Why a book review? Well, first off, Martin Seligman is one of the prominent psychologists of our time. What I thought might be most inspiring for us research methods students is that his busy research career was launched by the research he conducted in his MASTERS. Something to aspire to perhaps? Not only is he an influential figure in psychology but his research is most famous, and PARADIGM BREAKING. When a 21 yr old Seligman went to do his masters under Richard Solomon at the Uni of Penn in 1964. Solomon was conducting research in the lab using behaviourist techniques- giving shocks to dogs, but kept finding that some of them would “break” after a few trials and this was leading to a high attrition of dogs from the sample. “ something is wrong with them” Seligman thought these dogs may have become helpless and became keen on studying this affect to see whether he could collect the first and only experimental research on the subject to support his theory. Seligman began his career researching the causes and impact of helplessness however turned over to the other side of the coin to research optimism. I was captured by the creativity and perseverance with which Seligman carved out a multifaceted career as a scientist for himself. He conducted an awful lot of research and applied it in so many areas of demand…I feel that this wide applicableness demonstrates how pervasive and powerful a feature optimism can be in our lives. Some of the research is quite fun, so I will talk about those in a minuet.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this most famous study.… 21yr old Seligman and his peer Maier conducted a study giving shocks to dogs – there were 3 conditions which were ‘yolked into one’ in a ‘triadic design (1: shocks with control, 2: shocks without control, 3:no shocks). And then these dogs were put into this shuttle box, as you can see here… dogs were given an opportunity to escape shocks The idea that helplessness could be learned was absolutely preposterous and against the popular behaviourist way of thinking at the time. Which was that responses can only be learned through reward or punishment. Animals do not have a mental-life/ cognitions. Seligman’s professor –Solomon- was openly sceptical of Seligman’s work. What was found in this study was that the dogs who received shocks but learned that they had no power to control them became helpless and when presented with an escape in the shuttlebox, they didn’t even try- they gave up! This did not happens with dogs from the other two conditions. So this research was unpopular and brave but these finding were groundbreaking and was largely a factor in debunking behaviourism!
Finally I thought it was interesting that the book promotes itself in part, as a self-help book (based on real science for a change) to the lay person. I have never read a self-help book before but I am under the assumption that the majority of them are not as rigorously based on scientific research as this one is. Therefore I figured by presenting a bit on it today, you all might be able to take away something from it which you might find helpful to you in some way…Perhaps??
Seligman & Schulman (1986) Insurance salesmen--Career profile vs Attributional Style Questionnaire Optimists out sold pessimists by 21% of new recruits in 1 st year and 57% in 2 nd yr of employment
METS & Cardinals (1985) Caved for a whole season then totalled the ‘pessrum’ scores of all 1 National teams. Quotes from the teams:- When METS won: “he hit well tonight”, loss “the heat was too much” However when the Cardinals won: “it was a real catchable ball” loss=“we cant hit. What the hell lets face it” Statistically the next year the optimistic teams beat their win-loss records, and vice versa. Berkely swimmers- lying to them about their times Presidents 1948-1984, predicted 18/19 winning candidates based on the CAVED campaign election speeches- all except Roosevelt
Traditionally seen as spiritualist to believe mind can affect body. Most people assume physical health is wholly a physical matter Peterson, Seligman, Vaillant (1988); Vistainer, Volpiecelli & Seligman(1982) Tumors! Optimists live longer Optimists are healthier
Catecholamine –hormones released by adrenal glands in response to stress Endorphin– neurotransmitter produced in the pituitary gland and they produce analgesia and feeling of wellbeing
According to DSM criteria, the learned helplessness in Seligman’s lab dogs fit identically with symptoms depression. CBT has been very effective
Rational/realist- misconception that depressed people see the world unrealistically negatively
Appropriateness- it is not always appropriate to be optimist e.g. when crossing a busy road, gambling, when you are responsible for a bad event
Safer decisions-- jobs like design & engineereing, technical and cost estimating, financial control and accounting, statistics, technical writing, law (not litigation)
Peterson and Seligman (1984); Sweeny, Anderson & Bailey (1986)
ASQ and CAVE
So, I have aimed to give you a light introduction into the research and application of optimism, an introduction to Seligman and some of his methods and achievements. Seligiman strikes me as a very enthusiastic in his field and I have found this book far more effective in communicating a richness of character and history in the research field than I have in any journal article. To conclude, I have chosen to present about a book today for the richness in personality and history it supplies for a research field.
Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman My best bits By Ella Duvall