Xav: An Introduction to Positive Psychology

Compared to more established specialisations such as clinical psychology, positive psychology is a relatively newer field that emerged in the late 1990s.  Positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing, revolving around how we can be happier and more productive (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).  With the past decades of psychological studies placing more emphasis on the more negative aspects of humanity (e.g. bias, abnormality, etc.), positive psychology offers a refreshing take on psychology, choosing to focus on well-being, without overlooking inevitable aspects of human functioning such as negative emotions.

TED Video: "The new era of positive psychology" featuring Martin Seligman

Positive psychology began as a new domain in 1998 when Martin Seligman, the then-president of American Psychological Association (APA) decided to focus on well-being and happiness as the theme of his presidency.  At that point, humanistic psychology was already established, and positive psychology served to build on the foundation of humanistic psychology.

How do humanistic psychology and positive psychology differ? (Waterman, 2013; Friedman, 2008)

Humanistic Psychology
Positive Psychology
-  Concerned with understanding human needs and meaning of life
-  Focus on fulfilling human potential
-  Concerned with merging humanistic theories with research
-  Focus on understanding factors that lead to success despite adversities
Preference for qualitative approaches
Preference for quantitative approaches

Humanistic psychology has been largely criticised for its lack of empiricism (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), offering a rose-tinted view of how every individual has free-will to pursue a better life (McMullen, 1982) and an overly optimistic yet vague view of the mind (Rowan, 2001, Ordinary Ecstasy: The Dialectics of Humanistic Psychology [Book]).

Thus, we have the birth of positive psychology.

Positive psychology adopts a more holistic approach to research  -  covering different aspects of life such as biology and relationships (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000).  The main research focus are on positive emotions, positive human traits and positive institutions- all to which interact to create a wholesome life for an individual (Seligman, 2007).

Main theories in positive psychology

Theory 1.  The 3 Paths of Happiness (Seligman, 2002, Authentic Happiness [Book])
  • Pleasant life  -  How people optimally experience life through feelings and emotions.
  • Good life  -  Interactions between a person’s strengths and task he/she is engaged in.
  • Meaningful life  -  How individuals obtain meaning and positive self-conception through being part of a community.
Theory 2.  PERMA Theory (Seligman, 2011, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing [Book])
The 5 building blocks of well-being and happiness, as mentioned included:
  • Positive Emotions  -  Emotions such as excitement, jubilance are linked to happier outcomes.
    • For example, children with executive functioning difficulties who have more optimistic caretakers see more developed functioning (Ylvisaker and Feeney, 2002).
  • Engagement  -  Participation in activities that are challenging yet doable, allows us personal growth.
  • Relationships  -  Relationships strengthen our well-being and ensure healthy functioning of our brain.
    • In an interview with Dr. Mitch Printein (2015), there is more activity in our brain’s pain centres when we are at a risk of isolation. Undoubtedly, relationships are essential to humans as social creatures.
  • Meaning  -  Having a meaningful purpose in life allows us to enjoy our daily activities and increases our satisfaction levels.
  • Accomplishments  -  Setting realistic goals and having ambition allow us to obtain a sense of satisfaction when we achieve them. 
Theory 3.  Character Strengths and Virtues (Seligman and Peterson, 2004)
There are 6 virtues and 24 strengths as follows:
  • Wisdom: Creativity, curiosity, judgment, love-of-learning, perspective 
  • Courage: Bravery, honesty, perseverance, zest
  • Humanity: kindness, love, social intelligence
  • Justice: Fairness, leadership, teamwork
  • Temperance: Forgiveness, humility, prudence, self-regulation
  • Transcendence: Appreciation of beauty, gratitude, hope, humour, spirituality 
If you are interested in taking this, do click http://www.viacharacter.org/www

Criticisms and Implementations
But of course, like every other field, positive psychology is not without its limitations, especially since it is still a young field with more research that can be done.  Positive psychology is criticised for its one-size-fits-all approach towards happiness (Held, 2004).  Additionally, it does not explain major historical events such as genocides and wars (Schneider, 2011).
Despite that, positive psychology has successfully complemented other psychological fields.  For example, treatment methods implementing positive psychology have been found to significantly alleviate depressive symptoms and improve well-being (Sin, 2009).  Positive psychology could also be adopted in educational curriculums to improve well-being amongst students and develop their purpose in life (Pluskota, 2014).

In conclusion:  
A young field, positive psychology has many more years of research to develop and presents itself as a promising addition to the field that traditionally revolves around human flaws and the lack of free-will.
Stay tuned to the next post on Positive Psychology!!
In the meantime, also look at our previous post which also discussed positive psychology:  SGPsychStud: Current Trends in Psychology

SGPsychStud: Psychology of having SteamBoat

This is the second Chinese New Year post! If you have yet to read Psychology Behind The Red Packets, read it now!

Image Credit: Wiki Commons (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hot_pot)
Today's topic is about the Steamboat (or also know as Hotpot or 火锅 in Singapore)!!  It is a dish very commonly found and available all year round, so...
Why are we still having it for Chinese New Year reunion dinner?

Some families may choose to have a banquet dinner, but majority would still go for the all-favourite steamboat!

It seems to have a logical reason after exploring several sources.  Going back to Chinese customs and traditions, two words explains it all.  They are 围炉 (read as wei-lu; meaning "gathering around the family and hearth" as defined by National Library Board) and 团圆 (read as tuan-yuan; meaning of "reunion" and "getting together as a whole").

According to this Taiwanese Yahoo forum, it is common to have a hot stove to warm up the family during the reunion dinner (which is 围炉) during the Chinese New Year winter in China.  This has evolved to the steamboat in modern day.  With a burning fire for steamboat, it represents a prosperous family.  With the steamboat dinner, it allows the whole family to come together and reunion (which is 团圆) for this special dinner.

Why do we need to have this special reunion dinner? (From a psychological viewpoint)

Mark Banschick (in a Psychology Today post) states the benefits of having a dinner together:
  • Setting a fixed routine
  • Catching up and bonding with family
  • Reducing stress
  • Food as a connection between people
This behaviour of sitting together for a family meal could be explained using the relational models theory (Fiske & Haslam, 2005).  According to Alan Fiske,
"Relational models theory posits that people use four elementary models to generate, interpret, coordinate, contest, plan, remember, evaluate, and think about most aspects of most social interaction in all societies. These models are Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, and Market Pricing. Scores of studies have demonstrated that people in all cultures use these models to organize much of their everyday social cognition."
With the above reasons, it highly demonstrates the model of Communal Sharing, where the family comes together once a year (or more), performing "comunal sharing" by having New Year's dinners or lunches, and hence increasing the cohesiveness and connectedness of the group.
It is not really about the steamboat dinner, but more of having a dinner with the whole family where everyone comes together on this one special evening.  Regardless of a banquet, steamboat, or even a simple family meal, it is always the company of the family that counts.

Valentine’s Day: To Buy or Not to Buy?

Image Credit: https://www.retaildive.com/news/nrf-valentines-day-spending-on-decline-after-2016-record-high/435483/
Valentine’s day on February 14th is approaching soon.  Love songs, red and romance has started splashing in the air. Pink and red advertisements also start gracing the windows of retail shops complimenting the Valentine’s ambience as well as creating a high profiting festive (with CNY in the mix for 2018).  It is an opportunity for retailers to craft the gift of dreams for consumers.  Interestingly on the other hand, in America, National Retail Federation (O’Shea, 2017) reported that consumers were spending lesser in 2017, as compared to 2016, which indicates a decrease in people who plan to celebrate Valentine’s day or a tendency to spend lesser on this special day.

History of Valentine’s Day
One of the inspired history about Valentine’s Day is related to St Valentine who was a priest whom helped couples wed in secret (Romney and Mullin, 2018).  It was rumoured that when he was sent to prison for not obeying the Roman emperor Claudius II, he sent a letter to a young girl he had fallen in love with and signed it ‘From your Valentine'. Some believed that Valentine's day is celebrated on 14 February to mark the anniversary of St Valentine's death.

Reasons to celebrate Valentine’s day
There are two reasons mentioned by White (2011) in his Psychology Today post.  He commented that Valentine’s Day provides an opportunity for people who are dating but not in a committed relationship yet to “test the waters” by trying out as a couple to assess whether both parties are ready to commit in the relationship.  As for people who are crushing on someone, it is a great opportunity to express their feelings on that special day, without feeling awkward.  

Differences between gender in buying gifts
People in new relationships may felt more obligated to give gifts than those in established ones.  George Zinkhan (2003, as cited in Coghlan, 2009) found that 81% of men in new relationships felt most obliged to buy Valentine Day gifts; only 50% of females felt the need to buy the gifts.  However when they are in a more mature relationship, 44% of men and 13% of women are willing to buy the gifts. 
Gender role may also affect the expectations in the presenting of gifts. In general, women may expects the men to plan or create a day that is more lavish each year.  

Are gifts really necessary to build up a more established relationship?

The Influence of Retailers and Consumer Psychology
This special festive season is especially tied to emotions.  Since the 18th century when Valentine’s Day took off in England (Romney and Mullin, 2018), lovers start sending cards and flowers to their loved ones. That is when Valentine’s Day cards are being mass produced leading to the start of commercialism of this special day.  It has hence become a day for people to prove that they love their partner through materialistic celebrations and presents.

Marketers are trying to convince people that gifts are necessary on February 14 to prove that they love their partner (Coghlan, 2009).  This trend shows complexities of consumer psychology such as perceived obligations to buy gifts, escalating expectations by the the other special half (i.e. boyfriend or girlfriend) and ambivalence that may give in to market resistance (Scheinbaum, 2015).  If gifts are not presented or meeting the expectations, there may be feelings of dissatisfaction and hence impacting the quality of the relationship over time. 

Reactance Theory (Lessne and Venkatesan, 1989) states that:
“According to the theory, when an individual's freedom to engage in a specific behavior is threatened. the threatened behavior becomes more attractive. For reactance to occur, the individual must have an expectation of free choice and the individual must perceive the freedom in question as being important (Clee and Wicklund 1980).”
This meant that despite not wanting to give in the retailers to purchase a gift (the threatened behaviour), it seemed that buying the gift is the more “attractive” behaviour as the freedom of maintaining the relationship is more important.

In a nutshell, it seemed like there are good reasons to buy the gifts and utilising the elements of surprise and generosity to satisfy your partner’s expectations.  These are also the vital aspects used by retailers to design the marketing strategies during this season.  As much as it may be the rituals of adapting into the commercialized world of buying gifts during Valentine’s Day, it is important to understand your relationships also requires a balance of trust, love, and care to maintain it for the long run.

JAE 2018: Choosing the Polytechnic Diploma of Your Choice

'O' Levels results have been released yesterday on 12 January 2018!  Hope all of you have received the results you wanted!

Here is the list of diplomas (and their cut-off points) offered by the polytechnics in Singapore:
SPApplied Drama and Psychology (Cut-off: 14)  /  Human Resource Management with Psychology (Cut-off: 12)
NPPsychology Studies (Cut-off: 8)  /  Child Psychology and Early Childhood (Cut-off: 13)
NYPSocial Sciences (Social Work) (Cut-off: 15)
RPHuman Resource Management with Psychology (Cut-off: 17)  /  Consumer Behaviour and Research (Cut-off: 19)
TPPsychology Studies (Cut-off: 9)

However the main question you might have is:

Which diploma should I take?

To better guide prospective psychology students taking up the polytechnic route, this post is written in the Question-and-Answer format with questions that students may actually ask.  Disclaimer:  This post is written with the assumption that you are eligible and able to enter the local programs with your current results. 

Question 1:
I am really interested in psychology, but I am not sure if I should go to a Junior College or Polytechnic first?
This is not the main purpose of this post, but students with this questions, you may refer to the below posts to get some thoughts on this question and/or some comparison from seniors who have gone through both routes:
1) SGPsychStud: Diploma or A levels? A post for the secondary schoolers
2) Majoring in Psychology in Uni: Polytechnic vs Junior College Route

Question 2:
I am not too sure if I should be taking up psychology.
Obviously you are interested in psychology, otherwise you will not be at this blog! Here are two posts that you can use to consider that thought:
1) SGPsychStud: Should you be taking up Psychology??
2) SGPsychStud: Seriously?? Psychology??

Question 3:
What do I study in Psychology Studies at a diploma (or even degree) level?
These are two posts you definitely must read:-
1) So what am I going to study in Psychology? (Diploma/Bachelors)
2) SGPsychStud: Stereotypes vs Reality - Psychology Major

Question 4:
I am only interested in learning psychology and no other programs.
Simple question.  You have two options: Diploma of Psychology Studies either at TP or NP, both under their respective Schools of Humanities and Social Sciences.

Question 5:
What is the difference between the TP and NP Diplomas of Psychology Studies?
From our knowledge, we only know that the TP diploma has a very strong inclination towards research, while the NP diploma has a strong inclination towards working in the community.  Otherwise they should be very similar.

Question 6:
What are my choices if I would like to try psychology with something else?
For those also interested in the application of psychology in business and human resource, you have diploma options such as:
  • SP's Human Resource Management with Psychology
  • RP's Human Resource Management with Psychology
Make sure to read Effective Human Resource Management and Psychology for more information about the field.

For those interested in the application of psychology in communication, human behaviour, and the arts, you have diploma options such as:
For those interested in the application of psychology in psychology-related fields, you have diploma options such as:
  • NP's Child Psychology and Early Childhood
  • NYP's Social Sciences (Social Work)  -  You may wish to read Challenges in the Social Work Field for more information about the field.
Question 7:
What degrees are available for me after the respective diplomas?
It has already been answered previously here:  SGPsychStud: What’s Next? The Polytechnic Edition

Last Question:
How do I know whether which psychology/psychology-related diploma at which polytechnic is best for me?
This is the most difficult question.  As we have learnt in psychology that humans are very complex and each of us a very different person, there is no standard answer to this question.  Each of you may be choosing the diploma and the polytechnic for different reasons.  I would advise that you seek the help of your secondary school's Education and Career Guidance (ECG) Counsellors, or the polytechnic's ECG Counsellors if they are available at the JAE exercises in the polytechnics, for their opinions as well.  You should also find out more about the respective diplomas from their websites as well as the lecturers available this week at the JAE exercise.

Good luck!!

JAE 2018 Update: Academic requirements for local psychology diplomas and degrees

Image Credit: https://ktu.edu.gh/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Resultsout.jpg
The 'O' levels results are coming out soon on 12 January 2018, which has resulted in the polytechnics having their Open Houses this week and the JAE exercises from 12 to 17 January 2018.

As mentioned previously, the cut-off scores are the scores of the lowest ranked students who entered that program, and is only a general indication of the next year's intake, and hence does not guarantee that you will be given a spot even if you get that similar score.

Here are the cut-off for psychology and psychology-related programs from 2017 for your application in 2018:

For the diplomas:
These cut-off points are based on ELR2B2: (Please refer to the respective websites for more details)
EL=English Language; R2=Two relevant subjects; B2=Any two other subjects excluding CCA

SPApplied Drama and Psychology (Cut-off: 14)  /  Human Resource Management with Psychology (Cut-off: 12)
NPPsychology Studies (Cut-off: 8)  /  Child Psychology and Early Childhood (Cut-off: 13)
NYPSocial Sciences (Social Work) (Cut-off: 15)
RPHuman Resource Management with Psychology (Cut-off: 17)  /  Consumer Behaviour and Research (Cut-off: 19)
TPPsychology Studies (Cut-off: 9)
The results are also available here (http://www.polytechnic.edu.sg) for more general information.

For the 2018/19 admissions for the degrees: 
This are represented by their current year entry students' 3H2/1H1 and polytechnic GPA grades and stated by 10th % - lowest minimum; and 90th % - safest to be confirmed percentile

NUS  (2016/17):  3H2/1H1:  10th - ABB/B, 90% - AAA/A.  GPA: 10th - 3.73, 90% - 3.94
(Additional criteria - Students must obtain at least a B-grade in each of these modules during their first year of the program: PL1101E and PL2131)
NTU  (2016/17):  3H2/1H1:  10th - ABC/B, 90% - AAA/A.  GPA: 10th - 3.69, 90% - 3.94
SMU  (2016/17):  3H2/1H1:   10th - BBC/B, 90% - AAA/A.  GPA: 10th - 3.71, 90% - 3.96
The indicative grade profiles of the 2017/18 cohorts are not being released by the universities.

For last year's academic requirements, please view here!!

Good Luck for your 'O' Levels results and your polytechnic and university applications!!!