Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren of the Hope College psychology faculty is among researchers from four colleges and universities conducting a multi-year effort to understand how natural disasters shape what survivors believe.

“This is a three-year project investigating how survivors of natural disasters respond in the wake of a disaster in how they view and relate to God, how they make meaning and how they experience growth,” said Van Tongeren, who is an assistant professor of psychology and Towsley Research Scholar.

The project is led by a faculty team from Wheaton College, with Van Tongeren and researchers from Georgia State University and the University of North Texas serving as co-investigators.  The overall project has received a $1.8 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation of Pennsylvania that will provide support through July of 2018, with $165,000 underwriting the work that will be done by Van Tongeren and his team of Hope students.

The overall research initiative will include a series of several laboratory-based studies examining how people respond to natural disasters and field studies that will be conducted in the wake of natural disasters that occur during the three-year grant period.

“Hopefully we can draw from the experiments and what’s happening in the field to develop a richer theoretical understanding of how people cope with and find meaning in natural disasters,” Van Tongeren said.

Van Tongeren and his Hope student researchers will be conducting a series of laboratory-based studies, chronicling participants’ responses to natural disasters described in written scenarios or shown in video clips.  The laboratory studies will begin this fall, with the researchers anticipating that the results will guide how they conduct the field studies.

“We’re going to try to isolate mechanisms or processes that are related to making meaning in the wake of these traumatic events,” he said.  “Part of the thought is that the laboratory work will add to the findings of the field study and will help inform some of the things that we look for when we interact with survivors.”

Van Tongeren is a social psychologist whose research focuses on the social motivation for meaning and its relation to virtues and morality.  He recently received a Towsley Research Scholar Fellowship from the college for 2015-19 for his proposal “The Role of Virtues in the Social Motivation for Meaning,” and in 2014 he received Hope’s “Social Sciences Young Investigators Award” for his study “Examining the Interactive Effects of Group Status and Perceived Morality on Personality Judgments.” External support of his research since he joined the faculty in 2012 has included two other awards from the John Templeton Foundation, including one for a multi-institutional study that he has led focused on the role that the desire for meaning plays in the tension between scientific and religious belief.