The merits and shortcomings of positive psychology

Incidentally, what IS happiness?

Positive Psychology is a movement founded by Martin Seligman which aims to “increase the tonnage of happiness on the planet” by measuring, classifying, and increasing positive emotion and positive traits. It explicitly positions itself as the anti-DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; American Psychiatric Association, 2001), having created its own ‘diagnostic’ manual, the Classification of Strengths (Peterson and Seligman, 2004), encompassing 24 human strengths within 10 criteria. Its roots are in humanistic psychology, and positive psychology’s seeming reluctance to properly acknowledge this has been much to the chagrin of parts of the humanistic psychology movement and community. Additionally, positive psychology has positioned itself on the side of science, aligning itself with a reductionist, quantitative approach, and claiming this as superior to the anti-scientific methods used by humanistic psychology. However, there are a number of philosophical, cultural and empirical problems with positive psychology’s current position, which suggests it is still at a rather immature stage in its development. Positive psychology’s application to clinical practice is unsurprisingly also in its infancy, with only a handful of well designed studies, but even with these issues the potential benefits of the interventions are tantalising.

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Computational Modelling of Reading and Dyslexia – Symbolic vs. Connectionist Approaches


Man Reading Computer/Book
Reading is a new skill in terms of evolutionary history, and it is therefore unlikely that sufficient time has passed for any adaptive benefits to become coded in the human genotype. Reading therefore represents a novel skill to be learnt, presumably in the absence of some inherited predisposition to acquire the necessary specific skills. Thus it is of particular interest to ascertain how humans read, given that a number of systems are involved; for example, when reading just a single letter, one must recognise the visual symbol, match it to a previously stored representation of the letter, retrieve the name of the letter, its sound (phoneme), and be able to integrate these, not only on a letter-level, but also on a word level. Additionally, as one becomes a more skilled reader, one has to develop the ability to recognise words on the whole (sight) level, as well as develop a system for decoding non-words, by means of mapping symbols to their sounds. This enables the reader to develop a method for dealing with regular words (e.g. gave/pave, hint/mint) as well as irregular words (e.g. pint, have), a skill particularly essential for less regular languages. The regularity of a language refers to the complexity of the rules regarding how the visual patterns of words (orthography) are converted into their sounds (phonemes), with some languages (e.g. German and Italian) having more transparent (shallow) orthographies, compared to English, which is quasi-regular (Plaut, McClelland, Seidenberg & Patterson, 1996). Given the complexity of the reading process discussed above, it is of interest to psychologists and neuroscientists to develop methods to examine how reading  processes (both skilled and abnormal) emerge.

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Chronic Pain: What psychosocial interventions work?

Picture of muscularskeletal body with pain hotspots

Chronic Diseases and Illnesses

Chronic diseases are highly prevalent in communities worldwide, affecting roughly 30% (Dobbie & Mellor, 2008; Stanton, Revenson, & Tennen, 2007) of a given population. They are the largest cause of death (Yach, Hawkes, Gould & Hofman, 2004), for example in the United States being responsible for 7/10 deaths and the leading cause of disability, with cardiovascular disease, cancer, and rheumatic conditions being their major. Chronic diseases also have a huge economic impact, accounting for 75% of healthcare costs yearly in the United States causes (Stanton et al., 2007). As population age increases, the prevalence of chronic conditions is also likely to increase, with significant socioeconomic implications worldwide. The World Health Organisation has responded to this potential crisis by devising the Innovative Care for Chronic Conditions, a flexible healthcare framework designed to address chronic disease issues on multiple levels, from the individual and family to healthcare systems and policy (Epping-Jordan, Pruitt, Bengoa & Wagner, 2004).

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