Should We Trust Positive Psychology?

13 Oct

By Robert Biswas-Diener

Should We Trust Positive PsychologyDoes thinking about the elderly cause young people to act more like old folks themselves?

One 1996 study said yes. Psychologist John Bargh and his colleagues asked one group of participants to complete a word search puzzle in which hidden words—like “stubborn,” “alone,” and “Florida”—were all related to stereotypes of the elderly.

After completing the puzzle, the researchers found that these same participants walked more slowly when compared with people from a control group. It is amazing to think that it might be possible to sub-consciously “prime” behaviors simply by exposing people to an idea—and Bargh’s study was widely covered by the media and cited by other researchers.

Unfortunately, the results weren’t replicated. Two attempts to re-create that original study met with no success. In fact, in one of the later studies, participants exposed to the same words walked faster!

Recently, a team of 270 psychologists, led by Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia, tried to reproduce 100 experiments to see if their findings still hold up. The result of the three-year initiative is a public-relations nightmare for social and cognitive psychology: The team got the same results in only one-third of the studies.

This might be especially troubling for positive psychology, the scientific study of factors that allow individuals and communities to flourish. Heavy commercialization of this relatively new field—and the fact that it is an applied science—leads to a consumer economy of blogs, books, and seminars that favors single study results. I am, admittedly, a part of this process, and so is the nonprofit publication, Greater Good, in which these words appear.

In this context, replication is especially important—and the field’s replication crisis presents us with a great opportunity to explain why. It is also a reminder that science always needs to take the long view. Consumers increasingly want comprehensive theories of happiness and finalized positivity ratios—when we are, at best, a few decades old as a science. So where does that leave us? Should the average person and practitioner just ignore positive psychology until it grows up?

My answer is no, in part because we can learn a great deal from the exploration itself. Read More…

Related Online Continuing Education Courses


In the Zone: Finding Flow Through Positive Psychology is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that offers a how-to guide on incorporating flow into everyday life. According to the CDC, four out of ten people have not discovered a satisfying life purpose. Further, the APA reports that most people suffer from moderate to high levels of stress, and according to SAMSHA, adult prescription medication abuse (primarily to counteract attention deficit disorders) is one of the most concerning health problems today. And while clinicians now have a host of resources to mitigate distress and reduce symptomatology, the question remains: how do clinicians move clients beyond baseline levels of functioning to a state of fulfillment imbued with a satisfying life purpose? The answer may lie in a universal condition with unexpected benefits…This course will explore the concept of flow, also known as optimal performance, which is a condition we are all capable of, yet seldom cultivate.


This course will give you the mindfulness skills necessary to work directly, effectively and courageously, with your own and your client’s life struggles. Compassion towards others starts with compassion towards self. Practicing mindfulness cultivates our ability to pay intentional attention to our experience from moment to moment. Mindfulness teaches us to become patiently and spaciously aware of what is going on in our mind and body without judgment, reaction, and distraction, thus inviting into the clinical process, the inner strengths and resources that help achieve healing results not otherwise possible. Bringing the power of mindful presence to your clinical practice produces considerable clinical impact in the treatment of anxiety, depression, PTSD, chronic pain, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, colitis/IBS, and migraines/tension headaches. The emphasis of this course is largely experiential and will offer you the benefit of having a direct experience of the mindfulness experience in a safe and supportive fashion. You will utilize the power of “taking the client there” as an effective technique of introducing the mindful experience in your practice setting. As you will learn, the mindfulness practice has to be experienced rather than talked about. This course will provide you with an excellent understanding of exactly what mindfulness is, why it works, and how to use it. You will also develop the tools that help you introduce mindful experiences in your practice, and how to deal with possible client resistance.


This course is designed for the practitioner who would like to use journal-writing exercises with clients as an adjunct to traditional psychotherapy, and would like some topic ideas to suggest, rather than limiting writing only to the technique of “freewriting.” It is suggested, although not mandatory, that the practitioner has already completed the course #20-13, “Writing It Out: Journaling as an Adjunct to Therapy.” That course lays the basic foundation for understanding the benefits of journaling and how it can best be used with clients. It also teaches a number of basic writing techniques. Journaling II presents a brief overview of “freewriting,” as well as 36 directed exercises divided into three phases. It also offers interpretive questions coordinating with each exercise and an explanation of the use of a behavior log as a journaling exercise.


Professional Development Resources is a Florida nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) approved to offer continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA): the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; and by the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners. We are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within one week of completion.




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