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What is Positive Social Change?


Capstone projects completed as part of a degree requirement at Walden University must have clear implications for positive social change. In fact, one of the University’s goals is: To produce graduates who are scholarly, reflective practitioners and agents of positive social change.  Further, this requirement is consistent with Walden University’s Vision and Mission.

Walden University Vision

Walden University envisions a distinctively different 21st-century learning community where knowledge is judged worthy to the degree that it can be applied by its graduates to the immediate solutions of critical societal challenges, thereby advancing the greater global good.

Walden University Mission

Walden University provides a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they may transform society.

Defining Positive Social Change

Positive social change implies a transformation that results in positive outcomes. This can happen at many levels, for example: individual, family systems, neighborhoods, organizations, nationally and globally; and can occur at different rates: slow and gradual or fast and radical.  Walden University’s approach to social change is interdisciplinary and multicultural. Any aspect of theory or research that relates to ideas and efforts to engender positive social change, and focuses on real-world applications of these ideas and efforts has positive social change implications.


Walden defines positive social change as a deliberating process of creating and applying ideas, strategies, and actions to promote the worth, dignity, and development of individuals, communities, organizations, institutions, cultures, and societies. Positive social change results in the improvement of human and social conditions.


This definition of positive social change provides an intellectually comprehensive and socially constructed foundation for the programs, research, professional activities, and products created by the Walden academic community. In addition, Walden University supports positive social change through the development of principled, knowledgeable, and ethical scholar-practitioners, who are and will become civic and professional role models by advancing the betterment of society.

Implications for Capstone Projects

At various points in a capstone project (for example, a thesis or dissertation), you will be asked to explicitly state implications for positive social change in body of the thesis/dissertation as well as in the Abstract. When writing a dissertation you must do this at both the proposal and final dissertation stage. Your study does not have to save millions of dollars or thousands of lives.  Possibly it will foster new policies or studies that may address these issues. Maybe it will call attention to a social problem that has been largely overlooked. You should discuss the ”ripple effects” (i.e., how the results of your research impact others at multiple levels). Part of this will be examining how your research impacts change at the different levels described above. Discussion of implications for social change should be raised in the sections of the thesis or dissertation that specifically require you to discuss social change / implications (see the thesis and dissertation rubrics for guidance). It is not acceptable to write: “The implications for social change are numerous and wide-spread” or “The implications for social change are clear.” Further, the implications should not be “microscopic” in nature. Do not focus on a few clients or one organization. Think about how your study could, potentially, affect more than just those who participated in your study.

The Abstract must contain, at the end, a statement on implications for social change. It is best if you start this as, “The implications for social change from this research are….”. The appendix to this document gives examples of summary phrases that appeared in abstracts as well as entire sections of theses/dissertations that detailed social change implications.


It is important that you understand and articulate the social implications of your work. Regardless of any approval you may obtain from your committee, your thesis/dissertation will not pass Academic Review, nor receive approval from the Provost, without the implications for positive social change explicitly stated.



Examples of Phrases from Abstracts


Examples of Social Change Implications for Theses/Dissertations

Examples of Phrases from Abstracts

Ø    The implications for positive social change include the potential impact of vocational counseling programs in breaking the cycle of poverty in the United States.

Ø    The implications for positive social change include decreased anxiety for the terminally ill-patient and more positive coping mechanisms for the family following their death.

Ø    The implications for positive social change include a better understanding of cynicism, its influence in the workplace, and the potential to minimize its negative influences and harness its potential positives.

Ø    The implications for positive social change include the prevention of unnecessary testing, improper treatment, and the negative consequences of not treating the underlying sleep disorder and treating only ADDHD.

Ø    The positive social change implications include knowledge useful for program developers, educators, psychologists, and other researchers who are searching for direction in improving the sexual health of women; long-term results would include fewer unplanned pregnancies, reduced numbers of sexually transmitted infections and increased sexual satisfaction.

Ø    The positive social change implications include knowledge useful for program developers, educators, psychologists, and other researchers who are searching for direction in improving the sexual health of women; long-term results would include fewer unplanned pregnancies, reduced numbers of sexually transmitted infections and increased sexual satisfaction.

Example from a mixed methods dissertation

This study adds to the body of scholarly research on stress and stress management. Social change has resulted from this study. Social implications can be measured by examining the changes for participants in the study, their support systems, communities, organizations, and society.

Mary # 8

This may be a homework assignment for you, well, I know it’s a BIG assignment. (laughs) but you changed people, you changed how I think. If I don't take care of my body, where am I going to live? I remember you said that. That means it’s up to me, how come I didn't really think about that before? This is stuff that we are always going to remember and use. And we are going to teach other people this stuff. See how things change, that seem to start out small.

Counselors from two agencies that serve survivors of childhood sexual abuse received training by attending the series as professional support and both agencies have contracted for more in-depth training for their entire professional staff. Practicing, research, and academic professionals seeking their own literature review on stress, stress management, sIgA, and the Ways of Coping Questionnaire have just been exposed to the consequences of a preventable phenomenon, childhood sexual abuse, and reminded of their responsibility to report and protect.

The current study focuses on tertiary prevention for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Tertiary prevention programs target services to the survivors of child sexual abuse with the goal of reducing the negative effects. Sexual abuse centers across North America are some of the agencies mandated and honored to provide these services but this work calls to attention that childhood sexual abuse is a preventable phenomenon. Tertiary programs need funding and practices based in research but primary prevention programs are essential.

Primary prevention programs need to target the public with campaigns to increase awareness and personal responsibility for protecting the innocent. Secondary prevention programs should target the “at risk” with school programs that educate, enhance safety, and make available protected opportunities to tell their secret.

Childhood sexual abuse is, unfortunately, common in North America and has a legacy of psychological, physiological, and social maladaptation as well as economic costs to society. Any work that increases awareness, discussion, and understanding of the phenomena of childhood sexual abuse is valuable. The Child Study Center (2003) reports that only one in three Americans report child abuse while at the same time 90% think child abuse is a serious problem. Child abuse and the life long consequences are preventable. Fifty percent of sexually abused children meet the DSM IV criteria for PTSD, which is higher than for any other form of abuse (Child Study Center, 2003). An understanding of the long-term consequences of childhood sexual abuse is necessary for the design of treatment programs and motivates prevention programs.

Example from a quantitative dissertation

Implications for Social Change and Recommendations for Action

            For a moment, consider that through nurturant touch experiences, an individual might be able to positively alter patterns of physiological reactivity to stress.  As highly provocative as that may sound, this study focused on cultivating internal health ecology by attempting to identify touch behaviors that might foster physiological benefits.  The results of the current study support positive social change aimed at broadening the understanding of behaviors that positively influence health through the reduction of stress.  Specifically, the current study demonstrated that there is a significant inverse relationship between childhood nurturing touch experiences and adult reports of stress.  The findings suggest that parents and childhood caregivers may have the potential to fmold stress pathways in their children by engaging in physically nurturing ways. 

            Eighty percent of all United States healthcare costs are spent on stress related disorders such as cardiovascular disease, alcoholism, hypertension, headaches, ulcers, anxiety, depression, and cancer (Centers for Disease Control, 2003).  According to the American Institute of Stress (2003), job stress alone costs the United States 300 billion dollars annually in absenteeism, turn over, medical costs, and workers’ compensation.  These statistics reflect the financial costs of stress; they do not speak to the psychological and emotional costs to families, organizations, and societies. 

            In 2001 the American Psychological Association added health promotion as a chief mission of the organization (Thorn & Saab, 2001).  According to mind-body theory the interaction between brain and body systems is critical to health.   The results of this study suggest that the sense of comfort and security that children receive through their parents’ touch instantiates itself on internal stress pathways well into adulthood.  Parents’ touch acts as an emotional regulator during times of stress fine tuning the child’s internal physiology and reinforcing a particular stress response pattern that may last for decades.  The findings of this study demonstrated that levels of a sense of security from childhood parental touch experiences were significantly predictive of adult reports of stress.  Early nurturing touch experiences may dial down stress responses and alter the anticipated threat of the stressor by providing comfort and safety.  Some of the findings in this study hint at the possibility that mothers’ and fathers’ touch may send differing messages to the child about stressful situations.  A mother’s touch may be more likely to provide a safe haven for retreat, whereas a father’s touch may be apt to provide a secure base for exploring the world.  

            The findings in this study highlight the importance of both mother and father nurturing touch.  Fathers’ contributions have been often ignored when it comes to examination of child-caregiver relationships.  The results of this study strongly support the important role that fathers have to play in their children’s healthy development.   One of the values of this study is that substantiates the need for fathers to be included in these types of studies.  It also underscores the importance of mothers as well as fathers being educated about their physical contribution to their child’s health.

Bad touch has been the focus of the majority of public discussions about touch.  The beneficial value of touch has not shared the same media limelight.  As more and more children move into daycare situations and the quantity of time parents can spend in physical contact with their children diminishes it is meaningful that parents understand the benefits of positive touch early in life.  The results of this study imply that the vital need for physical affection may be critical in equipping an individual with stress resistant physiology.  Repeated patterns of positive physical interactions between parent and child may leave an indelible mark on internal stress physiology perhaps leading to the reduction of stress related diseases and disorders.  

The findings of this study have implications for practice.   Psychologists have an important responsibility to educate their clients, inform the public, and conduct research that is relevant toward shifting political agendas in ways that foster the well being of humanity.  This study offers support for educating clients about the intricate connections between touch behaviors and stress outcomes.  For example, it generates hope that there are natural ways to affect wellbeing and that an individual has the capacity to choose behaviors that invite healthy retuning of neurobehavioral stress pathways.  There is tremendous cost effectiveness value in educating clients about self-initiated behaviors that can be potentially health fostering.  Helping parents to understand the link between physical affection, security, and stress could not only have individual health benefits, but social health benefits as well.  If the substantial animal research into oxytocin proves to be representative in humans as well, nurturing touch behaviors could confer considerable health gains. 

The results of this study provide valuable information for the public about quality physically nurturant relationships and their association with stress reduction.  On a broad spectrum perspective, the results of this study underscore the importance of the early childhood environment, specifically the nurturing touch environment, and how it may nourish health for years into the future. 

While there has been a pervasive tendency in stress research to empirically focus on the negative, this study and studies similar to it call for a vision in psychology that substantiate the powerful force of constructive change within our own ecologies.  For those practitioners working the area of PNI or health psychology it is essential that they continue to explore the connection between touch and stress.  It is also important that they communicate with their colleagues in other specialty areas as to how touch behaviors may prevent adverse effects from stress.  Early nurturing touch may turn out to be a behavioral determinant of health in life.  Clearly, this requires further investigation before any solid conclusions can be made, but the significant findings of this study suggest that research in this area is beneficial toward future prevention of stress related diseases and disorders. 

Example from a thesis (critical literature review with proposed quantitative research design)

Social Implications

            Mindfulness has significant implications for treating a wide range of social issues and problems. Demick (2000) stated the importance of mindfulness across several areas including: reducing the effects of societal prejudice and discrimination, the promotion of safety through mindful automobile driving, and the methods upon which material is learned in the classroom. Moreover, Langer and Moldoveanu (2000) emphasized the problems caused by human error when people are not in a mindful state. Problems include over-reliance on standardized, monotonous procedures in performing work-related activities and poor attention span leading to boredom and accidents.

            If the proposed study finds mindfulness effective, thereby extending the existing literature accounting for improvements in quality of life, well being, and overall psychological functioning, this may begin the process of removing many of the psychosocial issues resulting from individuals hampered with the ADHD disorder. As suggested by Young (1999), the disorganization, forgetfulness, and poor time management skills exemplified by many with ADHD can potentially lead to criminal acts and substance abuse.

            Many adults with ADHD exhibit poor work performance (e.g., planning and organization problems, problematic reading and memory due to sustained attention deficits), impaired interpersonal skills, lower socioeconomic status, rarely complete college, and engage in antisocial activities, thus creating greater societal burdens (Barkley, 1998; Barkley, Cook, et al., 2002; Ramsay, 2002; Safren, Sprich, Chulvick, & Otto, 2004). The symptoms of ADHD act to limit one’s perceived life options and pose significant risks to society if left untreated. Hence, effective treatment options are of great social relevance.

            Although data concerning the social cost of ADHD have yet to be compiled (Biederman, 2004), the prevalence of ADHD would suggest that adults, like children, have higher health care costs than those without the disorder. Moreover, additional studies providing effective treatment options for ADHD would better equip organizations whose mission involves providing social support to both adults and children afflicted with ADHD. These organizations include Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD, 2005) and the National Center for Gender Issues and AD/HD (NCGI, n.d.).