A Laboratory On Hope

Led by distinguished psychologist Allan Bernardo, the Hope Lab is expanding our scientific understanding of what it means to be hopeful.

AsianScientist (Jan. 20, 2023) – When you think of a lab, the image that comes to mind likely includes microscopes, complicated equations on a whiteboard and maybe a minor explosion or two. People in crisp white coats might be discussing the future of precision medicine or otherwise deep in thought in front of rows of humming machines, all within a secure and likely expensive facility.

But for one lab based in De La Salle University (DLSU) in Manila—itself home to several labs like the ones described above—you might walk in to find colleagues casually chatting with each other over doughnuts or fruits. You would meet professors, graduate students and even a visiting professor or two, and they’d all be discussing one thing: hope.

“The Hope Lab is wherever we happen to be,” shared Allan Bernardo, a distinguished professor at DLSU and director of The Hope Lab. “It’s not a formal lab in the sense that you would see in the College of Science or Engineering; but it is a lab in a sense that these are people who come together and collaborate around a shared interest in hope.”

Bernardo is described by his students as “a rockstar in Philippine psychology.” The first Filipino social scientist and psychologist to be named a Fellow of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS), Bernardo has also served as president of the ASEAN Regional Union of Psychological Societies, of the Psychological Association of the Philippines and of the Asian Association of Social Psychology. He has taught in universities in Macau and Manila, and did research work in New York and Kuala Lumpur.

But at his core, Bernardo said, he’s just “a nerd about hope.”

A New Hope

In the ‘90s, American psychologist Charles Richard Snyder defined hope as more than just optimism or positive thinking. Instead, he recast it as a cognitive function based on a person’s sense of agency and ability to work towards their goals. In simpler terms, hope is the act of imagining a future for ourselves, with an awareness of our own abilities and potential strategies to get there.

Bernardo recalled learning about positive psychology in general and Snyder’s hope theory in particular while teaching psychology at DLSU in the mid-2000s. “I’m a very goal-oriented person,” he told Asian Scientist Magazine. “I liked Snyder’s theory because it resonated with how I feel I have achieved the goals that were important to me. It also resonated with my research.”

At the time, Bernardo was researching the cognitive processes of knowledge and mathematical understanding among students, and how it may be affected by their motivations, goals and social environment. He found that Snyder’s hope theory tied well with his research in the sociocultural aspects of learning and motivation. But still, he felt that something was missing.

“I sensed that it was an incomplete construct,” Bernardo said. “It did not seem to capture the full range of hopeful cognitions that make people—and Filipino people in particular—seem to construct hope.”

One study that further cemented this belief was a study conducted by a Filipino colleague, Zachele Marie Briones, on courage and hope among adolescents in end-stage renal disease. “The study was on kids who were dying,” he shared. “But they were hopeful, and they spoke about hope in significantly different ways from how Snyder characterized it.” More specifically, the study participants spoke about having hope because of the support of their parents, their peers and their God.

The study, alongside other research by cultural psychologists like Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama, prompted Bernardo to look at Snyder’s theory from a different perspective.

“I was struck by the idea of agency as something not just residing in the individual. And that meant that hope has a relational side, the way we experience it in Asian collectivist cultures,” he explained.

In 2010, Bernardo published a paper extending Snyder’s hope theory and naming four different loci of hope. The first, the internal locus of hope, saw the individual as the agent of goal attainment similar to Snyder’s model, while the other three recognized that hope is experienced differently in more collectivist cultures, where agency can be shared. In this model, the internal locus of hope is accompanied by external-family, external-peers and external-spiritual locos-of-hope dimensions.

In other words, Bernardo explained, “Hope is saying: ‘This is the future I aspire for, and I can work towards it. My family, my friends and, if I’m religious, my god, are here to help me.”

In the years since, the idea of locus-of-hope dimensions caught on, and Bernardo continued to study external loci of hope even as he moved from the Philippines to Macau. One study examined external loci of hope in relation to students’ well-being, life satisfaction, and coping styles for school-related stress in four countries, namely: the Philippines, Macau, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. Another looked at how one’s locus of hope might affect how they learn at school.

Bernardo then returned to the Philippines in 2019, and the Hope Lab at DLSU was born.

Raising Hope

Tracy Simon, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning at The University of Hong Kong and former collaborator of Bernardo, expressed that hope is a very relatable construct.

“That’s what is beautiful about studying hope,” she told Asian Scientist Magazine. “You get to apply it to different topics.”

During her time as a PhD student in DLSU, Simon studied perfectionism and its negative impacts among students during the COVID-19 pandemic. She collaborated with Bernardo to design hope-based interventions to counter these negative effects.

Several such interventions are in the works at the Hope Lab. For example, Dane Ramos, a registered psychologist working on his dissertation under Bernardo, is developing a hope-based intervention for adults in therapeutic communities that deal with addiction issues.

Bernardo is excited to see these interventions. “I’m really glad I have students who are thinking of interventions—something I have always kind of shied away from—and are doing it well with randomized trials and strong research design,” he pointed out. “I feel like the projects are moving forward with the other members of the lab without me necessarily steering it.”

The Hope Lab is also beginning to collaborate with researchers outside of DLSU and in places like Pampanga, Cebu and Davao in the Philippines. Overseas, Bernardo and his team are working with researchers from the United States and China.

In recent years, other researchers have also conducted independent studies on hope. One study examined locus-of-hope and wellbeing among Malaysians facing economic challenges, while another study found that the external locus of hope dimensions tend to be less important among study participants in the Netherlands compared to Mexico.

“The empirical work is growing, which I think is important for the theory to be developed, recalibrated, and given more structure and nuance,” explained Bernardo.

A Hope For The Future

So, is Bernardo himself a hopeful person?

He is quick to say yes. “I am hopeful as defined by Snyder,” he said, chuckling. “Hope is not a feeling; it’s a way of thinking. It’s all about agency and pathways. I am hopeful because of my belief that I can work towards attaining my goals.”

His current and former students talk of him in terms of Snyder’s model, too. “Dr Bernardo creates pathways for people,” said Simon. “That’s what he did for me: He opened plenty of opportunities for me in research and inspired us to continue looking into hope. I consider him as part of my external loci of hope.”

Ramos said that Bernardo has a peculiar way of pushing people to be a better thinker. “His curiosity is infectious.” Bernardo also helped Ramos see the value of collaboration in research.

But what makes Bernardo most hopeful, in the emotional sense, is the younger generation. “There are young people who have so many more years of their life to devote to studying hope and how we can raise it—not just my students and colleagues in the Hope Lab, but in institutions here and around the world.”

Source: The Hope Lab ; Image: Allan Bernardo

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Marinel is passionate about science, culture and stories that matter. She has a Master’s Degree in Communications, Major in Applied Media Studies from De La Salle University, Manila.

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