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A replication and conceptual evaluation of commonly used positive psychology interventions


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Woodworth, RJ 2014 , 'A replication and conceptual evaluation of commonly used positive psychology interventions', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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What makes people happy is an increasingly important question for
clinical practice and public health. The major line of research and
intervention in this area, positive psychology, focuses on furthering
knowledge about the factors which improve individuals’ levels of
happiness and nurture the growth of character strengths. However,
despite the growth in positive psychology research over the past decade,
replication studies are lacking and the cross-cultural applicability of
interventions has not been thoroughly investigated. Three studies are
presented in this thesis, all of which relate to the landmark research
conducted by Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson (2005) on positive
psychology exercises (PPEs). The purpose of Study 1 was to evaluate the
efficacy of three PPEs and a control exercise in an Australian rather
than American population. Consistent with the original study, an
internet based randomised trial with four groups was used, in which each exercise was completed over a one-week period, with follow up
measurements taken up to six months after completing the initial
exercise. The findings of the original study were not fully replicated.
Specifically, although all groups showed an increase in happiness levels
and a decrease in depression levels over time, there was no differential
effect between the PPEs and the control exercise. The aim of Study 2
was to examine whether the results from Study 1 might be attributable to problems in measuring happiness. In Study 1 the Authentic
Happiness Inventory (AHI) was used to capture changes in happiness
levels as it was designed by Seligman et al. to be sensitive to upward
changes in Seligman’s (2002) three domains of happiness: pleasure,
engagement and meaning. However, supporting literature regarding the
psychometric properties of the AHI is lacking. In Study 2 discriminant
content validity techniques were used to investigate how well the AHI
represents the aforementioned psychological constructs. Study 2
showed that expert judges could not unambiguously allocate the AHI
items to the intended constructs, indicating that the AHI demonstrates
poor discriminant content validity. The purpose of Study 3 was to
investigate the efficacy of the PPEs in an n-of-1 design using a more
widely validated measure of subjective well-being, the Positive and
Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS). The use of n-of-1 designs has been
recommended when the emphasis is on examining within-person
changes rather than between-group differences. Over the 9–10 week
intervention period, no significant changes in happiness or depression
were produced and apart from a small positive interaction between one
of the PPEs and positive affect, there was no differential effect between
PPEs and the control exercise. These largely non-significant findings
raise doubts about the clinical appropriateness of these PPE
interventions. Overall the results of this thesis demonstrated poor support for Seligman et al.’s (2005) study findings, raising questions not
only about the interventions and measures promoted by Seligman et al.,
but also about the underlying theoretical concepts. Although the
usefulness of PPEs in clinical settings appears limited, it is possible that
there is scope for their use in a public health context. However before a
public health use is pursued further, investigation is required into what
the ‘active’ elements of PPE interventions are and whether the effects of
these elements might be attributed to more general psychological
theories of behaviour change. On this basis, it is recommended that
future research efforts focus on addressing the cross-cultural and
public health relevance of positive psychology interventions.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Woodworth, RJ
Keywords: positive psychology, happiness, replication
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