A social psychologist explains why fear and hope often work as a team.
Patty Bruininks, chair of the psychology department at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington, has studied hope for years. The word is stretched on a banner across a bookcase in her office. It’s printed on a sign by her window. “Where there’s tea, there’s hope” proclaims a nearby mug. The more she studies hope—and explores what sets it apart from other “positive anticipatory states” like optimism—the more she discovers its complexity. Of the various human emotions, hope is distinct, a “funny beast,” Bruininks calls it, and a “very cognitive emotion.”
Bruininks is part of an interdisciplinary project funded by a grant by the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities to study hope in the face of climate change. She also recently participated in the Scholarship and Christianity in Oxford program with a research project aiming to bridge earthly and spiritual hope. Drawing on N. T. Wright’s idea of “collaborative eschatology,” Bruininks examines the tension between the certainty of our hope in Christ and the uncertainty of how exactly God’s plan will unfold.
She spoke recently with CT about her research.
You write that “fear and hope do not appear to be two sides of a coin but rather can occur together.” Do you encounter other common misconceptions about hope?
Whenever I talk about my research, when I explain the differences between optimism, hopefulness, and hoping, people say, “Oh, yeah, I totally get that.” People get it because they use these words all the time. This is knowledge that everyone has that they just haven’t really thought about before.