On September 30 Wiley-Blackwell announced the winner of their inaugural Wiley Prize in Psychology — Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Positive Psychology Center. While his career contributions are certainly immense, other scholars and, most recently, popular authors, have turned a critical eye to positive psychology.
In an 2008, Dana Becker and Jeanne Marecek published an article questioning positive psychology, particularly its emphasis on individual success and development and what they perceive to be a disconnect with the realities of social institutions and sociocultural power. Popular author Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book coming out this month, “Bright-Sided”, in which she questions the entire “happiness” movement, including positive psychology and the way in which it has taken self-help into the academic realm.
While Becker and Marecek are not against the idea of “human flourishing,” they see it “not as a matter of private satisfaction, but as a matter of the collective welfare.” This idea is particularly relevant in the current global recession and the discourse of individualism is also prominent in U.S. debates on healthcare. In the U.S., where “boot-straps” philosophy reigns supreme, Becker and Marecek argue that the suggestion “that self-help excercises can suffice in the absence of social transformation is not only short signted but morally repugnant.”
Thus we, as humans living in our societies and bound by institutions, have to ask ourselves the extent to which personal happiness and a sense of fulfillment is tied to broader social influences. Can we “will” ourselves to be happy through the use of affirmations, or are we simply creating convenient illusions to persevere through difficult times?
Becker and Marecek. (2008). Dreaming the American Dream: Individualism and Positive Psychology.
Wiley Prize in Psychology Announcement
Recent US headlines regarding the reinstatement of NFL player Michael Vick, convicted of participating in a dog-fighting ring, raise a number of questions about animal rights and how we attempt to understand and treat animal abusers.
As the introduction for the most recent Journal of Social Issues (JSI) states, “virtually all societies” make use of and have relationships with nonhuman animals — as companions, for work, as a source of food, etc. But these relationships are complex and raise a number of ethical and psychological issues.
For example, research has shown that we often benefit — both psychologically and physiologically — from companionship with animals. Perhaps it is this presumption, and the idea that we should care for and protect our companions that elicits such emotional responses from deviant (i.e. abusive) behavior. Ascione & Shapiro (2009, JSI) report on interventions, such as AniCare, that build on these ideas and “intimate justice theory” to work with those convicted of animal abuse. Researchers are also considering how our understanding of animal abuse can inform work on domestic abuse, and vice versa. Such questions have even resulted in the establishment of a new field — anthrozoology — to formally investigate human-animal interactions.
In what ways has animal use changed in our societies as technology has developed? Do you think findings from animal abuse studies can be generalized to other areas of abuse and abuse interventions?
New Perspectives on Human-Animal Interactions: Theory, Policy, and Research, Journal of Social Issues.
Read more on the rise of dogfighting subculture (warning: images of recovering dogs)