Where is the 'person' in positive psychology?: A critical
reflection on the lack of qualitative research in positive
psychology
Symposium
Friday, June 28th, 2013
IPPA, Los Angeles
Dr. Kate Hefferon (University of East London)
Jacqui Synard (University of Ottawa)
Dr. Lea Waters (University of Melbourne)
Arabella Ashfield (English Institute of Sport)
In the beginning…

Positive psychology researchers criticised the humanistic discipline for never developing a ‘respectable
empirical basis’ (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000)

Clear delineation between positive psychology and the humanistic movement via the use of the
“scientific method” (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000)

Repercussions of this separatist (post-positivistic) stance include:
o
A dearth of qualitative research
o
An over-use of surveys and low ecological experimental designs
o
A quantitative publication bias
o
Sterile messages of positive human functioning
o
An oversimplification of human behaviour and neglect of the individual (Langdridge, 2004e; Willig,
2008)
Why qualitative?
Main aims:

To gain an in-depth, intricate understanding of an individual

To understand experience (not cause and effect)

To offer interpretation of text/narratives (not test predictions about variables)

To look for participant defined meanings (not researcher imposed ones)

To value contextual (historical, cultural and societal) influences on the data (rather than trying to
reduce it)

Acknowledge human messiness and complexity
(Willig, 2008; Langdridge, 2004b, 2004e)
Aim of Symposium

Highlight the lack of qualitative research in positive psychology

Demonstrate what qualitative research can bring to the subject area that is missing
from a purely quantitative focus

Each presenter will discuss their experience, process and outcomes utilising a
different type of qualitative method

Focus on the data produced through qualitative approaches which would have been
overlooked through quantitative techniques

Challenge the monopolization of quantitative research in practice and publication

Highlight the possibilities of qualitative inquiry
Symposium Conclusion
Dr. Kate Hefferon (University of East London)
Jacqui Synard (University of Ottawa)
Dr. Lea Waters (University of Melbourne)
Arabella Ashfield (English Institute of Sport)
The humanists were on to something….

The humanistic movement introduced and solidified qualitative inquiry as an
imperative paradigm to research human thought, behaviour and experience

Qualitative inquiry is a viable paradigm for understanding the intricacies of optimal
human functioning (positive psychology)

Qualitative research can challenge current theories and research practice as well as
develop conceptual clarity and formulate an overarching framework

There are rigorous analytic processes researchers must go through according to
method and methodology

Ultimately, Qualitative research gives a “human side” to a “human discipline”
The future of positive psychology:
Emphasis on Quality AND Quantity

Psychology as a whole, needs to focus on the unique individual and the unique factors and
experiences that are individual for each person

In order to understand the intricate and complex stories of the individuals we study, as well
as provide a more holistic perception of the individual, positive psychology must:
o
Alter ‘either or thinking’
o
Adopt a more integrative and pragmatic approach to research (more advanced/progressive
discipline)
o
Use tools for the job at hand rather than based on methodolatry (method fetishism)
o
Reduce the monopoly of quantitative publication bias
o
Acknowledge and privilege “the how---the why---the process”
Thank you for your time
[email protected]
www.katehefferon.com
Brief History of
Qualitative Research
References and further reading
Creswell, J. (2008). Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches (3rd
ed). London: SAGE Publications.
Elliott, R., Fischer, C.T., & Rennie, D.L. (1999). Evolving guidelines for publication of qualitative research
studies in psychology and related fields. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 38, 215-229.
Langdridge, D. (2004). Introduction to research methods and data analysis in psychology. London:
Pearson Education.
Smith, J.A., Flowers, P. and Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: Theory,
Method, Research. London: Sage.
Smith, J.A., & Osborn, M. (2008). Interpretative phenomenological analysis. In J.A. Smith (Ed.),
Qualitative psychology: A practical guide to research methods. (2nd ed., pp.53-80). London: Sage
Willig, C. (2008). Introducing qualitative research in psychology: Adventures in theory and method.
Buckingham, UK: Open University Press. Yardley, L. (2000). Dilemmas in qualitative research.
Psychology and Health, 15, 215-228.
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`person` in positive psychology?: A critical