E12. Nicholas Van Dam – The Hype and Reality of Mindfulness

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Today we speak with Dr. Nicolas Van Dam (@ntvandam), Senior Lecturer at the School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.

Nicholas is a clinical psychologist and directs the Decision Making and Affective Learning in Emotional Conditions lab or DALEC lab. There he investigates the things that make us most like robots, including predictable and algorithmic processes in decision making models, and the things that make us least like robots, including interoception, self-awareness, introspection and meditation. The focus of both streams of work is to help those with high-prevalence psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression and substance-use disorders.

In this conversation, we talk mindfulness. We discuss the state of mindfulness-related research and the implications for therapists and clinicians.

Show Notes

2:00 – On Nicholas’s research areas.

3:30 – How Nicholas came to study self-awareness and self-perception processes in relation to high-prevalence psychiatric conditions.

5:30 – On the state of the meditation research field at the time of the Mind the Hype paper

9:45 – Where are is mindfulness in the hype cycle

14:15 – Key points made by the Mind the Hype paper. 

22:20 – On whether the disagreements about definitions of mindfulness are fundamental or academic

28:30 – On extracting mindfulness from its Buddhist context 

47:20 – On mindfulness-based clinical interventions

53:25 – Should clinician’s be recommending mindfulness?

59:00 – The impact of the Mind the Hype paper. 

1.02:20 – What is Nicholas focusing on now?

1.05:30 – Advice to students

1.07:30 – On neurofeedback in meditation

2:00 – On Nicholas’s research areas.

Nicholas studies the things that make use most like robots and those that make us least like robots. The things that make us most like robots include predictable and algorithmic processes like decision making models. The things that make us least like robots include interoception, self-awareness, introspection and meditation. The focus of both streams of work is to help those with high-prevalence psychiatric conditions, such as anxiety, depression and substance-use disorders.

3:30 – How Nicholas came to study self-awareness and self-perception processes in relation to high-prevalence psychiatric conditions.

Nicholas did his dissertation on a mindfulness based intervention. He also became fascinated with the observation that those suffering from high-prevalence psychiatric conditions who don’t seem to respond to treatment, tend to have high levels of repetitive negative thoughts, known as rumination. Also, Nicholas had also found meditation useful in his own personal experience, particularly to deal with stress. 

5:30 – On the state of the meditation research field at the time of the Mind the Hype paper

The authors had been working on the paper for around 3.5 years before it was finally published. The authors had met at events hosted by the Mind & Life Institute. As mindfulness grew in popularity, the authors came to see the need for a corrective to the exaggerated claims in the media and in the work of some researchers. The intention of the paper was outline what we known, what we don’t know and what we should do regarding mindfulness research, with the hope of driving an improvement in the quality of research, and of communication around mindfulness. 

9:45 – Where are is mindfulness in the hype cycle

It’s hard to say, but we certainly seem to be seeing more pushback against the exaggerated claims, as seen by the greater audiences attending to those critical of modern mindfulness, such as Ron Purser. But this is a good think if it helps the field course correct, and prevent exaggerated claims that might cause people to dismiss the field altogether. Despite the recent criticism, interest continues to increase – which may be because people continue to hope in mindfulness as a panacea (which it is not) or because there is now a  commercial imperative and inertia behind it. 

14:15 – On the key points made by the Mind the Hype paper. 

There were three main areas explored by the paper; 1) On definitions and measurement, 2) Clinical implementation of mindfulness, and 3) The neuroscience of mindfulness. 

The reality is that due to the lack of active controls and variability in clinical studies, and the confounding of different intensities and duration of practice in neuroscience studies, the evidence around mindfulness is less robust than is commonly believed. 

22:20 – On whether the disagreements about definitions of mindfulness are fundamental or academic

One issue is that people use the word mindfulness to refer to a state, a trait and a practice. Another core issue is the wide variety in backgrounds that people come from in conceptualising mindfulness. This leads to problems such as measures not correlating to each other, they aren’t terribly reliable, they don’t reliably change in the expected direction with practice. 

28:30 – On extracting mindfulness from its Buddhist context 

There was a concerted effort to extract mindfulness from its religious Buddhist roots to make it more palatable to a secular audience and those from other religious traditions. Mindfulness may not be a coherent practice when extracted from its Buddhist context. However, in itself, it is not a religious practice and is compatible with secular sensitivities or other religious beliefs.

And so, when dealing with mindfulness is any way, we need to consider whether we are dealing with it as an attentional training practice, or a more traditional conception as a part of a contemplative life. Nicholas’s own research is probing this spectrum, looking at how much of each type of practice people need to see benefits. As practitioners, we need to be clear about what we are recommending and why, so that the exchange around the recommendation is informed in the way that one would expect when making a contract. 

47:20 – On mindfulness-based clinical interventions

Very few studies have compared mindfulness-based clinical interventions to an active control and against gold standard treatment. It’s not that mindfulness doesn’t promise to be part of the suite of gold-standard treatments, but much more work needs to be done to adequately evidence this. 

53:25 – Should clinician’s be recommending mindfulness?

Nicholas wouldn’t recommend mindfulness above psychotherapy of pharmacotherapy for a psychiatric condition. But if in his clinical judgment that it was a person that might benefit from mindfulness, and there reasonable evidence for their condition (for example anxiety, ruminative depression or chronic stress), he may suggest it with careful monitoring and supervision. 

Clinicians should also be cognisant of adverse events, which occur in both psychotherapy and mindfulness. Much caution should surround a recommendation of intense mindfulness practice to people with a history of trauma, vulnerabilities to psychosis or a history of bipolar disorder. In these cases, mindfulness practices can be slowly titrated. 

59:00 – On the impact of the paper. 

There has been much interest about the paper, but it’s too soon to tell whether it has driven a change in the quality of mindfulness research, or whether engagement with the paper will bog down at merely obligatory citations acknowledging it as representing a view of the limitations of the research. Early indications are that people are actually engaging with the substance of the paper. 

1.02:20 – What is Nicholas focusing on now?

Nicholas is focusing a lot on the dose-response issue. That is, how much of a given practice should people do to get an effect. He also continues to work on issues of measurement and definition and how meditation apps compare with and complement more traditional forms of instruction. Additionally he has started to look at what might be the common ingredients across different contemplative traditions. 

1.05:30 – Advice to students

Identify people that are doing what you think you want to be doing and look at how they got there. More than likely, looking at such people will show that there is more than one path there, and the path to where you want to go is not linear. 

1.07:30 – On neurofeedback in meditation

Nicholas considers the most helpful part of mindfulness apps to be the ability to nudge people towards more regular practice. He thinks neurofeedback guidance to a particular state would be less important. 

 

Episode References

Retracted PLOS One paper on Mindfulness-based Interventions.

The Mind the Hype paper which Nicholas lead.

The Mindful Elite by Jaime Kucinskas

Stephen Batchelor’s books, including Buddhism Without Beliefs

E11. Rebecca Brewer – Interoception

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Today we speak with Dr. Rebecca Brewer, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London. Rebecca studies social and emotional abilities across a range of clinical and typical populations, and how interoception (the perception of the internal states of one’s body) is related to these emotional and social abilities.

Interoception is a topic that I’ve been finding fascinating lately. Interoception is important to many processes fundamental to what makes us who we are, from homeostasis to subjective experience itself, from decision making to psychopathology.

In this conversation, we focus particularly on the relation of interoception to psychopathology, an area where Rebecca has done interesting work and proposed big ideas.

Show Notes

1:20 – What is interoception and why study it?

4:25 – On the relevance of interoception to psychopathology.

6:25 – On interoception abnormalities as the p-factor.

9:45 – Does the relationship of interoception abnormalities to psychopathology appear causal?

13:00 – On treatments targeting interoceptive ability.

21:45 – On what Rebecca hopes the next wave of interoception research

26:00 – On the importance of interpretation of interoceptive signals

28:30 – On whether interoception is an area of interest for positive psychology

30:30 – On the focus of upcoming research for Rebecca’s group

39:40 – What Rebecca wishes she new when she was a student.

1:20 – What is interoception and why study it?

Interoception is the perception of signal arising from within the body. Sometimes the definition is widened to include stimuli that share similar neural pathways, such as slow sensuous touch.

Rebecca’s early research focused on ASD and alexythymia (difficulty understanding your own emotions), which led her to interoception.

4:25 – On the relevance of interoception to psychopathology.

Many different clinical populations struggle to understand their own emotions. Additionally, it seems linked to other disorders unrelated to emotional recognition, such as eating disorders and substance use disorders.

6:25 – On interoception abnormalities as the p-factor.

The p-factor is idea that there is a single factor that might underlie susceptibility to psychopathology in general, analogous to the g-factor in intelligence. Rebecca did work with Geoff Bird and Jennifer Murphy suggesting that the p-factor might relate to interoception. They suggested this as interoceptive abnormalities have been seen across a very wide range of psychopathologies (including depression, anxiety, OCD, schizophrenia, eating disorders, substance use disorders).

9:45 – Does the relationship of interoception abnormalities to psychopathology appear causal?

It’s unclear at this point. In some cases interoception abnormalities can lead to psychopathology, but the relationship is likely bidirectional.

13:00 – On treatments targeting interoceptive ability.

There are different aspects to interoceptive ability. Hugo Critchley and Sarah Garfinkel proposed the following aspects:

  • Accuracy/sensitivity: your objective ability perceive a particular internal signal. eg. Accuracy in counting heartbeats.
  • Sensibility: how much do you report noticing and focusing on your internal states.
  • Metacognitive awareness: Your accuracy of your perception of your interoceptive accuracy/sensitivity.

There are treatments that train both sensibility (focusing more on internal signals) and accuracy. Sensibility can be targeted through mindfulness-based interventions. Accuracy can be targeted by providing external feedback at the same time a an internal signal, most commonly heartbeart.

It is not yet clear whether training heartbeat perception translates to improved perception of other interoceptive signals, and the other psychological processes that involve interoception, such as understanding emotions, empathy, processing risk and reward.

21:45 – On what Rebecca hopes the next wave of interoception research

On of the main things is to develop better tests of interoception. And, of course, larger studies looking at whether altering interoceptive ability changes cognitive functioning and psychopathological symptomatology.

26:00 – On the importance of interpretation of interoceptive signals

Alongside the objective accuracy one’s ability to perceive interoceptive signals, the interpretation of perceived signals is important. Interoceptive signals can be over-interpreted, as in the case of someone with anxiety who might think that they are having a heart attack when it is really just a slight increase in their heart rate, or under-interpreted, as in the case of those with alexythymia who tend to report heart attacks too late.

28:30 – On whether interoception is an area of interest for positive psychology

There have been some studies on non-clinical populations, looking at for example the relation between interoceptive ability and decision making. However, the majority of the work is clinically focused.

30:30 – On the focus of upcoming research for Rebecca’s group

One thing that Rebecca’s group will be looking at the link between interoception and social perception. For example, does your ability to perceive whether you are tired correlate with your ability to perceive if someone else is tired. This work could inform interpersonal interactions in medical and care-based professions, and any work where empathy is important.

39:40 – What Rebecca wishes she new when she was a student.

Rebecca wishes she new how much freedom and flexibility academia provides, both in terms of collaborators and research areas. Also, that not every piece of work needs to entail a groundbreaking idea. And that she had a better understanding of the publication process.

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Episode References

Other key researchers working on interoception include Sarah Garfinkle, Hugo Critchley, Anil Seth, Sahib Khalsa, Karen Quigley and Manos Tsikiris.

E10. Aliza Werner-Seidler – Preventative Mental Health Care

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Today we speak with Dr. Aliza Werner-Seidler, a Clinical Psychologist and Senior Research Fellow at the Black Dog Institute, affiliated with the University of New South Wales. Aliza works on the prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, particularly via school-based and digitally delivered, evidence-based programs. She is currently the Chief Investigator of the largest preventative program of anxiety and depression run in Australia, a randomised controlled trial involving 20,000 young people across 400 schools.

Prevention is an emerging and understudied area of mental health, but one with the potential to save huge amounts of suffering and make a significant contribution to the alleviation of the economic burden of mental health disorders facing the modern world.

In this conversation, Aliza provides outlines the work that she is leading at the Black Dog Institute and gives an overview of the field of preventative and early intervention approaches to mental health care.

Show Notes

0:55 – On the history of preventative and early intervention programs, and the reasons increasing interest in them

2:45 – Do preventative and early intervention programs actually reduce the incidence of mental health issues or reduce their severity?

5:05 – What do we know about matching people with different sorts of preventative and early intervention programs?

6:50 – Challenges that preventative programs face, beyond being a young field

7:45 – On what a typical universal prevention program looks like.

11:35 – On the relation between mental health promotion and mental disorder prevention.

13:35 – What is happening at the moment in terms of pilot programs?

18:10 – What content is typical of a universal program aimed at preventing depression and anxiety?

21:00 – What is the attitude of schools toward preventative programs?

26:05 – On the goals of the Future Proofing study Aliza is currently leading

27:45 – How do we prevent less common mental health challenges, such as psychotic disorders.

32:15 – What do the economics of preventative mental health programs look like?

39:10 – What must be considered around “critical windows”?

43:25 – Early life trauma and preventative programs

44:50 – How to learn more about the field of prevention

47:45 – Opportunities to get involved in the field, and the work at the Black Dog Institute.

50:10 – On disorders which preventative approaches don’t seem to be effective for.

0:55 – On the history of preventative and early intervention programs, and the reasons increasing interest in them

The increasing interest in preventative and early intervention programs was catalysed by a statement from a taskforce of the Institute of Medicine in 1994 on disease prevention. Additionally, interest has been fuelled by growing recognition that the high rates of common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, must be addressed with not only treatment but preventative efforts.

2:45 – Do preventative and early intervention programs actually reduce the incidence of mental health issues or reduce their severity?

In short, both. But it is worth differentiating between different sorts of programs.

  • Universal prevention programs are delivered to an unselected group (eg. an entire school or workforce). Universal programs have been shown to reduce the incidence of mental health problems.
  • Selective intervention programs are delivered to people on the basis of the presence of some risk factor.
  • Indicated prevention programs are delivered to people who display symptoms of a disorder but don’t yet meet clinical criteria.
  • Early intervention, which has some overlap with indicated prevention programs, but is also used to refer to programs that have experienced their first episode of a mental health disorder.

In school, universal programs, can be expected to reduce the incidence of depression by ~20% in the 2 years after the program. How this translates to later outcomes is unknown.

5:05 – What do we know about matching people with different sorts of preventative and early intervention programs?

As the field is still quite young, most meta-analyses lump all preventative and early intervention programs in together without differentiating between them. One factor to consider when comparing programs is that the very low symptom levels displayed by the recipients of universal prevention programs (ie. healthy populations) result in a floor effect, and hence indicated prevention programs typically appear more effective.

6:50 – Challenges that preventative programs face, beyond being a young field

A key challenge is motivating people to engage in preventative exercises if they don’t have any symptoms or risk factors. This is particularly challenging given the audience is children and adolescents and a challenge the field is yet to solve.

7:45 – On what a typical universal prevention program looks like.

Typically universal prevention programs will resemble a CBT course that has been adapted from being part of a treatment program. The skills taught are the same as a treatment course, and often the scenarios used in the program are the same. There are other non-CBT prevention programs, such as interpersonal psychotherapy programs, mindfulness programs, yoga and exercise programs, but CBT programs have been studies the most and (therefore?) have the most evidence to support them. Overwhelmingly, these programs are delivered to children in school. Due to cost considerations, digital programs are being increasingly explored, however engagement is even more of a challenge with digital programs.

11:35 – On the relation between mental health promotion and mental disorder prevention.

Mental health promotion often aims to increase help-seeking behaviours and increase people’s knowledge about mental health problems. Preventative programs tend to be more skills-based. So the two are distinct, but with significant overlap.

13:35 – What is happening at the moment in terms of pilot programs?

At the moment, the program designers are focused on building engagement by learning from the gaming community and increasingly involving young people. There is also room for improvement with selling these programs in to schools: stigma and a preference for a positive-focus continue to be challenges. Consequently, Aliza is; (a) targeting the angle of poor sleep, as a risk factor and an angle to increase engagement, and (b) seeking to understand how psychological skills can be incorporated into PDHPE classes.

18:10 – What content is typical of a universal program aimed at preventing depression and anxiety?

Most programs are based on a modified CBT approach. They contain psycho-education, relaxation techniques, thought challenging and restructuring, behavioural activation and for anxiety, some sort of exposure therapy. Aliza would ideally like to see modules on interpersonal relationships, sleep, well-being promoting practices (such as exercise and time outdoors) and also something on less-common psychotic disorders.

21:00 – What is the attitude of schools toward preventative programs?

The state government’s education department and other peak bodies are very much on board with preventative programs. And although individual schools are varied in their enthusiasm for preventative programs, there is enough support that the largest digital mental health prevention trial ever attempted is underway. 

26:05 – On the goals of the Future Proofing study Aliza is currently leading

The Future Proofing study is looking at how to scale up and implement digital preventative programs. In part this involves looking for patterns in how engagement and outcomes vary, with a focus at school-level differences and how to increase student engagement.

27:45 – How do we prevent less common mental health challenges, such as psychotic disorders.

Screening is a key approach to helping prevent less common mental health challenges, and Aliza sees a place for universal screening. Alternatively, it might be considered that less common disorders are better suited to an early intervention approach rather than a preventative approach. This second position, is supported by the difficulty in predicting who will suffer a mental health disorder even if we can screen for risk factors. In other instances, we can sensibly target high risk groups, such as those with particular personality traits or adults who have recently been diagnosed with cancer or other serious illnesses associated with risk of depression and anxiety. Ultimately, it depends…

32:15 – What do the economics of preventative mental health programs look like?

Prevention programs, and especially digitally-delivered prevention programs, are likely to have very favourable economics, especially once lost productivity, the recurrent nature of common mental health disorders and other social outcomes are considered. This is evidenced by, for example, the work of Pim Cuijpers in the Netherlands But at this stage, a lack of long-term follow up studies in Australia, limits what we can say with precision and confidence. Hence, vision is required at a policy level.

39:10 – What must be considered around “critical windows”?

This is still being teased apart, but the jump in mental health difficulties seen among 16-17 year olds, compared to 11-15 year olds, suggest a critical window during adolescence. There is also demand from schools for programs for younger children.

43:25 – Early life trauma and preventative programs

Preventative programs aren’t intended to treat the effects of early life trauma. Preventative programs could be an adjunct to but not a replacement for other therapy for trauma.

44:50 – How to learn more about the field of prevention

Some papers shared by Aliza:

47:45 – Opportunities to get involved in the field, and the work at the Black Dog Institute.

The Future Proofing Study will be supported by a team of volunteer research assistants who will support school visits. The next wave of volunteer research assistants will be recruited our next year. If this is something you are interested in, please keep an eye on the Black Dog website closer to the end of the year. Also, the Black Dog Institute, in association with the University of New South Wales, offers a number of PhD scholarships.

50:10 – On disorders which preventative approaches don’t seem to be effective for.

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Episode References

The 1994 report from the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Prevention of Mental Disorders

Blackdog’s preventative, digitally-delivered Future Proofing Study, involving 20,000 high school students.

A seminal meta-analysis on the prevention of depression by Pim Cuijpers’ group at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (The Netherlands).

World Health Organization pages on the prevention of Mental Health disorders and Suicide.

Aliza’s profile at the Black Dog Institute.

E8. Peggy Kern – Positive Psychology at 21

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Today we speak with Dr Peggy Kern, Associate Professor at the Centre for Positive Psychology at the University of Melbourne’s Graduate School of Education. Dr. Kern’s research utilises innovative methodologies to investigate: (a) the understanding and measurement of healthy functioning, (b) the individual and social factors impacting life trajectories, and (c) systems informed approaches to wellbeing.

Dr. Kern received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Arizona State University, a Masters and PhD in social/personality psychology from the University of California, Riverside, and postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania. She has worked directly with many leading researchers in the positive psychology field, including Martin Seligman, Angela Duckworth and Ryan Niemiec, among others.

I was really grateful to speak with someone so eminently qualified to discuss the progress, significance and outlook for the positive psychology field some 21 years on from its birth.

Show Notes

0:06 – On the historical importance of the positive psychology movement to date.

5:48 – On lessons learned from the self-esteem movement.

9:45 – If not happy, how should think about their efforts to make their life more ‘positive’.

11:00 She went to say ‘aspects’ of happiness but reverted to ‘type’. Clarify the language here.

14:05 – On the benefit of negative emotions.

15:00 – On what will universally, or at least usually, be beneficial for our life satisfaction.

19:17 – On personalised positive psychology.

24:15 – On what’s coming up for positive psychology as a field.

28:09 – Advice for people aspiring to conduct research within the positive psychology field.

32:53 – On the environment at the University of Pennsylvania during her time there.

34:00 – On her upcoming research projects.

Highlight  Quote – “A lot of what the positive psychology interventions are trying to do is to awaken people to the narrative that they have of their life and shift that narrative.”

0:06 – On the historical importance of the positive psychology movement to date.

A lot of good and important work on wellbeing had been done over the past century, but in 1998, Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Christopher Peterson launched the modern positive psychology movement. This brought an order and unification to the field that catalysed an enormous wave of effort. This effort has resulted in an explosion of research articles and courses, and an influence well beyond psychology, with a positive perspective being incorporated into medicine, healthcare, organisations, education and even the humanities. The lasting impact of the field on psychology as a science is still an open question.

5:48 – On lessons learned from the self-esteem movement.

The heart of what the self-esteem movement got wrong is that for self-esteem to be healthy, it needs to be grounded on things like hard work and accomplishment. The movement was a classic case of mistaking correlation for causation, and action mobilising prematurely thanks to a receptive media and hopeful audience. Now there is much more rigour in the science and an appreciation for the fact that happy feelings often and profoundly arise in relation to struggle, responsibility and challenge

9:45 – If not happy, how should think about their efforts to make their life more ‘positive’.

The field has moved to a much greater focus on eudaemonic aspects of happiness, which focus on meaning and contentment, compared to more hedonic aspects of happiness in the early days, which focus on pleasant, enjoyable experiences. Living a good life then becomes about authentically, utilising your strengths to contribute to the world. The enjoyable feelings of hedonic happiness then flow as a result of living a good life, and act as signs that we are on the right track.

11:00 She went to say ‘aspects’ of happiness but reverted to ‘type’. Clarify the language here.

14:05 – On the benefit of negative emotions.

Negative emotions can tell us when something is not right. We should be experiencing a full range of emotions, not avoiding negative ones. But equally, we shouldn’t be stuck in negative emotions.

15:00 – On what will universally, or at least usually, be beneficial for our life satisfaction.

Although everyone is different, we’ve long known that certain things tend to be associated with a healthier and more satisfying life. For example, high quality social connection and health-promoting behaviours such as sleep, eating and exercise. The same is true for psychological orientations, such as gratitude and an optimistic mindset.

19:17 – On personalised positive psychology.

Most of the research is not focused on a personalised approach, but instead looking to see whether something applies at a population level. Personalised approaches have been more thoroughly considered in applied setting, such as by coaches who are informed by positive psychological approaches. Peggy sees research done in collaboration with practitioners as a likely approach to delineating personalised approached to positive psychology. However, we are still in the early days of these sorts of collaborations.

24:15 – On what’s coming up for positive psychology as a field.

In the early days, research focused on low-hanging fruit (eg. demonstrating an increase in positive emotion following an intervention) in order to establish the field. But as the field has matured, the importance of individual differences, other aspects of wellbeing, and context have become evident. The next wave of research and researchers will focus on these topics. In terms of methodologies, Peggy expects more research to be produced out of collaborations with practitioners, greater use of qualitative and mixed methods with a focus on better understanding people’s lived experiences instead of quantitative but contrived approaches, such as self-report questionnaires.

28:09 – Advice for people aspiring to conduct research within the positive psychology field.

Peggy recommends that aspiring researchers: (a) train in another area of psychology, or another discipline altogether, as the most innovative work tends to be done at the intersection of different fields, (b) train in methods, such as qualitative methods, mixed methods, big data and machine learning, and especially method that seem potentially useful to you area of interest (c) develop basic programming skills (in for example Python or R) as it’s a skill that will make you a valuable addition to many projects and is very useful for visualisation. (d) connect with others in the field, from peers through to the most distinguished, and (e) work across disciplines and train in other ways of thinking.

32:53 – On the environment at the University of Pennsylvania during her time there.

The University of Pennsylvania was a very collaborative environment. Early collaborations there with for example computer scientists, helped Peggy to realise that she doesn’t need be an expert in everything and take a strengths-based perspective.

34:00 – On her upcoming research projects.

Peggy continues to be interested in the power of language, which is not only a way that we express out thoughts, emotions and personality, but our way of thinking (and by extension feeling and being) can be changed by purposefully shifting language and can be used as an unobtrusive measure of functioning. A lot of what the positive psychology interventions are trying to do is to awaken people to the narrative that they have of their life and shift that narrative. She is also continuing to work on systems-informed positive psychology which shift the focus of the individual to the individual as part of a collective.

E6. Don Hine – Thriving

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Today we speak with Dr. Don Hine, Professor of Psychology in UNE’s Faculty of Medicine and Health.

Don’s research is in the area of population level psychology, and specifically environmental psychology. He studies behaviour change strategies around the environmental problems that threaten the stability of life on this planet, such as climate change, pollution, resource over-consumption, and invasive species.

However, I spoke to Don primarily about positive psychology and, in particular, about the unit he recently introduced at the University of New England called “Surviving and Thriving – How to Live Well in the Modern World”.

Enjoy.

Show Notes

1:00 – On the need for a course of how to live well.

3:23 – On measuring positive psychological improvements.

6:40 – On his approach to designing a course designed to have a maximally positive impact on student’s lives.

9:30 – Reflections on the comparison between PSYC105 course content compared to the positive psychology literature.

11:53 – What is Subjective Wellbeing and what contributes to it.

15:40 – The potential for a disconnect between meaning and happiness.

17:30 – How to get started implementing findings from positive psychology into your own life.

21:25 – The one thing that Don recommends everyone do to support their own wellbeing.

21:50 – On positive psychology versus religion as avenues to a life of wellbeing and meaning.

28:10 – Don’s research specialty and upcoming focus.

30:05 – Don’s personal journey regarding wellbeing and positive psychology.

Episode References

Don’s unit on thriving: PSYC105 Surviving and Thriving – How to Live Well in the Modern World

The PERMA Profiler – a measure of wellbeing based on the 5 pillars of wellbeing identified by Martin Seligman; positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment.

The Big Picture by Sean Carroll