A Cure for the Wintertime Blues?

Whale Island, Norway

Kari Leibowitz 12C was one of eight Emory students to be awarded a Fulbright grant in 2014—a record percentage of recipients for the university.

As a Fulbright Scholar, Leibowitz spent a year in northern Norway, studying positive mental health and its correlation with levels of seasonal depression in the region. 

“Located over two hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle, Tromsø, Norway, is home to extreme light variation between seasons,” Leibowitz wrote in a feature article for the Atlantic that was published in July. “During the polar night, which lasts from November to January, the sun doesn’t rise at all. Then the days get progressively longer until the midnight sun period, from May to July, when it never sets. After the midnight sun, the days get shorter and shorter again until the polar night, and the yearly cycle repeats.”

Leibowitz and her adviser, a professor at a Norway university, developed a survey tool to assess how Tromsø residents handle the long weeks of semidarkness. To her surprise, Leibowitz discovered that those experiencing the polar night do not necessarily resign themselves to feeling sadness or depression, and attitude can have a significant impact on an individual’s response. Having a positive “wintertime mindset” was strongly associated with indicators of overall mental health, such as life satisfaction and the pursuit of personal growth.

“Our research data—and my personal experience—suggest that mindset may play a role in seasonal well-being, and the area appears ripe for future research,” Leibowitz writes. “I hope to conduct some of this future research myself; when I leave Tromsø, I will head to Stanford University to pursue my PhD in social psychology.”

At Emory, Leibowitz majored in psychology and religion. After graduating, she worked as program coordinator for the Emory-Tibet Partnership where one of her primary responsibilities was coordinating His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama’s 2013 visit to Emory.—P.P.P.

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