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May 15: Psychologist's "Dependency Paradox" Captures Academic Prize From Britain's Mind Gym


Jonathan Potts

Carnegie Mellon Psychologist's "Dependency Paradox"
Captures Academic Prize From Britain's Mind Gym

PITTSBURGH—A study published by Brooke Feeney, an associate professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, has earned her first prize at the inaugural Mind Gym Academic Awards in London. Mind Gym is a British organization devoted to helping people succeed by teaching them to be better thinkers, based on rigorous psychological research.     

Brooke FeeneyFeeney is a social psychologist whose research focuses on relationships among couples. She received the Mind Gym Award based on a paper that appeared in February in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. This paper consisted of two studies, one of 115 couples and another with 165 couples, which revealed that people can cultivate a greater sense of independence in their relationship partners by providing support to the partner — and accepting their dependence — when needed. Over time, the partner grows more independent and willing to take healthy risks, knowing they have someone to rely on for support and encouragement. Feeney dubbed this discovery the "dependency paradox," and she believes it could have important applications for couples' counseling.    

The award included a 6,000-pound prize, which is about $12,000. It is billed as the largest award for applied psychology in Europe.     

"I'm most excited about it because one of my long-term goals as an academic psychologist has been to conduct the kind of research that will someday reach beyond academic circles and speak to other people as well, and perhaps be used to benefit people in their daily lives," Feeney said. "For me, it's exciting to be able to share my research and have it meaningfully connect with a wide range of people."