Berkeley - The University of California, Berkeley's Center for the Development of Peace and Well-being already was in the planning stages when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks occurred, followed by violence in the Middle East.
As Stephen Hinshaw watched those events traumatize people worldwide, the UC Berkeley psychology professor in the College of Letters & Science said the importance of the center, being launched this week, "hit home all the more."
"Promoting peace and well-being does not mean sticking one's head in the sand, being a Pollyanna and ignoring Sept. 11, the Middle East, Bosnia," said Hinshaw. "It means looking squarely in the eye at terrible injustices and saying, 'What can we do to get rid of the worst effects and to foster harmony and growth?"
"We're not saying that, if you're less tense and anxious, wars will stop. But maybe we can try and do our part on the personal relationship level to address tensions, to develop interventions that make life better for people," added Philip Cowan, director of the campus's Institute of Human Development (IHD). Cowan, Hinshaw and the center's founding director, Dacher Keltner, form the center's founding executive committee.
Housed in the IHD, the center will delve into the scientific understanding of what promotes peace and well-being within the individual, between individuals, and in communities.
Keltner, an associate professor of psychology, said he and other UC Berkeley researchers already have begun to document, for example, "the barriers to friendship across ethnic boundaries, how individuals overcome those barriers, and the unique sources of satisfaction that individuals derive from cross-ethnic friendships."
This Friday and Saturday, May 3-4, the center's inaugural symposium, "Children Who Thrive in the Face of Adversity: Navigating the Rocky Road to Well-being," will feature talks by four of the nation's leading scholars on childhood resilience. The center's efforts will be programmatic - this year, a strong focus will be on childhood peace and well-being.
In the fall, Jonathan Kozol, a leading voice on the topic of children facing adverse circumstances, will visit the center. And one of the center's first core research projects, initiated by its first graduate student fellow, Allison Briscoe, is a look at how family conversations about racism and prejudice promote effective peer relationships and academic performance in school.
The center was created with a $1 million gift from Thomas and Ruth Ann Hornaday, who both attended UC Berkeley in the early 1960s. Thomas Hornaday, a builder-developer in Phoenix, Ariz., said his desire to fund such research stems from his upbringing during World War II by parents who valued peace and from his own opinion that "inner peace is universally desirable, and the experience of it should be an inalienable right of every human being."
"You can't have peaceful institutions without peaceful people," he added. "People create institutions, not the other way around."
Other topics to be researched at the center include the development of love and compassion; coping with significant personal loss; improving marital and parent-child relationships; conflict resolution and pro-social interactions in school and peer settings; peace and civility in the community; and resilience and well-being.
While psychology traditionally has focused on negative outcomes and dysfunction, Keltner said research at the center will be broader, since "there is just as valid and important science and practice to be done on the more prosocial processes, such as positive emotion, peace, harmony, love and cooperation." Many of the center's scholars already have examined positive processes and outcomes in difficult settings, he said.
UC Berkeley is an ideal place for this center because several faculty members here already are studying peace and well-being.
And, added Cowan, "The political notion of well-being and peace, and the struggle for it - during the '60s, and before and after that - is part of Berkeley's history. There is a context here, both in the city and on campus, where people care about the conditions under which people live, and a long history of social concerns for individuals."
Scholars in fields such as anthropology, sociology and peace and conflict studies will join the center, in time, and offer an interdisciplinary approach, said Keltner. The campus's Helen Wills Neuroscience Center also will provide key scholars for research teams.
The center's research will be disseminated to the larger scientific community - and to the community at large, including parents, teachers, policy makers, administrators and business leaders - through symposia, publications and lectures. There will even be essay contests with high school students.
"An explicit aim of the center is to reach out to the community," said Keltner. "We are very committed to promoting an interaction between the wisdom of social science and practice in the community."
The center will offer research opportunities to undergraduate and graduate students and to non-tenured junior faculty members from the social-behavioral sciences.
The work of Keltner, Hinshaw and Cowan exemplifies the kind of scholarship the center will produce:
* Keltner, a social psychologist, focuses on the prosocial emotions, such as love, sympathy and gratitude, and processes such as teasing and flirtation that enhance bonds. He does this work by studying people in real relationships - as friends, as romantic partners, in groups. He recently received the 2002 Outstanding Researcher Award from the Western Psychological Association, given annually to a researcher under 40.
* Hinshaw specializes in child psychopathology and is an investigator funded by the National Institute of Mental Health. He focuses on promoting positive outcomes for children at risk. Through studying regions of the brain, as well as peer interactions and family relations, he is trying to solve the puzzles behind attention deficit disorder, learning problems and disturbances that put youth at risk for aggression and violence. His book about his father's lifelong struggle with severe mental illness, "The Years of Silence are Past: My Father's Life with Bipolar Disorder," will be published this fall.
* Cowan, along with his wife, Carolyn, a UC Berkeley adjunct professor of psychology, studies solutions for difficult family issues. The Cowans wrote the acclaimed book, "When Partners Become Parents: The Big Life Change for Couples," about how to reduce conflict in marriage so that couples and children will benefit.