Narrative Case Study – Cognition and Emotion:

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Narrative Case Study – Cognition and Emotion:

A university in the UK has introduced the compulsory training of positive psychology. Using cognitive theory and research in cognition and emotion critically evaluate whether positive emotions really do improve performance and whether training in positive psychology will have a beneficial impact.

What to include:

-overview of positive psychology and theories relating to the effects of emotion on cognition (inc.Broaden and Build Theory

-research studies measuring the effects of emotion on cognition

-what are the implications of this research and should we be promoting positivity?

Please make reference to the situations in the following articles.

Newspaper Teaching positive psychology at university – Carl Cederström (2017)

Why we should think critically about positive psychology in our universities –

Buckingham University is to become a ‘positive’ institution. Yet the wholesale importing of Martin Seligman’s philosophy risks fostering a culture of compulsory happiness

 ‘From now on all students at Buckingham, along with its professors, will be trained in the theory of positive psychology.’

Professor Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, flew in from the United States recently to celebrate the launch of a new era for Buckingham University, which is to become Europe’s first “positive” university. From now on all students at Buckingham, along with its professors, will be trained in the theory of positive psychology, helping them foster a more engaging and positive culture, free from bullying.

Admirable as this may sound, branding a university as positive could be problematic. For one, what about all those great pessimist thinkers such as Sophocles, Nietzsche and Freud? Will they be thrown off the curriculum? Banned from campus? It was the work of Freud, says Seligman, which blinded psychologists for far too long to the more positive aspects of human life that help people flourish.

Setting Freud aside, insisting on making a university positive – let alone a whole society – could be problematic on a more fundamental, ideological level.

The positive psychology movement was founded in 1998, and since then has attracted a large following, influencing business leaders and politicians across the world. At the heart of this theory is the claim that external circumstances make almost no difference to our happiness, as Seligman has explained.

To become happy and flourish as a human being you are only to a small degree determined by your circumstances, such as where you live and how much you earn, and to a very large degree dependent on your own intentional activities (specifically, whether you’re positive or not). According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor at the University of California, Riverside – and one of the more respected proponents of positive psychology – circumstances only account for 10% of our happiness.

In 2010, inspired by the theories of Seligman, David Cameron set out to monitor the UK’s happiness. One may wonder why the British prime minister, at a time defined by austerity measures, would set out on this task. Perhaps because he knew that circumstances – despite having become significantly worse for a lot of people, not least those who had lost their benefits – would have no effect on such a report.

According to a classic study on happiness from the late 1970s that is often cited by Seligman, it was shown that people who had recently won the lottery reported being no happier than victims of car crashes. Remember, circumstances make no difference.

This is the worrying underside of positive psychology. Deliberately avoiding how politics might affect us, positive psychology puts all the focus on the individual and asks whether or not we are ready to take ownership of our own lives and stop seeing ourselves as powerless victims – a notion that can be traced back to Seligman’s research in the 1960s. Subjecting dogs to electric shocks, he found that, eventually, they lost their will to escape. He called this behaviour “learned helplessness”.

 Positive psychology carries a similar message to positive thinking: to think positively will have positive consequences

Positive psychology, I would suggest, carries a similar message to positive thinking: to think more positively will have positive consequences. Here, Seligman would loudly protest. While positive thinking is about “boosterism”, positive psychology is about “accuracy”, he writes in his 2002 bestseller Authentic Happiness . The science of happiness has to be morally neutral, he continues, adding that it is not “the job of positive psychology to tell you that you should be optimistic”, but only “to describe the consequences”, such as “being optimistic brings about less depression, better physical health, and higher achievement”. What Seligman seems to say is that you have no obligation to be optimistic. You should, however, be prepared to face the consequences if you’re not.

Over the last couple of decades, in the name of “accurate science”, positive psychologists and other happiness researchers have discovered that “happiness is associated with a longer life”. But then it has also been discovered that “happiness and unhappiness have no direct effect on mortality”. It has been found, moreover, that “the more cash people have, the happier they are”. And a “global study”, meanwhile, has shown that “money doesn’t buy happiness”. As for relationships, “single people are more fulfilled” – although, according to Harvard researchers, “relationships are the key to a happy life”. Finally, “couples who drink together are happier than those who don’t”.

This list of conflicting research on happiness could be extended indefinitely, which is by no means strange, because happiness is not a quantifiable entity, contrary to what Seligman has claimed in the past (even advancing a happiness equation), but a philosophical concept that has meant different things at different times.

In his defence, Seligman has, in recent years, stopped talking about happiness, instead focusing on flourishing and meaning. The underlying message, however, is largely the same: do what you can to foster positive emotions and weed out negative elements from your life.

Buckingham University may have the best of intentions. Yet branding itself as positive risks fostering a culture of compulsory happiness, populated by positive yes-sayers. And today we have good reasons to be pessimistic and to say no, as the Danish professor Svend Brinkmann reminds us in Stand Firm, an antidote to the cult of self-improvement, recently translated into English. Instead of going along with the prevailing trend and focusing on positive emotions, Brinkmann suggests we put on our “no hats”, and start paying attention to the negative in our lives – not because we’re aiming to become more depressed, but because it will help us speak and think more freely, without feeling obliged to appear optimistic.

I wish universities would throw out Seligman’s positive psychology and replace it with Brinkmann’s recommendations on how to stand firm. This would help students to think, not positively, but soberly and critically about the present.

The Conversation Positive psychology (2011) – Why so serious? The untapped value of positive psychology

All we can ever hope to do, Sigmund Freud once wrote, is “to change neurotic misery into common unhappiness”. This pessimistic statement from arguably the most influential psychological theorist of modern times captured the mood that prevailed in psychology through most of the 20th century. That is, most psychologists, psychiatrists and psychoanalysts were essentially guided by a model of the patient that was based on what was wrong with people, and how to deal with these deficiencies.

It goes without saying that it’s important that therapists’ energies are devoted to addressing the issues that trouble their patients. However, it’s become increasingly apparent that this near-exclusive focus on deficits and disorders doesn’t do justice to the rich potential of human existence. What about the strengths and virtues that make some people so admirable and worth emulating? What about those beautiful aspects of life that give us reason to get up in the morning? What about cherished experiences of love and laughter, hope and happiness? Why isn’t psychology striving to understand and promote these positive aspects of human lives?

Freud’s influence is not to be underestimated. shutterstock.com

These topics weren’t entirely neglected. There were scholars exploring these issues, particularly those who might define themselves as human-centric or “humanistic” psychologists. Above all was Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), widely regarded as the founder of humanistic psychology and a passionate advocate for the need to go beyond the deficit model exemplified by Freud by adding a complementary focus on the brighter aspects of human life.

Writing in 1968 Maslow said: “It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.” Spurred on by his example, a minority of psychologists have striven to explore this more positive territory. But for the most part, this focus on the positive has not attracted much attention, or respect, among those in mainstream psychology.

The positive case

This suddenly changed at the end of the 1990s, when the hugely influential Professor Martin Seligman was elected president of the American Psychological Association. Inspired by the work of people like Maslow, he used his inauguration to initiate the idea of positive psychology. Essentially this took on the mantle of humanistic psychology as an evolution, an adaptation, or even a re-branding of the earlier field, depending on your perspective. Seligman’s initiative quickly attracted considerable attention, and since then scientific research on the positive aspects of human functioning – from hope to meaning in life – has entered mainstream psychology.

To capture the essence of positive psychology, take Corey Keyes’ idea of a scale running from minus 10 representing illness, through zero, to plus 10 representing wellness. Prior to positive psychology’s emergence, clinical psychology would endeavour to move people in distress from the negative scale (experiencing mental health issues) to a notional zero (an absence of such issues). However, the absence of mental health issues is not the same as flourishing. Even if we are free of disorder and distress, this isn’t the same as living life to the full and developing to the peak of our capacity. This is how positive psychology has defined its role, in helping people to rise above zero, above a mere absence of pain and into positive territory.

The scale needs to go both ways. shutterstock.com

The metaphor isn’t perfect. It was soon recognised that people can suffer psychological issues and still flourish in other ways. As such, it’s maybe better to think of people as existing along more than one scale simultaneously: doing well on some – being in a loving relationship, for example – and less well on others, such as lacking a fulfilling job. Caveats aside, I think the metaphor is useful: we can all aspire to aim higher, not merely to be free of problems, but to try and truly flourish as human beings and make the most of our all too brief lives.

How we can learn from the positive

Positive psychology aims to help us do that, through empirical research and theoretical models, and through practical positive psychology interventions, such as helping people to find or create more meaning in their lives. For instance, scholars have been working on developing a detailed typology of character strengths – a positive counterpart to the classification of mental disorders used by psychiatrists. People can then use diagnostic tools such as the Values in Action framework, not only to better understand their unique values and talents but to work on cultivating them, and thereby fulfilling their potential.

The field continues to develop and evolve in interesting ways. There has been increasing critical attention paid to the social dimensions of flourishing, a process I’ve referred to as positive social psychology. This recognises that well-being is not simply a positive mental state that some people are fortuitous enough to enjoy, but something that is intertwined with social factors.

This critical perspective has been brought to bear even on the very notions of “positive” and “negative” that underpin psychology. A trend referred to as second wave positive psychology, this holds that ostensibly dysphoric (negative) feelings can under some circumstances be conducive to flourishing: finding positive power in negative emotions, and giving credence to the idea that hardship can develop the fortitude that may lead to later successes.

Aspects of positive psychology continue to cross over into other domains, from education to the arts, exploring how best these may be harnessed so as to help us live the best life possible. While positive psychology is by no means a panacea for all ills, if it can add a little extra light in dark times – which I do believe it can – then surely that is to be welcomed.

Thank you

Assessment Information/Brief 2019/20

Module title

Cognitive Psychology

CRN

Level

Assessment title

Online Presentation

Weighting within module

This assessment is worth 50% of the overall module mark.

Submission deadline date and time

Module Leader/Assessment set by

How to submit

You should submit your assessment electronically via Blackboard

Assessment task details and instructions

Explain the application of cognitive psychology to this case study using a narrated PowerPoint presentation.

Apply theories and findings from cognitive psychology to real-world issues.

This is an individual assignment and you will not need to present in person, instead you should record a narration over the slides prior to submitting your assignment.

Emotion and cognition. For the case study you will be provided with a question, a newspaper article, an article from The Conversation, and some tips for what information to include.

Assessed intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this assessment, you will be able to:

Knowledge and Understanding

1. Evaluate theories of cognitive psychology

2. Critically assess research techniques employed in cognitive psychology

3. Identify applications of cognitive psychology to real-world instances

Transferable Skills and other Attributes

1. Enhance skills of written and oral communication

2. Manage your own learning

3. Enhance computer literacy skills

Module Aims

1.     To examine a variety of cognitive functions in humans e.g. attention, perception, learning, memory, language, and thinking;

2.     To further explore the links between brain centres and cognitive processes, using established and developing research techniques in this area;

3.      To provide knowledge and critical understanding of the application of the underlying concepts and principles in cognitive psychology to real-world contexts.

Word count/ duration (if applicable)

The PowerPoint presentation should be a maximum of 15 slides (excluding the title slide and the references slide/s) and the narration should be a maximum of 15 minutes.

Students are expected to adhere to the word count for this assessment. Work that is significantly under the specified word count is indicative of not covering the marking criteria in sufficient depth. Work that significantly exceeds the word count is generally indicative of a writing style that is not sufficiently concise for undergraduate level writing. If a student does not adhere to the word count, assessors may determine that the task has not been completed in accordance with instructions, and reflect this in the mark awarded. Please see the Assessment and

Assessment Criteria

Marks for your assessment will be allocated based on the following criteria:

1.        Description of the issue – you need to provide an overview of the case study and the issue that is covered within the case study.

2.        Application of theories and research from cognitive psychology – you will need to explain the behaviour identified in the case study using theories and findings from cognitive psychology.

3.        Evidence of literature search – you should support your work with relevant journal articles and past studies.

4.        Critical analysis – discuss the implications of cognitive psychology to this topic area.

5.        Style, structure, and presentation – your PowerPoint presentation should be presented in a professional manner with a logical structure.

6.        Accurate use of references – all references should be presented in APA 6th format.

In Year Retrieval Scheme

Your assessment is not eligible for in year retrieval.

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