Conference 2020

Welcome to the first conference-style event hosted by the Psychology Students’ Association, centered around the psychological study of change, growth and flourishing!

When: Saturday, March 7th, 2020
Where: Claude T. Bissell Building (iSchool), Rm. 205



Our presenters will engage with what it means to be wise and how we cultivate wisdom (Dr. Michel Ferrari, OISE), the emerging field of positive psychotherapy (Dr. Tayyab Rashid, UTSC), the role of emotions such as awe and compassion in our continued well-being, (Dr. Jennifer Stellar, UTM) and the psychology of transformational and aspirational growth (Dr. John Vervaeke, UTSG). In additional to their individual presentations, there will be a panel discussion featuring engaging audience questions.

With this mini-conference, we are aiming to offer both academic and personal enrichment tailored to our community of psychology undergraduate students.

We hope to see you there!


930. Breakfast and check-in.
10. Opening statements.
1010. John Vervaeke.
1110. Michel Ferrari.
12. Lunch.
1245. Tayyab Rashid.
145. Jennifer Stellar.
245. Panel
330. Closing remarks.


Dr. John Vervaeke

John Vervaeke is an Assistant Professor, in the teaching stream. He has been teaching at the University of Toronto since 1994. He currently teaches courses in the Psychology department on thinking and reasoning with an emphasis on insight problem solving, cognitive development with an emphasis on the dynamical nature of development, and higher cognitive processes with an emphasis on intelligence, rationality, mindfulness, and the Psychology of wisdom. He also teaches courses in the Cognitive Science program on the introduction to Cognitive Science, and the Cognitive Science of consciousness. In addition, he teaches a course in the Buddhism, Psychology and Mental Health program on Buddhism and Cognitive Science. He is the director of the Consciousness and the Wisdom Studies Laboratory.  He has won and been nominated for several teaching awards including the 2001 Students’ Administrative Council and Association of Part-time Undergraduate Students Teaching Award for the Humanities, and the 2012 Ranjini Ghosh Excellence in Teaching Award. He has published articles on relevance realization, general intelligence, mindfulness, flow, metaphor, and wisdom. He is first author of the book Zombies in Western Culture:  A 21st Century crisis which integrates Psychology and Cognitive Science to address the meaning crisis in Western society.  He is the author and presenter of the YouTube series, Awakening from the Meaning Crisis.

The Problems of Transformation and Aspiration in the Psychology of Growth.

L.A. Paul and Agnes Callard have pointed to two related features of growth which pose serious conceptual problems to our understanding of growth.  Paul has argued that many of the transformations that people undergo cannot be handled by standard models of decision making or Bayesian prediction. While agreeing with this core argument, Callard has further argued that the process of self-creation, which she calls aspiration, is actually conceptually paradoxical and yet is nevertheless constitutive of our growth as rational and virtuous human persons.  This talk we review this problematization of two central processes of growth, viz., transformation and self-creation/aspiration, and first highlight the kinds of knowing and rationality implied within them. On the basis of this highlighting the talk will elucidate some of the cognitive processes actually used by people to go through transformation and aspiration. This first will be the process of reciprocal opening as the reverse of Marc Lewis’ account of addiction as reciprocal narrowing. The second will be a process of enacted analogy or serious play. While analytically distinct, reciprocal opening and serious plays are almost always functionally integrated together.

Dr. Michel Ferrari

Dr. Michel Ferrari is professor in the Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development in the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE).  As Director of the Wisdom and Identity Lab, he explores the meaning of personal wisdom in people at different ages (from children to the elderly) from different nations. For example, he led an international study of personal wisdom in Canada, the USA, Ukraine, Iran, India, and China. Another international study explored the relationship between wisdom and motivation to virtue in younger and older adults of 4 different faith traditions (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Atheist) in Canada and South-Korea. Currently, he is leading a study of the relationship between wisdom and successful acculturation in Islamic immigrants and refugees to Canada from Iran and Syria.  He and his students and colleagues have edited 12 books and, in applied practice, he and his students have studied the experience of wisdom and personal identity in marginalized populations, in particular, of people diagnosed with autism.

Educating for Wisdom: Some contributions to a continuing debate

A good education should help develop the personal maturity needed for students to live a good and satisfying life—that is, an education that helps them flourish by cultivating their wisdom.  Trouble is, people are not clear on what exactly wisdom is, and how it should be educated.  Like Comenius, I don’t claim to know the answer to this question but do think it is important to debate it.  My talk will contribute to this debate by presenting some historical answers to the question of what wisdom is and how it can be cultivated. In particular, I am interested in which of ancient activities and practices said to cultivate wisdom can be incorporated into our public schools and universities—and which already have been.  To give some sense of where I am going with these ideas, I propose to contrast several competing schools of ancient Greek philosophical and sophist education with ancient Indian shramana practices still used in Buddhism, Jainism and Yoga today. All these practices involve self-critique, self-struggle, and self-transformation in order to become a person capable of either action or contemplation.  Some of these practices are already the subject of contemporary scientific studies on educating for wisdom, and have been incorporated into many school and university programs designed to promote character education, critical thinking, or contemplative education.  All these practices are important, but they need to be better coordinated if we want to provide an education for wisdom that promotes students’ personal growth and flourishing.

Dr. Tayyab Rashid

Dr. Tayyab Rashid is a licensed school and clinical psychologist and an associate faculty member at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC). His expertise include strengths-based assessment and interventions, positive education, posttraumatic growth and multicultural counselling.  Dr. Rashid worked with individuals experiencing severe trauma, including survivors of the 2004 Asian Tsunami, Syrian refugee families, and journalists who have worked in high conflict zones. Dr. Rashid’s work has been published in academic journals, included in text books of psychiatry and psychotherapy.  His recent book Positive Psychotherapy, co-authored with Martin Seligman has been translated in 10 languages. Dr. Rashid won the Outstanding Practitioner Award (2017) from the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA) and Chancellor Award from the University of Toronto (2018). 

Flourish: A Strengths-Based Approach to Foster Resilience, Growth & Wellbeing

The university campus is a fertile setting for students to flourish – i.e., to grow intellectually, socially and emotionally and to translate this growth into action, habit and purpose. This talk presents Flourish, a collaborative endeavour at the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC), Canada.  By systematically identifying academic and character strengths of students, the program aims create an inclusive learning environment where students are intellectually and socially engaged; learn effective stress management and harness their best psychological resources toward growth and purpose.

Drawing insights from qualitative, quantitative and longitudinal data from more than 5000 students, the presentation will share concrete strategies and skills which can help post-secondary student to foster wellbeing and resilience which in turn can buffer against stress and mental health concerns.  The presentation will also share free online wellbeing assessment and a rich repository of resources.

Dr. Jennifer Stellar

Jennifer Stellar is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto. As director of the Health, Emotions, & Altruism Laboratory (HEAL) her work examines how a family of emotions called self-transcendent emotions (e.g., awe, compassion, gratitude, etc.) promote empathy and altruism toward others, encourage cooperation and cohesion within groups, and enhance the health and well-being of the individual. Her works aims to answer a fundamental question about humans—how do individuals move beyond their own self-focus to care about other people, groups, and society as a whole?

Awe as a Path Toward Self-Transcendence

Shepherding us through our encounters with the extraordinary is the emotion of awe. Despite awe’s long history in religion and philosophy, only recently have psychologists tried to empirically study this complex emotion. In this talk I begin by using cutting-edge research to define awe. I highlight its self-transcendent nature, which encourages individuals to move beyond their own daily concerns and consider something or someone outside themselves and subsequently promotes change, growth, and flourishing. This work lends a psychological perspective to an emotion that has left an indelible mark on the face of human society.