Research – Positive Focus 2017-01-13T13:42:26+00:00

Research – Positive Focus

Focusing on the Positive – Exercises

Professor Elaine Fox, psychologist and neuroscientist, focuses on the nature of human emotions and why people react so differently to the good and the bad in life. She examines the subtle “cognitive biases” that are linked to emotional vulnerability on the one hand, and human resilience on the other. Professor Fox has found each individual has a “set level” of optimism and pessimism, hardwired into our brains. This results in each one of us interpreting the same events very differently, affecting how we feel, behave, and approach life’s challenges, which ultimately has a large impact upon our physical and mental health. Fox’s research shows by making a concerted effort to think and act more positively, using a range of techniques, our neural pathways can be changed to make us “naturally” more optimistic.

Read Elaine Fox’s book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain to learn more about the advantages of being optimistic and to delve further into the research.

Watch Michael Moseley explore Fox’s research in the BBC’s 2013 Horizon:

The Truth About Personality

Find Prof. Elaine Fox speaking here:

The Lost Lectures: Prof. Elaine Fox: ‘Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain’

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Professor Mark Baldwin, with his McGill University colleague Stéphane Dandeneau, found that participants were able to learn to prevent their immediate attention from focusing on negative expressions through having to repeatedly identify a smiling face amongst pictures of frowning faces. The results suggest that it is possible to measure people’s attentional bias and teach skills that help deal with negative social information.

Baldwin has focussed much of his recent work on how modern technology, such as specifically designed apps and computer games, can be used for stress and cognitive bias modification.

Some of these tools, including the “Find the Smiling Face” game (as mentioned above and seen in the Michael Moseley Horizon), are being developed for commercial release by spinoff company MindHabits. These can help players develop positive habits of thinking, which boost self-confidence and reduce stress.

Read more on his research behind the games here:

MindHabits

Access the study co-authored with Dandeneau here:

The Inhibition of Socially Rejecting Information Among People with High Versus Low Self-Esteem: The Role of Attentional Bias and the Effects of Bias Reduction Training

Have a go at training your brain to help deal with stress here:

Find the Smiling Face

Authors and positive psychologists Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff found participants who were encouraged to maintain a positive focus during daily walks for one week reported a greater increase in happiness at the end of the week, compared to participants who were encouraged to maintain a negative or neutral focus during their walks.

Their academic book Savouring: A New Model of Positive Experience examines the health benefits and overall importance of savouring life – “the capacity to attend to the joys, pleasures, and other positive feelings that we experience in our lives” – and makes suggestions for evidence backed interventions for positive psychological adjustment.

Find more on the book here:

Citation and Table of Contents

Susan Sergeant and Myriam Mongrain, York University psychologists, found participants who completed a set of optimism exercises daily for three weeks reported greater engagement in life and less dysfunctional thinking (such as, believing that small failures make one a failure as a person) at the end of the study than they had at the start of it. Participants who had a tendency to be pessimistic especially benefited from the exercise and showed fewer depressive symptoms afterward. These effects seemed to wear off two months later, suggesting the need to repeat this practice periodically.

Find the study here:

An online optimism intervention reduces depression in pessimistic individuals

A Definition of Cognitive Bias Modification

Cognitive bias modification encompasses a series of techniques that can alleviate anxiety or depression. In particular, according to this paradigm, anxiety and depression emanates from biases in the attention, memory, and interpretations of individuals. For example, anxious individuals tend to orient their attention to unpleasant features. Depressed individuals are inclined to remember adverse events. Cognitive bias modification entails a set of practices that reverse these biases and, therefore, ameliorate mood disorders.”

Read more about what Cognitive Bias Modification is on Psychlopedia:

Cognitive Bias Modification – Overview and Evidence

Caveats:

There doesn’t seem to yet be research on whether CBM has long lasting effects. And it may not be effective long term against serious conditions like depression.

Research published in ‘Cognitive Therapy and Research’ (October 2012)

“The task proved difficult for cognitively vulnerable participants; they were not able to maintain their new learning over the entire course of the CBM training…. These results indicate that CBM attention training might be most effective in reducing cognitive vulnerability when initially used in small doses.”

Beating the Negative Bias

John Cacioppo et al. recorded the electrical activity in the cerebral cortex in the brains of their study’s participants whilst showing them pictures known to arouse (a) positive feelings, (b) negative feelings, and (c) neutral feelings. The results showed brains react far more strongly to stimuli it deemed negative, for example when processing pictures of a mutilated face or dead cat.

Read the study in full here:

Negative Information Weighs More Heavily on the Brain: The Negativity Bias in Evaluative Categorizations

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson’s continual research in the psychology and psychophysiology of emotions reveals how a greater ratio of positive emotions to negative ones, at least 3:1, leads towards a “life of flourishing”. Her book, Positivity (2009), includes a culmination of scientific evidence that makes her case.

Footnote*

(If you have any problems following links in our research, then please copy and paste the text below relating to the article you wish to see into your browser top bar)

Professor Elaine Fox
Book – Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain
http://www.rainybrainsunnybrain.com

Watch Michael Moseley explore Fox’s research in the BBC’s 2013 Horizon

The Lost Lectures: Prof. Elaine Fox: ‘Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain’

Professor Mark Baldwin and Stéphane Dandeneau
MindHabits
http://www.mindhabits.com/how_it_works.php

The Inhibition of Socially Rejecting Information…
http://selfesteemgames.mcgill.ca/research/Dandeneau_Baldwin(2004).pdf

Find the Smiling Face
http://baldwinlab.mcgill.ca/labmaterials/materials_BBC.html

Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff
Book: Savouring: A New Model of Positive Experience
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Savoring-New-Model-Positive-Experience/dp/0805851208

More on the book:
http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2006-11872-000

Susan Sergeant and Myriam Mongrain
An online optimism intervention reduces depression in pessimistic individuals
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24417602

Cognitive Bias Modification
Cognitive Bias Modification – Overview and Evidence
http://www.psych-it.com.au/Psychlopedia/article.asp?id=430

Cognitive Therapy and Research (October 2012)
http://www3.nd.edu/~ghaeffel/Resources/Haeffeletal2012.pdf

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson
Book: Positivity
http://www.positivityratio.com/book.php