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Scholarly Publications

Psychological well-being of young people is a significant public health issue because adolescents who need help often do not seek it, leading to a high prevalence of mental health problems in this population. Youth programs aimed at preventing mental health problems have tended to rely on clinical treatments, with inconsistent results. This study explores the feasibility of an online positive psychology program to improve well-being and mental health outcomes of Australian youth. Results showed that participants in the online intervention who visited the site at least 3 times per week reported significant decreases in depression and anxiety and improvements in well-being.

Citation: Manicavasagar, V., Horswood, D., Burckhardt, R., Lum, A., Hadzi-Pavlovic, D., & Parker, G. (2014). Feasibility and effectiveness of a web-based positive psychology program for youth mental health: randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(6)

The sense that life has meaning and direction is associated with reduced risks of adverse health. This study tested the hypothesis that greater purpose in life is associated with lower risk of cerebral infarcts, a type of stroke caused by blockage in a blood vessel to the brain. Results showed that greater purpose in life was associated with lower odds of having more macroscopic infarcts (brain injury visible to the naked eye on autopsy). Results did not find association with microinfarcts (brain injury visible only with a microscope).

Citation: Yu, L., Boyle, P. A., Wilson, R. S., Levine, S. R., Schneider, J. A., & Bennett, D. A. (2015). Purpose in Life and Cerebral Infarcts in Community-Dwelling Older People. Stroke, 46(4), 1071-1076.

Few controlled trials have evaluated mindfulness-based approaches to enhancing mental health among young people. This study assesses the acceptability and efficacy of a school-based universal mindfulness intervention for youth aged 12-16. Control groups took part in the usual school curriculum. Results showed that children participating in the Mindfulness in Schools Program reported fewer depressive symptoms post-treatment and at follow-up. Students also reported lower stress and greater well-being at follow-up. The paper suggests potential directions, such as whether school-wide mindfulness training at a key developmental stage could be more effective than interventions for at-risk youth or those who already have developed mental health problems.

Citation : Source: Kuyken, W., Weare, K., Ukoumunne, O., Vicary, R., Motton, N., Burnett, R., Cullen, C., Hennelly, S., & Huppert, F. (2013). Effectiveness of the Mindfulness in Schools Program: Non-randomized controlled feasibility study. The British Journal of Psychiatry 203(2), 1-6.

doi: 10.1192/bjp.113.126649

Positive Psychotherapy (PPT) is a therapeutic approach based on the principles of positive psychology. PPT supplements traditional psychotherapy approaches that focus on deficits. PPT addresses strengths, resources, values and hopes in addition to symptoms, weaknesses, risks and regrets, to facilitate a more balanced understanding of the human experience. This paper makes the case for an alternative approach to psychotherapy that gives equal attention and effort to both negatives and positives. It discusses PPT’s assumptions and describes how PPT exercises work in clinical settings. The paper summarizes results of pilot studies using this approach, discusses caveats in conducting PPT, and suggests potential directions.


Citation: Rashid, T. (2015). Positive psychotherapy: A strength-based approach. The Journal of Positive Psychology,10(1), 25-40.

A key challenge for well-being interventions is promoting sustained engagement to improve long-term outcomes. One way to increase engagement is to introduce variety. Researchers investigated whether supplementing interventions with items from a person’s social media archive could add variety and increase engagement. Results suggested that supplementing interventions with Facebook content increased engagement, particularly photos, text, and content about friends. The usefulness of the social media content depended on the type of intervention.

Citation: Sosik, V.S., & Cosley, D. (2014). Leveraging social media content to support engagement in positive interventions. Journal of Positive Psychology,(9)5, 428-434. doi:10.1080.17439760.2014.910826

Research indicates that men and women have different reactions to stress, which affects their ability to accurately tune into others. Distinguishing one’s own thoughts and feelings from another person’s plays an important role in crucial social skills, such as understanding and empathy. Under stress, women showed increases in self-other distinction, while men showed decreases. The findings suggest that women flexibly distinguish self and other under stress, enabling accurate social responses, while men respond with increased egocentricity and less adaptive regulation. This has crucial implications for explaining gender differences in social skills such as empathy and prosociality.

Citation: Tomova, L., von Dawans, B., Heinrichs, M., Silani, G., & Lamm, C. Is stress affecting our ability to tune into others? Evidence for gender differences in the effects of stress on self-other distinction. Psychoneuroendocrinology.

The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness. The first report was published in 2012, the second in 2013, and the third on April 23, 2015. Leading experts across fields – economics, psychology, survey analysis, national statistics, health, public policy and more – describe how measurements of well-being can be used effectively to assess the progress of nations. The reports review the state of happiness in the world today and show how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness. They reflect a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness as a criteria for government policy.

Read the full report here:


Source: Possell, P., Mitchell, A.M., Ronkainen, K., Kaplan, G.A., Kuahanen, J. (2015). Do depressive symptoms predict the incidence of myocardial infarction independent of hopelessness? Journal of Health Psychology, 20(1), 60-68. doi.10.1177/1359105313498109

A longitudinal study has found that hopelessness and depression are each predictors of coronary heart disease (CHD). When adjusted for level of depression, hopelessness was an independent predictor of CHD. However, when adjusted for level of hopelessness, depression was not an independent predictor of CHD.

This study was the first of its kind to explore depression and hopelessness as individual predictors as long as 18 years out.

Hopelessness occurs often in severe depression, but it is not recognized as a symptom of depression in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  Hopelessness, therefore, might be distinct from depression in its associations with CHD.

Researchers suggested future studies to investigate whether reducing hopelessness, compared with reducing depressive symptoms, would lead to fewer incidents of heart attack.

Coronary heart disease including heart attack is the leading cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2030, depression and CHD will rank globally as two of the three most disabling conditions, surpassed only by HIV/AIDS.

Citation: Quoidbach, J., Mikolajczak, M., & Gross, J.J. (2015, January 26). Positive interventions: An emotion regulation perspective. Psychological Bulletin. Advance online publication.

Researchers find that regulating one’s responses (emotion regulation) to life events increases happiness.

Learning to control emotions before, during and after a positive event can increase short-term and long-term happiness. Researchers reviewed scientific literature that included 157 positive emotion interventions. Results showed that there are several strategies that can effectively increases happiness. These strategies include selecting a situation, deploying attention, engaging in cognitive change and expressing a response. Doing so has a variety of benefits, such as helping people choose and modify situations where positive emotions are likely to occur, helping people appreciate their good fortune, and helping people foster positive emotions like joy and gratitude.  Researchers focused on empirical evidence for 25 positive interventions. They found strong evidence in support of 13 of them, including mindfulness-based therapies, applications of character strengths, acts of kindness, and the gratitude visit. 

To increase positive emotions in the short term, interventions that help people focus their attention, realize good fortune, and express positive feeling states like enjoyment had strong empirical backing. To increase positive emotions in the long term, two strategies had strong support: choosing or modifying a situation while an event unfolds, and focusing attention before, during and after an event.  

Findings could benefit research aimed at matching emotion regulation strategies and a person’s natural inclinations, leading to more tailor-made interventions.

Citation: Dodds, P.S., Clark, E.M., Desu, S., Frank, M.R., Reagan, A.J., Williams, J.R. . . Danforth, C.M. (2015). Human language reveals a universal positivity bias. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(8), 2389-2394. doi/10.1073/pnas.1411678112

Data-driven analysis of billions of words confirms a universal bias in favor of happy words.

Big Data methods applied to sources as varied as Korean Twitter feeds and Russian literature suggest that positive social interaction is built into human language. This so-called “Pollyanna Hypothesis," first proposed by University of Illinois psychologists in 1969, asserts that there is a universal human tendency to use positive words more frequently and diversely than negative words when communicating.

The new study examined individual words from 10 diverse languages and 24 source types including books, news media, social media, websites, music lyrics, and television and movie subtitles. Tweets alone accounted for roughly 100 billion words. Researchers pinpointed about 10,000 frequently used words in English, Spanish, French, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Chinese (simplified), Russian, Indonesian and Arabic. The team then paid native speakers to rate words by assigning them a smiling or frowning face; in all, some 500 million human scores were obtained.

These findings will help us to develop potent language-based tools to measure emotion, the research team said.