Ancient Stoic Techniques and Mental Health Today

Presenter: Kristie Chan

Research Category: Interdisciplinary Topics, Centers and Institutes
College: Office of the Provost
Major(s): Undeclared
Graduation Date: 2024
Additional Authors: Sheridan Lasher, Emma Andrews, Benjamin Gould, Jack Hoover, Edith Olmsted, Alisha Karuvannur-Sandhu
Award Winner Category: Interdisciplinary Topics, People's Choice

This project aims to determine the effectiveness of Stoic techniques at improving symptoms of anxiety in undergraduate students. It is one of the first to provide empirical testing of psychological claims that are fundamental to what is arguably the most enduring and popular school of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophy.

Using a framework modified from the field of applied behavior analysis, we measured the effectiveness of Stoic techniques at relieving anxiety in 55 Northeastern undergraduate students. Based on Epictetus’ Enchiridion (c. 125 CE), a handbook of practical advice for beginners in Stoicism, we introduced participants to one of three techniques: focusing only on what is under one’s control; considering the benefits of all possible outcomes; and imagining an event from a stranger’s perspective.

Participants were asked to log the initial intensity of anxiety, employ a Stoic technique, log the intensity 5 minutes later, and then log the intensity again 1 hour later. This timed reporting is facilitated by the use of Mosio, a data-friendly text messaging service for researchers. Through conducting repeated measures ANOVA analyses, we are able to compare the frequency and intensity of anxiety experienced across each experimental group.

Over 40 million adults in the U.S. report having an anxiety disorder, with recent surveys showing that approximately 80% of U.S. adults report increased stress due to the pandemic. Treatment of stress and anxiety often involves medication, but Stoic techniques can contribute to improving mental health accessibility if proven to be effective.