The MAPP Summit Conference featured alumni presentations sharing some of the latest innovations in positive psychology research and application. This is Part IV of a series that started on November 6.
Elaine Tarantin O’Brien presented research about the connections between physical and mental well-being in Moving Well: Breathing the Wisdom of Positive Psychology. Her project outlines the many benefits of exercise and movement, including individual vitality as well as the cultivation of healthier families, schools, institutions and communities.
What kindled your early curiosity and inspired you to pursue this research?
I was inspired by my passion in working in the health and fitness industry for the past 25 years combined with my new love: the possibility of thriving and flourishing via Positive Psychology. People today are living longer than ever before. It’s important for us to create exciting and effective programs for older adults now, for they will be us. It’s important not to just live longer, but to put life in our years!
What is the one thing you wish everyone could know about your project?
One objective was to further the theory and understanding of the importance of mind-body connections in positive lifespan well being through mindful exercise. In Spark: The Revolutionary Science of Exercise and the Brain, Ratey (2007) shows evidence that aerobic exercise physically remodels our brains for peak performance. Hundreds of studies show that physical activity increases cognitive functioning and supports learning, and we are just at the tip of the iceberg of this research. I’d love people to understand the benefit and necessity of applying positive movement in all domains of living as well as the need to match positive psychological energy to the desired outcomes.
Greg Quinting presented Nobel Strengths: The Attributes of Scientists by CAVE, a Content Analysis of Verbatim Explanations (CAVE) study of English language banquet speeches by Nobel laureates in chemistry. His research showed that the chemists, in general, are very optimistic and relay strong positive emotions, characteristics which may contribute to enhanced creativity, work engagement and satisfaction with life. Further comparisons showed that though optimistic, they also use healthy skepticism, defensive pessimism, and prudence in their approach to research, and tend to enjoy strong marriages and families. Analysis suggests that prudence and the closely-related strength of conscientiousness may be important to achievement, family life, health and longevity. His poster was inspired by his capstone, available from Scholarly Commons at the University of Pennsylvania.
Demographic Data for Chemistry Nobel Laureates: 90.2% of chemistry laureates between 1901 and 1972 were married; 84.2% had children. Fewer than five laureates were divorced. The average age at time of death was 76.1 years.
What kindled your early curiosity and most inspired you to pursue your research project?
First was learning about the CAVing of the presidential candidates’ convention speeches, which intrigued me—such analysis showed that pessimism-rumination strongly predicted the success or failure of a candidate being elected. I wondered what speeches by the Nobel scientists might reveal, particularly related to their attributions about positive events. I’ve long been concerned about the state of research and how research scientists are faring. The decline of U.S. students’ enrollment in Ph.D. science programs and decline in original, curiosity-driven research in the basic fields of physical science makes me wonder whether positive emotion may show some useful, important relationships to scientific excellence.
What is the most important take-away you want to share about your research?
The results are still being fully analyzed so I’ll offer initial thoughts. Everyone ought to know that most highly creative, prodigious scientists are emotionally like most average, optimistic people. Perhaps most importantly, I hope that the results will encourage more young people to pursue science as a field in which they can practice creative strengths. And I hope that seasoned scientists will be inspired to stay in the field and mentor young people with hope and optimism, thereby enhancing innovation.
Quinting, G. (2007). Nobel strengths: The attributes of scientists by CAVE. Capstone for the MAPP program at the University of Pennsylvania.
Ratey, J. (2008). Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. . New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Elaine O’Brien leading an energy break in a meeting, supplied by Denise Clegg.
Nobel medals: http://osulibrary.oregonstate.edu/specialcollections/coll/pauling/bond/pictures/large-nobel-chemistry-medal.jpg
Alfred Nobel: Photograph in the public domain