Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Positive Psychology or Positive Social Science?

I hear it on good authority that at the recent Gallup Positive Psychology Summit* in Washington DC, Martin Seligman announced that Positive Psychology should now be known as 'Positive Social Science'.

Unfortunately I wasn't at the conference to hear the initial reaction, but I understand that the majority of delegates were somewhat shocked. As a science Positive Psychology is still in its infancy (the phrase having been coined around about the year 2000). People working in the field, whether psychologists, therapists, coaches or educationalists, are still getting used to the terminology. Others, it has to be said, are probably hoping that if they ignore it long enough, it will go away.

Well it seems that Seligman now wants this field of research to be known as "Positive Social Science". Those who support this idea believe it makes sense to take the study outside of the domain of just psychology, into health, neuroscience, economics and politics. The more I study the subject, the more complex it appears to become, and it does indeed touch our lives in many more ways than I originally thought. When you look at the make-up of the first UEL MAPP cohorts, you'll see that we're a very varied bunch, including GPs, therapists, coaches, trainers, business people, HR experts, journalists, teachers, social workers, economists and government policy makers. Yet all of us are taking something relevant from the course and applying it at work and individually. Positive Social Science seems a broad term to cover what is a very broad subject.

On the other hand, Positive Psychology is a young subject, and its students are relatively inexperienced when compared to those of traditional psychology. In the US, of course, it's much more firmly embedded (and accepted) in the world of work; here in the UK, it's only just taking off. Might changing its name at this early stage risk losing some of the enthusiasm and energy currently being poured into it?

We may get to hear all about Seligman's reasons at the forthcoming conference in a week's time. If so, I'll let you know what he says!

* Co-incidentally, the Gallup PP Summit has been renamed the Global Well-Being Forum, reflecting the their name change to the Gallup Institute for Global Well-Being.

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