Flourishing vs Languishing
Understanding Some Dynamics Underlying Individual, Couples, Group,
and Business Team Behavior
Presented to the
San Antonio Chapter
International Society for Performance Improvement
October 27th, 2005
Randall C. Agee
My story begins...
...and reaches
an abrupt end.
“Positive Affect and the Complex Dynamics of Human Flourishing”
Barbara Fredrickson
Dept of Psychology, University of Michigan
Marcial F. Losada
Department of Information Technology & Knowledge Management, Universidade de
Católica de Brazília
Positive Psychology
Language of Psychology
Affect = Emotion
• Maslow
– Personality derived from needs
– A hierarchy exists among needs
– Growth occurs as individuals climb
hierarchy from basic Physiological
and Safety needs toward Belonging
and Esteem needs, culminating in
– Growth to higher stages blocked
when needs at a given level are
Other Positive Psychology Theorists
• Carl Rogers
– Client-centered Therapy
– Individual is inherently good
– Maturity is a continuous process of discovering innate capacity for
positive affective experiences
• individually
• socially
• Martin Seligman
– Evolutionary purpose of positive affect
• broaden and build cognitive and social resources for resiliance
– Good life comes from kindness, not “pleasure”
– Learned optimism can overcome learned helplessness
Chaos Theory
• Edward Lorenz (early 1960s meteorologist)
– Developed 12 equations to predict what the weather might be
– Set measurement sensitivity low (6 decimals) but reporting sensitivity
higher (3 decimals)
• Result: successive iterations generated radically different predictions
– Butterfly Effect
“Butterfly flapping wings in Brazil, echoing for a month through dynamic
systems governing weather, can cause a cyclone in Indonesia – or not!”
• Chaos Theory
– Explains complex system behavior as a series of mathematical patterns
follow closely, but do not exactly replicate themselves in different
scales through time
– Meg Wheatley: fractals are created by non-linear equations generating
repeated iterations of ever-smaller levels of scale.
Chaos Theory (continued)
• Gladwell – The Tipping Point
– Three Rules of Epidemics
• Law of the Few – a handful of exceptional people can make a difference
• Stickiness Factor – simple changes may give an idea great impact
• Power of Context – people are more sensitive to environment than you think
– describe social phenomenon as diverse as
• flu and syphilis outbreaks,
• successful advertising campaigns, and
• crime waves
– a system remain in equilibrium until a very tiny event tips it out of balance
• resulting in a new equilibrium brought on by Innovators and Early Adopters
• followed by recruitment of the Early and Late Majorities,
• with Laggards dragging their feet and Recalcitrants never getting on board!
Origin of Chaos Theory (continued)
• Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg – Quantum Mechanics
– Particles may behave like waves and vice versa, depending on how you
measure them
– Electron position and spin are not simultaneously knowable
– Uncertainty and Complementarity gave headaches to proponents of an orderly
world of Physics
• Orne (1962) – Demand Characteristics
– Showed that subjects in an psychology experiments strive to guess the
purposes of the experiments, and then may inject what they know or think
they know into reaction to the experimental conditions
– In Industrial Psychology, the classic Hawthorne experiments at Western
Electric showed that workers may respond to any experimental conditions,
even contradictory changes, with increased productivity!
Benefits of Positive Psychology
Fredrickson cites biological research for benefits from positive affect
Broadening scope of attention
Expanding behavioral répertoire
Increasing intuition & creativity
Speeding recovery from
cardiovascular distress
• Altering frontal lobe asymmetry
• Increasing immune function
• Salubrious mental & physical
Increased resilience to adversity
Increased happiness
Psychological growth
Lower levels of cortisol
Reduced inflammatory
responses to stress
– Reduction in subsequent-day
physical pain
– Resistance to rhinoviruses
– Reduction in stroke
Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Psychology
• They assert that chaotic patterns that provide flexibility and resilience for
physical and neurological systems also extends benefits to emotional life
– “People in positive affect states are less predictable than when they are in
negative states, and that positivity allows them to be more resilient and
adaptable when the inevitable crisis erupts.
They conclude a clear link exists between frequent positive affect and
“... human ability to experience positive affect is an “evolved
psychological adaptation that increased our ancestors’ odds of survival
and reproduction” (Fredrickson and Losada, 2005)
In Randy’s words
“those unhappy souls that can’t play well with others and think
poorly of themselves aren’t likely to contribute to the gene pool.”
Application of Positivity to Analyzing Marriage
• John Gottman (University of Washington Love Lab)
– Videotaped conversations sliced into 15-second intervals along with
physiological data & jiggle-meters
– Analyzed verbal and non-verbal behavior on a 20-category taxonomy
of emotional states
• Produced 1,800 variable record for each couple (900 each X 2)
– Criterion; identify marriages surviving 15 yrs
• With 1 hr observation, successful 95%
• With only 15 min observation, successful 90%
Application of Positivity to Analyzing Marriage
Examples of Emotional States Rated
Search for the Losada Line
• Is there a Critical Positivity Ratio?
– Moderately positive affect equips individuals with adaptive
bias to approach and explore novel objects, people or
– Bad is stronger than good
• Overcoming toxicity of negative affective environment is not onefor-one
– Research suggests the balance to keep people in a “good
mental health zone” ranges from
~ 2.5:1 for individuals
~5.1:1 for business teams
Losada on Business teams
• Conducted observational research with 60 teams engaged
Strategic Planning
– One-way mirror
– Rated three variables
• Positive speech vs Negative speech
• Inquiry vs Advocacy
• Self-oriented vs Other-oriented
Positive speech
Negative speech
Losada on Business teams (continued)
• Of the 60 teams:
– 15 had a much more positive emotional team emotional climate
– 16 had a mixed team emotional climate
– 19 had negative emotional climate
• Losada derived a set of coupled differential equations to
describe the within-team interactions
– Please see the Fredrickson and Losada paper for a more complete description
of the math.
• Employed Fourier transformations of cross-spectral density
function to generate a model
– Plotting the model produces a graphic that looks like a butterfly, with
three distinct geographical areas
• Losada Line: the ratio of 2.9 to 1 bifuricates flourishing from
languishing teams
Losada on Business teams (continued)
• The 15 teams with most positive emotional climate
– Wider range of ideas and initiatives
– Most successful as measured by
• profitability,
• customer satisfaction, and
• 360°evaluations by superiors, peers and subordinates
• The 16 teams with mixed emotional climate
– Mixed success
– Have insufficient resilience; in moments of extreme adversity, lose their
behavioral flexibility and capacity to question assumptions, resulting
in endless languishing
• The 19 teams with negative emotional climate
– Unsuccessful
– Tightly bounded, uncreative and generally negative in outlook
– “stuck in self-absorbed advocacy resulting in an endless loop”
Fredrickson’s Experiments Testing Losada Line
• Two samples
– One screened to exclude members with expressing depression
– Second randomly drawn and not screened
• Students rated 20 variables describing emotional state daily for
28 days (2 variables were neutral)
Positive emotions
sexual desire
Negative emotions
Fredrickson’s Experiments Testing Losada Line
• Results
Sample 1
Sample 2
3.2 to 1
3.4 to 1
2.3 to 1
2.1 to 1
• Take-home message: Flourishing and Languishing members
of both samples bracket the Losada Line
Upper Limits
• The logical journey nears a conclusion.
• Can we have too much of a good
– After all, how much Mary Poppins can a
guy take?
• Using Lorentz’ math, Losada
calculated that the benefits of positive
affect will begin to decay at or above
11.6 to 1
• Fredrickson & Losada suggest that
appropriate negativity will help ground
relationships in reality
Appropriate Negativity
• Looking to Gottman’s data on predicting successful marriages, Fredrickson
and Losada observe that some degree of appropriate negativity promotes
– Gottman identifies disgust and contempt as the most corrosive emotions in
a marital relationship
– However, an atmosphere where needs can be communicated honestly
promote marital success
– For example, guilt derived from viewing actions as improper or immoral is
more tolerable than shame derived from a sense of diminished self-worth
• Fredrickson and Losada cite examples where insincere verbal and nonverbal expressions of emotion (false smiles, patronizing) have detrimental
consequences generally recognized as negativity
General Theory of Positivity
Human flourishing and languishing can be represented by mathematical
equations based the Lorentz’ efforts to predict weather systems
The positivity ratio bifuricating phase space between flourishing and
languishing is 2.9.
Positivity ratios above 2.9 are associated with flourishing.
Human flourishing in large scales (couples, groups, teams) emulate
structure and process observed at lower scales (individuals).
Appropriate negativity is a critical ingredient for flourishing.
Complex dynamics of flourishing decay above positivity ratios of 11.6:1
and higher.
Human flourishing is characterized by four components:
What’s In It For You?
– Thriving comes from positive affect – spend time in environments promoting 3:1 ratio
• Put yourself in places that make you feel good; minimize toxic places
Are you a Spouse?
– Thriving marriages may require even more positive exhanges
• Expect to give 5:1; hope to get 5:1
• Keep negativity appropriate: focus on behavior
– Stay Away from the most corrosive expressions: Contempt! & Disgust!
Are you a Parent? – “Teach your children well!” – David Crosby
Toiling in the Vineyard of the Working World?
– Help co-workers and clients focus on what is right! Cast your recommendations in
terms of what can be done to make it better!
• Keep Losada Line in focus: Help coworkers & clients find a range of 2.9 to 11.6
positive emotional experiences – give them something good to take home!
• Help coworkers & client avoid toxic experiences of Shame, Contempt & Disgust
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Flourishing vs Languishing Understanding Some