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A case for positive psychology in pre service teacher education


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Recent research in the area of positive psychology underlines the interconnected and highly correlated links between a positive emotional style and an individual’s psychological well-being. Cross sectional studies have shown that “happy” people tend to be more socially engaged and function better in their lives (Huppert, 2009). A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies has shown that happiness engenders the behaviours and beliefs that precede success in work and life (Lyubomirsky et al., 2005). Experimental studies using mood induction techniques have found that positive emotion significantly broadens attention (Rowe et al., 2007), enhances cognitive processing capabilities resulting in more creative and flexible problem solving (Isan & Daubman, 1984, Isan et al., 1987), increases taught action repertoires (Fredrickson & Branigan, 2005), improves learning (Bryan et al., 1996), boosts task performance and self-efficacy (Bryan & Bryan, 1991)
The principles and exercises of positive psychology have been taught to teachers in the Geelong Grammar school and to drill Sergeants in the US army resulting in positive outcomes to the well-being of both organisations (Seligman, 2012). Barsade (2002) would suggest this is aided by emotional contagion, the transfer of moods between groups through a process known as the ripple effect. Drawing on these research findings the study outlined here aims to examine the potential benefits of promoting the principles of positive psychology with pre-service secondary school teachers in Ireland.
Previous research suggests that training teachers to teach positive psychology techniques to students significantly reduces and even prevents symptoms of depression, hopelessness and anxiety while increasing optimism, engagement in learning, academic achievement and social skills (Brunwasser et al., 2009, Seligman et al., 2009). Teaching undergraduate pre-service teachers positive psychology may develop their openness to change as research suggests that positive psychological constructs such as optimism, hope, efficacy and resilience are malleable and open to positive change.

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A case for positive psychology in pre service teacher education

  1. 1. Hello my name is Brian Devitt. Im a technology teacher and PhD student in the Dept. ofEducation and professional studies in the University of limerick. My presentation todayis about Positive Psychology and why I believe we should be promoting it in initialteacher education.1
  2. 2. There will be three elements to my talk today.2
  3. 3. I will begin by discussing why I believe we should promote positive psychology in preservice teacher education.3
  4. 4. In 2008 Ronald Inglehart from the University of Michigan published a paper analysingnational trends in the SWB of people in 52 countrys over the last 50 years with datafrom 350,000 people.Results from his research suggest that• The average American, Japanese or Australian citizen is no more satisfied with theirlives today.• The average Brit and German is less satisfied.• The average Russian is much unhappier.• the average Dane, Italian and Mexican is somewhat happier with their livesIn a 2004 paper titled “Beyond Money” Ed Diener and Martin Seligman noted that Eventough GDP in the United States of America has tripled over the past 50 years their hasbeen no increase in peoples life satisfaction.The poor correlation between SWB and economic prosperity is very counter intuitivefinding in positive psychology known as the progress paradox.4
  5. 5. The World Heath Organisation says that depression is the Leading cause of disabilityworldwide with an estimated 350 million people suffering, they believe thebourdon of depression is on the rise globallyResearch by Jane Costello from Duke University, North Carolina suggests it may just beincreased sensitivity and awareness of depression, rather than actual increases in therates of depression, never the less Costello suggests all are dismayed by the high levelsof depression in societyA World Health organisation Assembly called in May 2012 called for acomprehensive co-ordinated response at country level with particular emphasison School based programmes that enhance the cognitive problem solving andsocial skills of children and adolescents.5
  6. 6. The good news is that psychologist Sonja Lyubomorski from the university of Carolinasuggests that the intentional activities we engage in can make meaningful contributionsto our happinessResults from numerous longitudinal twin studies using fraternal and identical twinssuggest that genetics account for around 50% of variations in long term happiness.Cross Sectional analysis have consistently shown week correlations between personalcircumstances and SWB. Circumstances include factors such as age, gender, maritalstatus, income, health and religious affiliations.Most importantly Lyumomorski suggests that the daily intentional activitys we engagein account for around 40% of variations in long term happiness.She suggest intentional activitys include1. Cognitions such as reprogramming the subconscious to scan for the positive in life2. Motivations such as striving for personal goals3. Behaviours such as exercising can all have positive effects on our well beingPositive psychology is about getting the most from the 40% of our happiness that ismalleable.Harvard Psychologist Sean Achor suggests Happiness is a work ethic not a state of being.6
  7. 7. The lens we view the world through can often be warped having a negative impact onour well being.In 1999 Daniel Simons conducted a unique experiment in Harvard university.Participants were asked to watch a short video of two teams passing a basketball.Participants were asked to count the number of passes made by the team in white teamand most can. but most don’t notice the giant gorilla that walks across the screenbeating his chest. They are two focused on counting passes, This is due to inattentionalblindness, our focus is elsewhere.If we fail to see a giant gorilla ☺ what else might we miss in life???????7
  8. 8. Research by Todd Peterson from George Washington university published in 1998suggests Lawyers in America are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than therest of the employed population. Surprising seeing as they have high levels of education,pay and statusPeterson believes law school teaches students to look for flaws in arguments, trainsstudents to be critical rather than accepting, crucial skills for lawyers but allowing this toleak into personal life and can have significant negative consequences. Peterson believesit is a fast route to depression.Research by Janice Egeland from the university of Miami published in 1983 suggests theOld Amish population in Philadelphia have 1/10 the depression of the rest of the USpopulation.Results from both studies are surprising seeing as the lawyers and Amish communitybreath the same air, drink the same water and eat the same foodIn the same way lawyers have reprogramed their brains to focus on the negative,positive psychology has shown that interventions can reprogram the brain to focus onthe positive in life.8
  9. 9. In his 2012 book “The Power of Habit”, Charles Duhigg explains negative habits canbecome so strong that even common sense wont prevail.Duhigg suggests though that the research also shows that habits are malleable andpeople can develop a new positive habit in around 21 days using correct techniques.One of the principles of Positive psychology is about reprogramming the unconsciousmind to scan for the good stuff in life and making this one of your ritualizedsubconscious habits.9
  10. 10. Research published in 2002 by Sigal Barsade from Yale university demonstratedthat moods, attitudes and emotions are literally contagious.Barscades study demonstrated that a confederate could be used to infect themoods of a group of research participants resulting in positive or negative effectsto group behaviour and task performance.Positive emotional contagion was associated with improved co-operation,decreased conflict and increased task performance.Barscade summarised his research suggesting “People are literally walking moodinductors”This phenomenon has become known as the ripple effect10
  11. 11. In their book about social networks Professor Nicholas Christakis from HarvardUniversity and Professor James Fowler from the University of California use recentresearch to highlight the complicated web of connections through which our moods,attitudes and behaviours can infect others.They suggest we don’t just infect those in direct contact with us such as friends, familyand work colleagues. Each individual appears to influence people within three degreesof them. The authors estimate that most people have 1000 people within three degreesof themWhat then is the impact of the teachers mood on their students?What is the impact of the principles mood on the staff of a school?11
  12. 12. So life satisfaction has not meaningfully risen in developed countrys in the last 50 yearsand The WHO believes the epidemic of depression is on the rise.Positive psychology suggests that we can make meaningful changes to our happiness byengaging in intentional activitys associated with high subjective well being. We canadapt the lens we view the world through by reprogramming the subconscious to scanfor the good stuff in life. This may then have a positive ripple effect on the moods ofthose around us.This is all great, but the cynics will ask Why should teachers care about happiness? Theyare their to teach not to worry about happiness or well being? (They could be debatedon this point!!!!!)The big reason is that a positive mood is associated with enhanced cognitivefunctioning.12
  13. 13. Research published in 2006 by Heather Wadlinger and Derek Isaacowitz fromBrandais University, Massachusetts suggests a positive mood results in broadenedvisual attention.Wadlinger and Isaacowitz used an Eye Tracking Machine that can track eyemovements 60 times per second. Participants were told to naturally observeimages.Their results suggest that positive a mood condition resulted in significantly moreeye movementwith a negative mood associated with narrowed attention13
  14. 14. In 2009 Taylor Schmitz and colleagues from the University of Toronto analysed the signalresponses of the brain when carrying out tasks requiring cognitive processing in variousmood conditionsThere research showed that along with improved task performance, those in thepositive mood condition had greater signal response in two key areas of the brain.Her research suggests that a happy brain is a more active brain.14
  15. 15. Research published in 2007 by Rowe and Hirsh from the university of Toronto suggeststhat a positive mood is associated with increased taught action repertoiresOur taught action repertoire is our ability to come up with novel thoughts andideasTheir study demonstrated that a positive mood significantly enhances participantsperformance at the Remote Associates Test shown above.15
  16. 16. Research in the University of Baltimore by Alice Isan in 1987 using Dunkers 1945 candleexperiment analysed the impact of mood on creative problem solving. Isens resultsdemonstrated that positive mood promotes creative problem solving.Results13% Negative mood condition solved the problem75% Positive Mood condition solved the problem16
  17. 17. Research conducted in the early 90s by Tanis Bryan and colleagues from Arizona stateuniversity suggests positive mood can have positive implications for children with andwithout learning disabilities.Bryans findings suggestPositive mood is associated with enhanced task performance for pupils with andwithout learning disabilitysPositive mood was associated with enhanced feelings of self efficacy for pupils withlearning disabilities.17
  18. 18. The second element of my talk will look at efforts to teach some of principle andtechniques of positive psychology in schools and in the US army.18
  19. 19. The Penn resiliency program created by the positive psychology centre in PennUniversity teaches children and adolescents to deal with day to day stressors that arecommon to all children. The programme teaches the skills of optimistic and flexiblethinking, assertiveness, creative brainstorming, decision making, relaxation techniquesand a number of other problem solving and coping strategies.In 2009 Stephen Brunwasser and colleagues from the University of Michigan carried outa meta review of 17 placebo controlled evaluations of the program consisting of almost2500 children and adolescents aged between 8 and 15.The reviews main finding was that the programme reduces and prevents symptoms ofdepression and hopelessness even at 12 month follow ups with ESs ranging from .11-.21.19
  20. 20. The gee long grammar school in Australia has been embedding positive psychology intoall aspects of school life since 2005 in what has become known as positive education.Positive psychology is embedded into all aspects of school life from academic courses,the sports field to pastoral counsellingCourses in the school teach the elements of positive psychology including resilience,gratitude, signature strengths, meaning, flow, positive relationships, and positiveemotion.The positive psychology project manager in the school (Paige Williams) released adocument in 2011 explaining that in 2010 the entire school took the individualflourishing questionnaire from the Cambridge institute of well being developed byFelicia Huppert. The results demonstrate the success of the on-going project whencompared with the results of adolescents from European countrys.Former President of the American Psychological Association Martin Seligman suggeststhat the change in the school is palpable and transcends statistics.He suggests there are three reasons we should teach the principles and techniques ofpositive psychology in schools.1. An antidote to depression2. Vehicle for increased life satisfaction3. To enhance learning and creativity20
  21. 21. The US army has always placed great emphasis on physical fitness. The science ofpositive psychology has now encouraged them to place emphasis on psychologicalfitness to aid combating post traumatic stress, depression, suicide, divorce andaddiction.The army believes that the key to psychological fitness is resilience. For this reason Drillsergeants in the US army now receive what is known as master resilience training todisseminate to new cadets.Each member of the US army must undergo the psychological global assessment. Aquestionnaire to measure the well being of soldiers in four domains, emotional fitness,social fitness, family fitness and spiritual fitness. Results are used to direct soldiers intothe relevant programs based on their psychological fitness needs.The army believes that the data that exists in relation to emotional contagion meansthat the selection of emotionally stable leaders is crucial.21
  22. 22. As already explained I am in the early stages of planning my researchI would like to share my current plans with you22
  23. 23. This project which is in its early stages will examine the impact of promoting the skillsand techniques of positive psychology with pre service teachers prior to their teachingpractice placement.The study will examine the impact of this on the student teachers;• Psychological Well-being• Stress levels• Pedagogical strategies/beliefs• Personal educational theory23
  24. 24. Thank you very much for listening to meI would appreciate any commentsAnd will take any questions you may have24
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