s lives; specifically, the power of hope.

As part of the 2020 eight-week Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) program at Kent State University at Geauga, Dr. Weigold mentored Emily, his selected SURE research assistant. Emily is a junior psychology major and is preparing for graduate studies in clinical psychology. She was encouraged by Dr. Weigold to conceptualize a research topic for their summer project.

A photo of student Emily Turkily
Considering Dr. Weigold’s experience with Personal Growth Initiative (one’s active and intentional desire to grow), Emily says, “I had always been interested in positive psychology and I actually woke up in the middle of the night and had the idea to do gratitude in relation to PGI. From there, I talked to Dr. Weigold about this idea and it expanded into the five aspects of transcendence — gratitude, hope, humor, spirituality, and appreciation of beauty and excellence in relation to PGI. Seeing it expand into so much more than one topic was super cool.”

Dr. Weigold explains that past research has shown a relationship between different aspects of personal growth initiative and hope, but no one had systematically looked at the relationships with the other aspects of transcendence… until now.

“These aspects all relate to well-being, so we were interested in whether someone’s personal growth initiative could predict them,” he says. “This has implications for how a person’s desire to grow relates to both individual strengths and well-being.”

Emily was involved in most aspects of the research process, from conceptualization to literature review, write-ups, and basic analysis. This included learning about how to select self-report questionnaires to measure individuals’ levels of the five aspects of transcendence in relation to their levels of PGI.

According to their research data, Emily and Dr. Weigold determined that the strongest relationship between PGI and transcendent aspects involves hope. They plan to submit a poster presentation of their findings to a national conference and also submit a paper for publication that will include a second study specifically targeted at the connection between personal growth initiative and hope.

From Dr. Weigold’s perspective, the SURE project went beyond helping Emily to learn the skills involved in conducting a research project from conceptualization through the write-up. “She also was able to practice some of the skills she has learned in her coursework, such as finding literature and writing in APA style. I enjoyed working with Emily, and the resulting project is one that we will seek to present and publish, which will also teach her about the remaining parts of the research process.”

As for Emily, “the takeaway from this research is that by understanding people’s relation to the different aspects of transcendence, you can tell their willingness to grow and develop.* This can be applied to a therapeutic setting so a therapist may have a better grasp on their client and their standing so they can better help them.”

Emily applies the concept to her own experience: “I was always hopeful to go to graduate school and then I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Weigold. While it was a lot of work, I had changed a lot of my schedule around to dedicate more time to research, even when it was a busy week and I didn’t have the energy to keep working on it. I was hopeful to be able to get into grad school, so I developed my work ethic for the better.

“Essentially, if someone is hopeful for their future, they are going to be willing to change themselves for the better to get themselves to their ultimate goal.”

* Data shows that PGI is positively related to gratitude, appreciation of beauty and excellence, and positive types of humor (jokes at no one’s expense). Negative types of humor, such as self-deprecating jokes, have a negative relationship with PGI, as does spirituality. Emily Turkily explains that it was surprising to see spirituality negatively correlated. This may be “because when one believes in a higher being, they believe there is a plan for them already set. Hence, they would be less inclined to actively change themselves for the better if they believe their life’s plan is already laid out by a higher being.” 


Dr. Zhiqiang Molly Wang and students Sarah Maida and Lucas He also participated in the SURE program; read their story "Student Researchers Explore the Power of Critical Thinking & Chem".

POSTED: Monday, October 26, 2020 - 3:11pm
UPDATED: Monday, October 26, 2020 - 3:17pm
Estelle R. Brown