Feature: Eye on Moscow & The 6th European Conference in positive psychology by Dr. Kate Hefferon (abstracts by individual authors)

The 6th European Conference in positive psychology took place from the 26th-29th of June, 2012 in Moscow (please see http://www.ecpp2012.ru/ for more information). The conference notified accepted papers in April and all attending had a mad and interesting rush to get visas sorted, hotels booked and papers ready for the imminent conference.

Moscow, Europe’s largest city and has an interesting history. Delegates were shown some of the sights and culture during a brief trip to Moscow View Point (Vorobyevy gory). Furthermore, the opening ceremony took place at Moscow State University campus – very poignantly at the First Human Sciences Building in Russia.

The main days ran from 9-6 pm with 3x 1-1.5 hour symposium/paper sessions and 3 x 1 hour keynote sessions. Key note speakers included: Mike Csikszentmihalyi, Michel Eid, Ragnhild Nes, Carol Ryff, Robert Vallerand, Richard Ryan, Shalom Schwartz and many others. On the Friday, the conference held workshops in the afternoon. In addition to the presentations, each day also had poster sessions in various rooms throughout the venue.

The European Positive Psychology Network (and therefore conferences) take turns hosting with IPPA, thus the next ECPP will take place in 2014 in Amsterdam. For more information, please see http://www.enpp.eu/index.php/events/ecpp2014-in-amsterdam

The next section will review the contributions from MAPP UEL to Moscow, 2012.


Title: More than Resilience: Positive Child Development

Name (s): Dr. Michael Pluess

Association: Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, United Kingdom

A substantial proportion of research in child development has been and is being conducted from a perspective of developmental psychopathology. Most of these studies have the important goal of increasing knowledge regarding the development of specific problematic behaviours in order to develop effective prevention and treatment programmes. As a consequence, a lot is known today about the development of maladaptive outcomes and the treatment thereof but it is less clear how development looks like when everything goes right, when developmental conditions are optimal or even outstanding. While some research in developmental psychology certainly has a rich history of investigating positive adaptive outcomes (e.g., secure attachment, academic achievement, pro-social behaviour etc.) research informed by developmental psychopathology often treats the mere absence of problematic outcomes as evidence for positive development. This is, for example, the case in research on resilience to childhood adversity. While resilience is a very popular topic in both developmental and positive psychology it generally refers to the absence of negative development under adverse conditions rather than the presence of positive development under ideal conditions. A further limitation of current research in child development is the often restricted focus on effects of specific environmental components on specific outcomes neglecting the complex relationships between multiple factors, both proximal and distal, on different dimensions of positive developmental outcomes.

In my talk I will propose a new positive psychology perspective in child development that is characterized by: (1) a focus on truly positive developmental outcomes rather than just the absence of negative ones; (2) an empirically based multi-dimensional definition of positive child development; (3) the identification and investigation of determinants of positive child development; and (4) the development and evaluation of interventions aimed at increasing positive child development.

After reviewing existing empirical work, potential implications and future steps of research from a positive child development perspective will be discussed.



Title: Being resilient: Creating personal resources through gratitude interventions

Name (s): Dr Itai Ivtzan & Dr Kate Hefferon & Jin-Kai Chng

Association: University of East London, UK

Peterson and Seligman (2004) consider ‘gratitude’ one of the character strengths with vital benefits in the flourishing of the individual. Gratitude, the sense of thankfulness and joy in response to attributing the occurrence of a desired outcome to an external agent, is the most studied intervention in Positive Psychology. Research has found that gratitude leads to greater happiness and better physical and mental health. Furthermore, Watkins (2004) proposed that gratitude can help an individual cope with negative emotions following a stressful event – and the current study examined this proposition by testing whether gratitude could provide resilience and become a resource against learned helplessness. Learned helplessness manipulation was specifically chosen among other manipulations aimed at eliciting negative emotions, because it forms the basis of one of the major theories of depression – the reformulated learned helplessness theory (Seligman, 1975). This presentation focuses on a pilot study attempting to measure the effects of experimentally-induced learned helplessness on individuals who have experienced different gratitude interventions. 120 participants from the general population were randomly assigned to one of three journaling conditions: expressed gratitude (combination of a list of things one is grateful for plus writing a letter to someone in the list), basic gratitude (only a list of things one is grateful for), or neutral life events (making a list of neutral things). A ‘between-subjects independent groups’ design was employed in this experiment, with journaling condition and time as independent variables to eliminate the carry-over effects of journaling conditions. The between-subjects variable was the journaling condition (3 levels: expressed gratitude, basic gratitude, and neutral life events); the dependent measures were gratitude scores and number of physical symptoms experienced. Following two weeks of daily intervention for each of the 3 groups, participants experienced learned helplessness via a computer program. It was hypothesised that expressed gratitude would provide the participants with higher levels of resilience, facilitate the impact of learned helplessness by allowing participants to deal with it as a challenge that could provide growth, and would therefore prevent its potential influence on the number of physical symptoms participants experience. It was also hypothesised that such a response would not be found for the other 2 groups. As hypothesised, when measured in day 29 only the expressed gratitude group had a significant decrease in the number of physical symptoms (F(2, 52) = 6.160, p = .004). Participants in the expressed gratitude group used gratitude as a resource and experienced a positive impact on their number of physical symptoms following the challenging learned helplessness experience. The implications of the study’s findings will be presented in relation to their relevance for cancer patients. Cancer diagnosis can be a devastating and challenging experience, with continued negative physical symptoms experienced. Add to this that cancer patients’ depression levels are much higher than the normal population, there is a need for more positive research into the area of cancer survival. We intend to implement the evidence based findings from the aforementioned study to cancer patients/survivors in London, England.


Title: Reconnecting with the body: an exploratory analysis of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) following Cancer Diagnosis

Name (s): Deidre Walsh and Dr Kate Hefferon

Association: National University Galway, Ireland and University of East London, UK

Post-traumatic growth (PTG) is the concept of positive change/growth through experiencing trauma (O’Leary & Ickovics, 1995). Recently, Hefferon, Grealy & Mutrie (2009) argued that there might be a further element to the PTG process for individuals who have undergone physical trauma, known as the ‘reconnection with the body’. The aim of this study was to explore and document the experiences of five mixed gendered individuals post cancer diagnosis and treatment, in order to ascertain how ‘the role of the body’ affected PTG within this sample group, and how, if at all, the body facilitated the reconnection with the body. Interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) is the qualitative research methodology which was used as it explores experience in its own terms (Smith et al., 2009) and values each individual experience.

This study found that the progression of the cancer diagnosis and treatment had a large part to play within the role of the body and PTG. The participants tracked their bodies from a weakened state of ‘damaged goods’ and a reduced self to a point where the body was ‘brought back into context’. This synthesis of the old and new body created a ‘battle survivor’ mentality, relishing the body’s authenticity. Throughout the patients’ treatment, different aspects of the treatment were given tangible roles. This could be seen in the theme ‘the casting of the roles’ which was subsequently divided into three sub-themes: ‘the alienation of the body’, the hospital as ‘the other’, and childlike cancer patients. Toward the end of the participants’ physical trauma, the theme of ‘universal oneness’ was most prominent. This theme emphasised how participants began to see their bodies as mere ‘transient vessels’, where living in the present was of utmost importance. The futility of fighting against ‘the circle of life’ was also highlighted.

This view of the body as part of the circle of life, much like other mammals was refreshing for most participants. This theme of ‘the body as part of the circle of life’ ran closely to the theme of ‘nothingness and letting go’ which completed the patients journey of the role of the body and post traumatic growth and highlighted the concept of the reduced body, bodily synthesis and self-transcendence.

Ultimately, this study highlights the importance, which the role of the body plays throughout physical illness. This can be seen through the revelations which many of the participants had in relation to the reconnection with their bodies which they would not have experienced but for the unique effects of the physical trauma.


Title: From hip-hop to homelessness: A review of MAPP’s (UEL) holistic approach to research and consultancy

Name (s): Dr Kate Hefferon

Association: University of East London, UK

MAPP UK based at the University of East London has been running for just over 4 years. In that time, 80 dissertations have been successfully completed within the general population as well as several industries including: health, education, financial organizations, government/public policy and public sector/local councils. The majority of the dissertations focused on studying individuals followed by organisations/teams and communities/public policy.

Our students have focused on a wide variety of topics, including: Correlates and predictors of Well-being (SWB/PWB); Self Determination;  Resilience; Locus of Control Theory; Inspiration; Character Strengths; Mindsets; Massage; Psychological  Capital; Synchronicity; Posttraumatic Growth; Engagement; Creativity; Goal setting; Mindfulness; Positive psychology Interventions/Programmes; Fashion; Biofeedback; Altruism; Evolution and Performance Psychology.

The research method designs have included: Quantitative [e.g. Experimental; Quasi-experimental; Survey; Interventions (RCT)], Qualitative [Interpretative Phenomenological analysis; Phenomenology, Grounded theory (constructivist and essentialist; Discourse Analysis; Action research; Narrative analysis; Thematic analysis; Content analysis), Theoretical and more recently Mixed Methods (Exploratory; Explanatory; Concurrent), demonstrating MAPP at UELs’ holistic approach to understanding positive psychology.

In  addition to the research project, our students undertake a 5000 words consultancy project which requires them to investigate and analyse an existing scheme or provision within an external organisation and develop a proposal for a piece of consultancy work using positive psychology ideas that could help them resolve a problem or improve their way of working. The results of these consultancy projects will be discussed in light of their impact on the organisations.

In sum, the impact of the student’s dissertations has been aplenty, ranging from media and book writing to the creation of previously non-existent roles (e.g. wellbeing consultant within their organisation). Furthermore, we have a solid population continuing on to conduct PhD study in the areas of positive psychology (E.g. Emotional Intelligence; Eudaimonic well-being; Subjective Well-being; Positive Education; Post-Traumatic Growth; Self Esteem; Aesthetic experiences) as well as publishing in peer reviewed journals. Overall, we look forward to the widening impact of the dissertations as the number of completions increases.


Title: Feeling the power: Reviewing the physical and psychological benefits of Boxercise for individuals with mental health difficulties

Name (s): Dr. Kate Hefferon, Rebecca Mallery, Chloe Gay, Simeon Elliot & Dr. Joan Painter

Association: University of East London, UK 

Physical activity, hailed as a stellar positive psychological intervention (Hefferon & Mutrie, In press), focuses on producing well-being within individuals rather than simply reducing negative states. Positive psychology has begun to consider the needs of those with mental health difficulties, in addition to its zero to plus five remit (Sin & Lyubomirsky, 2009). Since there is currently a trend to advocate physical activity as an adjunct to mental health treatment, this mixed method study aimed to assess the psychological benefits of a 6-week structured physical activity programme, specifically Boxercise, for individuals with mental health difficulties. Study 1 consisted of one pre-intervention focus group (n=8) and one post intervention focus group (n=4), employing inductive thematic analysis. Study 1 results yielded three main themes: Gone off track, Social re-integration and Class constituents. Post intervention results focused on the actual experience of the programme, including three main themes: Praise of class, Wayne and Path to metamorphosis. 

Study 2 employed a quantitative approach including data analysis of self-esteem scores (RSE) of attendees of the programme (n=45). The results of Study 2 showed a significant and positive correlation between Boxercise attendance and self-esteem scores (r = 0.756 p< 0.001). In terms of suggestions for future research, the authors are currently conducting further analysis of the benefits of the Boxercise program using several additional positive psychology scales [Satisfaction with Life Scale (SWLS), Resilience Scale, Posttraumatic Growth Inventory (PTGI) and a depression scale (CES-D)] in relation to participants from a control group intervention. The results will be presented at the conference oral presentation.

Overall, this novel mixed method study found positive psychological benefits from participation in a structured Boxercise programme for people with mental health difficulties. The implications of the results advocate organizations, involved in the planning of mental health interventions, consider the importance of social connectedness (closed group interventions) which provides enhanced social interaction within a safe environment. Furthermore, organizations may consider offering safe physical activities that have a ’power’ element, such as Boxercise, which may be useful for people who want to express emotions and manage stress/anger, thereby providing a healthy distraction from their mental health difficulties.


Title: Positive Psychology at an English Language School: A two-wave longitudinal analysis of the effects of workplace positive psychology intervention on positive affect, negative affect, job satisfaction and organisational commitment

Name (s): Therese Joyce and Dr. Lea Waters

Association: University of East London, UK and University of Melbourne

A growing body of research calls for Positive Institutions to focus on strengths, values and added meaning at work (Peterson, 2006).  Positive Interventions do not require a problem or deficit to be present and therefore were deemed appropriate for use at a successful international school where the managing Director was seeking to go from ‘good to great’ (Collins, 2001)

Study aims

To explore the long-term effects of a six month PP intervention with 20 staff of an international language school in Toronto.  The average tenure is 4.8 years.  70% of staff are female.  50% are teaching staff and 50% administrative staff.  All staff hold bachelor degrees and 25% hold post graduate qualifications.

Methods Used

  • The six month program comprised workshops and 15 positive interventions including self-reflection, VIA character strengths and gratitude exercises.
  • A pre-test, post-test design was used to evaluate the effect of the positive psychology intervention on positive affect, negative affect, job satisfaction and organisational commitment. Data was collected at three points in time: pre-intervention, immediate post-intervention and six months post intervention. Qualitative data was also collected and a mixed method design was employed
  • Using grounded theory as the underlying paradigm and Glaser’s theoretical coding as the technique to extract themes from the data, the researchers investigated which positive psychology activities had lasting impact six to twelve months after the project completion.


A one-way repeated-measures MANOVA was used to test for changes in positive affect, negative affect, job satisfaction and organisational commitment as self-reported by staff over three points in time.

The Pillais trace test showed significant changes in scores on positive affect (F (2,18) = 54.78, p <.000); negative affect (F (2,18) = 34.36, p <.000); job satisfaction (F (2,18) = 9.11, p <.002); and organizational commitment ((2,18) = 7.48, p <.004) over time.

  • The qualitative analysis revealed the underlying themes of gratitude, the importance of self-reflection, improved relationships, positive emotion and perspective.   For example, one employee stated:

“Focussing on positive things made a big shift in my life in so many different ways.  I don’t think that I even knew that I was focussing on negative things until I started consciously thinking about positive things… it really made a big shift for me, really huge”

Another stated:  “The gratitude letters made an impact on me. I still pause and think about different ways my colleagues help me and I try and thank them as often as possible.”


This study reveals the potential for creating a cultural transformation in the workplace and demonstrates the formation of an on-going positive spiral increasing the subjective wellbeing of staff through a new optimistic and constructive perspective.   It also proposes suggestions for linking this positive spiral to on-going job satisfaction and organisational commitment and provides recommendations for further exploration. The study findings must be considered within the limitations of a small sample size and no control group. The use of a mixed methods design is a strengths and allows for a rich understanding of the employees ‘lived experience’ of the positive psychology intervention

 About Therese Joyce – Cohort 6 Full time

Therese Joyce has 17 years’ experience working in Education including 15 years of senior management at a national level in Australia & Canada.  Experience includes managing a national High School Exchange program in both Australia and Canada, supervising over 300 volunteers, and 9 years as Director of an International Language School in Toronto, with 2000 students annually.  Therese has designed and led staff trainings in Transactional Analysis, Customer Service, Communication, Time Management, Cultural Differences, Working with teenagers, & Positive Psychology, in Canada, US, Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, Malta, UK, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam.  A qualified VIA practitioner, Therese is also a graduate of the London International School of Performing Arts.

The ECPP presents an incredible opportunity to meet other professionals and practitioners in the Positive Psychology community as well as to learn of current research and applications of PP “in the real world”.  Having attended IPPA in 2011, I am very much looking forward to gaining more understanding of the European approach, and a less US-centric perspective, to PP.  On a personal note, I am more than a little excited about my first trip to Moscow, a side trip to St Petersburg, and the chance to give away “free hugs” in Russian!

Our poster explores the long-term effects of a six month PPI program implemented with the staff of a school in Toronto.  The program was co-designed with Associate Professor Lea Waters of the University of Melbourne.  There were significant increases in positive affect, job satisfaction and organisational commitment at the end of the program, along with a significant decrease in negative effect.  Long-term impact on positive and negative affect both continued to be significant.

As a manager I firmly believe in creating workplaces that are positive, constructive, connected, honest and for the most part, enjoyable.  It will be wonderful to receive feedback and questions regarding how this program was developed and run, as well as to share our experience, and encourage others to utilize PP in a real world setting.

Although I graduate in September 2012, “life after MAPP” still holds many (rather exciting) questions and unknowns.  I hope that this conference brings even more ideas, inspiration, connections and possibilities of what the future may hold, and of what I may bring to the future.



NEXT: The Toronto conference

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