1. Study suggests motivational music increases risk-taking but does not improve sports performance

    February 11, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A new study finds that listening to motivational music during sport activities and exercise increases risk-taking behavior but does not improve overall performance. The effect was more noticeable among men and participants who selected their own playlist. The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, also found that self-selected music had the power to enhance self-esteem among those who were already performing well, but not among participants who were performing poorly.

    Listening to motivational music has become a popular way of enhancing mood, motivation and positive self-evaluation during sports and exercise. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence of music being used in this way, such as the famous Maori “Haka” performed by New Zealand’s national rugby team to get into the right mindset before games. However, the psychological processes and mechanisms that explain the motivational power of music are poorly understood.

    “While the role of music in evoking emotional responses and its use for mood regulation have been a subject of considerable scientific interest, the question of how listening to music relates to changes in self-evaluative cognitions has rarely been discussed,” says Dr. Paul Elvers of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and one of the study’s authors. “This is surprising, given that self-evaluative cognitions and attitudes such as self-esteem, self-confidence and self-efficacy are considered to be sensitive to external stimuli such as music.”

    The research team investigated whether listening to motivational music can boost performance in a ball game, enhance self-evaluative cognition and/or lead to riskier behavior. The study divided 150 participants into three groups that performed a ball-throwing task from fixed distances and filled in questionnaires while listening to either participant-selected music, experimenter-selected music or no music at all. To assess risk-taking behavior, the participants were also allowed to choose the distances to the basket themselves. The participants received monetarily incentivized points for each successful trial.

    The data show that listening to music did not have any positive or negative impact on overall performance or on self-evaluative cognitions, trait self-esteem or sport-related anxiety. However, it did increase the sense of self-esteem in participants who were performing well and also increased risk-taking behavior — particularly in male participants and participants who could choose their own motivational music. Moreover, the researchers also found that those who made riskier choices earned higher monetary rewards.

    “The results suggest that psychological processes linked to motivation and emotion play an important role for understanding the functions and effects of music in sports and exercise,” says Dr. Elvers. “The gender differences in risk-taking behavior that we found in our study align with what previous studies have documented.”

    However, more research is required to fully understand the impact of motivational music on the intricate phenomena of self-enhancement, performance and risky behavior during sports and exercise.

    “We gathered evidence of the ability of music to increase risk-taking behavior, but more research is needed to improve the robustness of this finding. Additional research is also needed to address the potential mechanisms that may account for the finding. We believe that music’s ability to induce pleasure as well as its function with respect to self-enhancement serve as promising candidates for future investigations,” Dr. Elvers concludes.


  2. Study links healthy eating to kids’ happiness

    December 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BioMed Central press release:

    Healthy eating is associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems, such as having fewer friends or being picked on or bullied, in children regardless of body weight, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health. Inversely, better self-esteem is associated with better adherence to healthy eating guidelines, according to researchers from The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

    Dr Louise Arvidsson, the corresponding author said: “We found that in young children aged two to nine years there is an association between adherence to healthy dietary guidelines and better psychological well-being, which includes fewer emotional problems, better relationships with other children and higher self-esteem, two years later. Our findings suggest that a healthy diet can improve well-being in children.”

    Examining 7,675 children two to nine years of age from eight European countries — Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden — the researchers found that a higher Healthy Dietary Adherence Score (HDAS) at the beginning of the study period was associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems two years later.

    The HDAS aims to capture adherence to healthy dietary guidelines, which include limiting intake of refined sugars, reducing fat intake and eating fruit and vegetables. A higher HDAS indicates better adherence to the guidelines — i.e. healthier eating. The guidelines are common to the eight countries included in this study.

    The authors found that better self-esteem at the beginning of the study period was associated with a higher HDAS two years later and that the associations between HDAS and wellbeing were similar for children who had normal weight and children who were overweight.

    Dr Arvidsson said: “It was somewhat surprising to find that the association between baseline diet and better well-being two years later was independent of children’s socioeconomic position and their body weight.”

    The authors used data from the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Study, a prospective cohort study that aims to understand how to prevent overweight in children while also considering the multiple factors that contribute to it.

    At the beginning of the study period parents were asked to report how often per week their children consumed food from a list of 43 items. Depending on their consumption of these foods, children were then assigned an HDAS score. Psychosocial wellbeing was assessed based on self-esteem, parent relations, emotional and peer problems as reported by the parents in response to validated questionnaires. Height and weight of the children were measured. All questionnaires and measurements were repeated two years later.

    The study is the first to analyze the individual components included in the HDAS and their associations with children’s wellbeing. The authors found that fish intake according to guidelines (2-3 times per week) was associated with better self-esteem and no emotional and peer problems. Intake of whole meal products were associated with no peer problems.

    The associations were found to go in both directions; better wellbeing was associated with consumption of fruit and vegetables, sugar and fat in accordance with dietary guidelines, better self-esteem was associated with sugar intake according to guidelines, good parent relations were associated with fruit and vegetable consumption according to guidelines, fewer emotional problems were associated with fat intake according to guidelines and fewer peer problems were associated with consumption of fruit and vegetables according to guidelines.

    The authors caution that children with poor diet and poor wellbeing were more likely to drop out of the study and were therefore underrepresented at the two-year follow-up, which complicates conclusions about the true rates of poor diet and poor wellbeing. As the study is observational and relies on self-reported data from parents, no conclusions about cause and effect are possible.

    Dr Arvidsson said: “The associations we identified here need to be confirmed in experimental studies including children with clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other behavioral disorders rather than well-being as reported by parents.”

     


  3. Study suggests teens who help strangers have more confidence

    December 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    Tis the season for helping at a soup kitchen, caroling at a care facility or shoveling a neighbor’s driveway.

    While those gifts of self surely help others, new research suggests that such selfless and serving behaviors have a specific benefit to teens.

    BYU School of Family Life professor Laura Padilla-Walker, in a longitudinal study she coauthored with a former student (Xinyuan Fu, Central University of Finance and Economics, China) in the Journal of Adolescence, found that adolescents who exhibited prosocial behavior — such as helping, sharing and comforting — toward strangers had higher self-esteem a year later. The same was not true for those in the study who exhibited prosocial behavior solely to friends and family.

    “This study helps us to understand that young people who help those with whom they do not have a relationship report feeling better about themselves over time,” Padilla-Walker said. “Given the importance of self-esteem during the teen years, this is an important finding. It suggests there might be something about helping strangers that impacts one’s moral identity or perceptions of self in a more significant way than helping friends or family members, although these are beneficial behaviors as well.”

    Padilla-Walker has authored multiple studies looking at prosocial behavior. While she’s found that teens who exhibit these positive behaviors stay out of trouble and have better familial relationships, this was her first time tying it to self-esteem.

    In the study, researchers looked at 681 adolescents, 11-14 years old, in two U.S. cities. They tracked them for four different time points, starting in 2008 through 2011. The participants responded to 10 statements such as “I feel useless at times” or “I am satisfied with myself” to assess self-esteem. Prosocial behavior was measured by self-reports, looking at various aspects of kindness and generosity, such as “I help people I don’t know, even if it’s not easy for me” or “I go out of my way to cheer up my friends” or “I really enjoy doing small favors for my family.”

    “A unique feature of this study is that it explores helping behaviors toward multiple different targets,” Padilla-Walker said. “Not all helping is created equal, and we’re finding that prosocial behavior toward strangers is protective in a variety of ways that is unique from other types of helping. Another important finding is that the link between prosocial behavior and self-esteem is over a one-year time period and present across all three age lags in our study. Though not an overly large effect, this suggests a stable link between helping and feeling better about oneself across the early adolescent years.”

    For many adolescents, this time of life can be confusing for them. In a state of such self-exploration and self-identification, Padilla-Walker suggests that helping your kids find confidence, self-respect and self-worth can be of monumental importance.

    “For teens who sometimes have a tendency to focus on themselves, parents can help by providing opportunities for their children to help and serve others who are less fortunate,” Padilla-Walker said. “It is best if teens can directly see the benefit of their help on others. This can increase gratitude in young people and help them to focus less on their own problems. It is also a way to help them meet new friends or spend time with family. A family tradition of helping those who are less fortunate throughout the year or during the holidays is a great way to instill in children a desire to serve and a greater sense of self-worth.”


  4. Study suggests school exacerbates feelings of being ‘different’ in pupils with Autism Spectrum Conditions

    November 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    autism_stairsNegative school experiences can have harmful long term effects on pupils with Autism Spectrum Conditions, a new study in the journal Autism reports.

    Researchers from the University of Surrey have discovered that experiences of social and emotional exclusion in mainstream schools can adversely affect how pupils with autism view themselves, increasing their risk of developing low self-esteem, a poor sense of self-worth and mental health problems.

    Examining 17 previous studies in the area, researchers discovered that how pupils with autism view themselves is closely linked to their perceptions of how other’s treat and interact with them. They found that a tendency of many pupils with the condition to internalise the negative attitudes and reactions of others toward them, combined with unfavourable social comparisons to classmates, leads to a sense of being ‘different’ and more limited than peers.

    Negative self-perception can lead to increased isolation and low self-esteem making pupils with autism more susceptible to mental health problems.

    It was discovered that the physical environment of schools can impact on children’s ability to interact with other pupils. Sensory sensitivity, which is a common characteristic of autism and can magnify sounds to an intolerable level, can lead to everyday classroom and playground noises such as shrieks and chatter being a source of anxiety and distraction. This impacts on a pupil’s ability to concentrate in the classroom and to socialise with others, further increasing isolation and a sense of being ‘different.’

    It was also found that pupils with autism who developed supportive friendships and felt accepted by classmates said this helped alleviate their social difficulties and made them feel good about themselves.

    These findings suggest it is crucial for schools to create a culture of acceptance for all pupils to ensure the long term wellbeing of pupils with autism in mainstream settings.

    Lead author of the paper Dr Emma Williams, from the University of Surrey, said: “Inclusive mainstream education settings may inadvertently accentuate the sense of being ‘different’ in a negative way to classmates.

    “We are not saying that mainstream schools are ‘bad’ for pupils with autism, as other evidence suggests they have a number of positive effects, including increasing academic performance and social skills.

    “Rather, we are suggesting that by cultivating a culture of acceptance of all and making small changes, such as creating non-distracting places to socialise, and listening to their pupils’ needs, schools can help these pupils think and feel more positively about themselves.

    “With over 100,000 children in the UK diagnosed with autism, it is important that we get this right to ensure that pupils with autism get the education they deserve and leave school feeling accepted, loved and valued, rather than with additional mental health issues.”


  5. Study indicates all forms of sexual harassment can cause psychological harm

    November 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Norwegian University of Science and Technology press release:

    Being exposed to non-physical sexual harassment can negatively affect symptoms of anxiety, depression, negative body image and low self-esteem,” say Associate Professor Mons Bendixen and Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Psychology.

    This applies to derogatory sexual remarks about appearance, behaviour and sexual orientation, unwanted sexual attention, being subject to rumouring, and being shown sexually oriented images, and the like.

    The researchers posed questions about sexual harassment experienced in the previous year and received responses from almost 3,000 high school students in two separate studies. The responses paint a clear picture.

    Worst for girls

    This is not exclusively something boys do against girls. It’s just as common for boys to harass boys in these ways.

    Girls and boys are equally exposed to unpleasant or offensive non-physical sexual harassment. About 62 per cent of both sexes report that they have experienced this in the past year.

    “Teens who are harassed the most also struggle more in general. But girls generally struggle considerably more than boys, no matter the degree to which they’re being harassed in this way,” Kennair notes.

    Girls are also more negatively affected by sexual harassment than boys are,” adds Bendixen.

    Being a girl is unquestionably the most important risk factor when teens report that they struggle with anxiety, depression, negative body image or low self-esteem.

    However, non-physical sexual harassment is the second most important factor, and is more strongly associated with adolescents’ psychological well-being than being subjected to sexual coercion in the past year or sexual assault prior to that.

    Level of severity

    Bendixen and Kennair believe it’s critical to distinguish between different forms of harassment.

    They divided the types of harassment into two main groups: non-physical harassment and physically coercive sexual behaviour, such as unwanted kissing, groping, intimate touch, and intercourse. Physical sexual coercion is often characterized as sexual abuse in the literature.

    Studies usually lump these two forms of unwanted behaviour together into the same measure. This means that a derogatory comment is included in the same category as rape.

    “As far as we know, this is the first study that has distinguished between these two forms and specifically looked at the effects of non-physical sexual harassment,” says Bendixen.

    Comments that for some individuals may seem innocent enough can cause significant problems for others.

    Many factors accounted for

    Not everyone interprets slang or slurs the same way. If someone calls you a “whore” or “gay,” you may not find it offensive. For this reason, the researchers let the adolescents decide whether they perceived a given action as offensive or not, and had them only report what they did find offensive.

    The article presents data from two studies. The first study from 2007 included 1384 high school students. The second study included 1485 students and was conducted in 2013-2014. Both studies were carried out in Sør-Trøndelag county and are comparable with regard to demographic conditions.

    The results of the first study were reproduced in the second. The findings from the two studies matched each other closely.

    The researchers also took into account a number of other potentially influential factors, such as having parents who had separated or were unemployed, educational programme (vocational or general studies), sexual minority status, immigrant status, and whether they had experienced physical coercion in the past year or any sexual assaults previous to that.

    “We’ve found that sexual minorities generally reported more psychological distress,” says Bendixen. The same applied to young people with parents who are unemployed. On the other hand, students with immigrant status did not report more psychological issues. Bendixen also notes that sexual minorities did not seem to be more negatively affected by sexual harassment than their heterosexual peers.

    However, the researchers did find a clear negative effect of non-physical sexual harassment, over and beyond that of the risk factors above.

    Uncertain as to what is an effective intervention

    So what can be done to reduce behaviours that may cause such serious problems for so many?

    Kennair concedes that he doesn’t know what can help.

    “This has been studied for years and in numerous countries, but no studies have yet revealed any lasting effects of measures aimed at combating sexual harassment,” Bendixen says. “We know that attitude campaigns can change people’s attitudes to harassment, but it doesn’t result in any reduction in harassment behaviour.”

    Bendixen and Kennair want to look into this in an upcoming study. Their goal is to develop practices that reduce all forms of sexual harassment and thereby improve young people’s psychological well-being.


  6. Researchers map self-esteem in the human brain

    October 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    A team of UCL researchers has devised a mathematical equation that can explain how our self-esteem is shaped by what other people think of us, in a new study published in the scientific journal eLife.

    The researchers used the new equation to identify signals in the human brain that explain why self-esteem goes up and down when we learn other people’s judgments of us. They say the findings could help identify people at risk of psychiatric disorders.

    “Low self-esteem is a vulnerability factor for numerous psychiatric problems including eating disorders, anxiety disorders and depression. In this study, we identified exactly what happens in the brain when self-esteem goes up and down,” said the study’s lead author, Dr Geert-Jan Will (Leiden University and Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry & Ageing Research).

    “We hope that these findings inform our understanding of how mental health problems develop, which may ultimately improve diagnostic tools and treatments,” he said.

    For the study, 40 healthy participants did a social evaluation task while in an MRI scanner. After uploading a profile to an online database, they received feedback, ostensibly given by 184 strangers (actually an algorithm), in the form of a thumbs-up (like) or thumbs-down (dislike). The ‘strangers’ were in different groups so that participants learned to expect positive feedback from some groups of raters, and negative feedback from other groups. After every 2-3 trials, participants reported on their self-esteem at that moment.

    Participants expected to be liked by ‘strangers’ in the groups that mostly gave positive feedback, so when they received a thumbs-down from a person in that group, their self-esteem took a hit. These social prediction errors — the difference between expected and received feedback — were key for determining self-esteem.

    “We found that self-esteem changes were guided not only by whether other people like you, but were especially dependent on whether you expected to be liked,” Dr Will said.

    The research team developed a model of the neural processes at play when appraisals impact self-esteem, finding that social prediction errors and changes in self-esteem resulting from these errors were tied to activity in parts of the brain important for learning and valuation.

    The researchers then combined their computational model with clinical questionnaires to explore the neural mechanisms underlying vulnerability to mental health problems. They found that people who had greater fluctuations in self-esteem during the task also had lower self-esteem more generally and reported more symptoms of depression and anxiety. People in this group showed increased prediction error responses in a part of the brain called the insula, which was strongly coupled to activity in the part of the prefrontal cortex that explained changes in self-esteem. The researchers hypothesise that such a pattern of neural activity could be a neurobiological marker that confers increased risk for a range of common mental health problems.

    “By combining our mathematical equation for self-esteem with brain scans in people as they found out whether other people liked them, we identified a possible marker for vulnerability to mental health problems. We hope these tools can be used to improve diagnostics, enabling mental health professionals to make more specific diagnoses and targeted treatments,” said Dr Robb Rutledge (Max Planck UCL Centre for Computational Psychiatry & Ageing Research).

    The authors are continuing their line of work by studying people with particularly low self-esteem, and plan to follow up by studying people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders.


  7. Study suggests parents have an even greater impact on the well-being of young people than expected

    October 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Academy of Finland press release:

    According to a recent study, parental support for the autonomy of young people promotes the well-being of the latter in all major educational transitions: from primary to lower secondary school, from basic education to upper secondary school, and from upper secondary school to university. Professor Katariina Salmela-Aro points out that autonomy support provided by mothers and fathers prevented depression during all three transitions and increased the self-esteem of youths in the final two transitions. The study was performed with funding from the Academy of Finland.

    The relevance of the result increased with the age of the young person in question. “In the past, it was thought that parents only play an important role during childhood, but this research demonstrates their importance during adolescence and even young adulthood,” says Salmela-Aro.

    For a long period, the importance of self-regulation only was highlighted with regard to well-being and success in life. However, the new results indicate that people have a strong and interactive, regulative effect on each other’s well-being. Parenting affects youngsters’ well-being, but the well-being of young people also affects that of their parents. Young people play a greater role in affecting parental support than previously thought: when youths begin to do less well, parents provide less support for their autonomy.

    “However, from the perspective of young peoples’ well-being, it would be important for parents to provide more support in such cases, because autonomy support has been shown to reduce depression,” emphasises Salmela-Aro.

    The study was completed with the help of the LEAD project under the Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills Academy programme and the Mind the Gap cross-disciplinary study under the Human Mind Academy programme. Corresponding studies have generally been performed as cross-sectional research. Around 2,000 Finnish young people, whose educational paths and well-being were investigated by the researchers during all educational transitions, participated in the study.


  8. Study suggests warmth, not lavish praise, helps children develop self-esteem

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Amsterdam press release:

    How do children construct views of themselves and their place in the world? Children’s social relationships turn out to be critical. For example, children develop higher self-esteem when their parents treat them warmly. But they develop lower self-esteem when their parents lavish them with inflated praise. These and other findings are included in a special section edited by Eddie Brummelman (University of Amsterdam) and Sander Thomaes (Utrecht University) and soon-to-be published in the journal Child Development. In a series of articles, now available online in ‘early view’,’ the researchers share the results of research on the origins of the self-concept in children.

    Who am I and what is my place in the world? Children are born without an answer to these pressing questions. As they grow up, though, they start to formulate answers seemingly effortlessly. Within a few years, they recognise themselves in the mirror, refer to themselves by their own name, evaluate themselves through the eyes of others and understand their standing in a social group.

    Research by Christina Starmans from the University of Toronto shows that even toddlers have an idea of what it means to have a ‘self’. Young children see the self as something that is unique to a person, separate from the body, stable over time, and located within the head, behind the eyes. Research by Andrei Cimpian (New York University) and his colleagues shows that even toddlers have the cognitive ability to form self-worth (i.e., how satisfied they are with themselves as individuals).

    Social relationships

    Over time, pronounced individual differences arise in children’s self-concept. Some children like themselves, whereas others feel negatively about themselves. Some children see themselves as superior and deserving special treatment, whereas others consider themselves to be on an equal plane with others. Some children believe they can grow and build their abilities, whereas others believe their abilities are fixed and unchangeable. Where do these individual differences come from? What leads children to see themselves the way they do? ‘Surprisingly little is known about the origins of children’s self-concept’, says Brummelman. ‘It is important that we shed more light on this important subject. With this collection of articles, our aim is to showcase emerging research on this subject.’

    ‘What these articles reveal is that children form their self-concept, at least in part, based on their social relationships‘, Brummelman continues. For example, research by Michelle Harris (University of California) and her team shows that children develop higher self-esteem when they receive warmth from their parents. Warm parents show an interest in their children’s activities and share joy with them, which makes children feel noticed and valued. Brummelman’s own research shows that children may develop lower self-esteem and sometimes even narcissism when their parents give them lots of extremely positive, inflated praise, such as ‘Wow, you did incredibly well! Such inflated praise may give children a sense of grandiosity but at the same time also make them worry about falling short of the standards set for them.

    Encouragement

    Previous research has shown the importance of having a growth mindset – the belief that you can develop your skills through effort and education. Children with a growth mindset are eager to take on challenges, persist when the going gets tough, and see failure as opportunities for growth. In a theoretical article, Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck (Stanford University) describe how parents can foster a growth mindset by praising children for effort instead of ability (for example, ‘You worked so hard!’) and by teaching children that failure isn’t harmful but actually benefits learning and growth. Parents can encourage children to ask themselves: why did I get such a low grade, and what can I do differently in future?

    All 10 articles in the special section study various dimensions of children’s self-concept, including self-esteem, self-compassion, mindsets and self-perceived ability. ‘What these articles show is that children construct their self-concept based on the social relationships they have, the feedback they receive, the social comparisons they make, and the cultural values they endorse. This underlines the deeply social nature of children’s self-concept’, says Brummelman.


  9. Perfect mannequins a turnoff for some consumers

    September 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    Mannequins’ long legs, tiny waistlines and perfect busts can sour some shoppers on the products they’re wearing, especially consumers who don’t like the look of their own bodies.

    That’s the finding from a new UBC Sauder School of Business study, which found that consumers who report lower self-esteem are far more likely to have a negative reaction to clothing on a mannequin than those with higher self-esteem. The effect was the same for both men and women.

    “When that mannequin is an example of perfection, it reminds people who are vulnerable that they don’t measure up,” said UBC Sauder professor and study co-author Darren Dahl. “The problem is the beauty ideal that mannequins represent. When people feel they don’t meet that ideal, their view of the product dims as well.”

    For the study, participants were surveyed about their level of “appearance self-esteem.” They then evaluated clothing such as bikinis and dresses on the mannequins.

    Interestingly, when researchers knocked a mannequin’s beauty down a notch by marking the face, removing the hair or removing the head entirely, consumers with negative views of their own bodies warmed to the apparel, likely because the figure no longer reflected society’s high beauty standards.

    When researchers boosted participants’ body image through positive affirmations before seeing the mannequins, their negative perceptions of the products diminished. When mannequins modelled less appearance-related items, such as umbrellas, the effect disappeared.

    Although mannequins are used across the retail industry worldwide, little was previously known about how they actually affect shopper behaviour. Given the global apparel industry is valued at $3 billion, the study could have profound implications for both consumers and retailers.

    Dahl suggested retailers consider using half mannequins, which are less expensive and less threatening.

    “When consumers know what pushes their buttons, it’s empowering,” said Dahl. “It lets people see what the product looks like on a body, but it doesn’t give them the full picture, which seems a little tougher for people to deal with.”


  10. Study finds secret to thriving

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    What it takes to thrive, rather than merely survive, could be as simple as feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something, according to new research.

    From a teenager studying for their exams to an employee succeeding at work, thriving can be seen at all ages and across all cultures.

    Until now and despite plenty of theories, there has been no agreement on what makes a person thrive or on how people can try and ensure they do.

    Dr Daniel Brown, a sport and exercise scientist at the University of Portsmouth, has pulled together all the research on what makes people thrive, from studies of babies and teenagers, to studies of artists, sportspeople, employees and the elderly, and has come up with the first definitive catch-all.

    He said: “Thriving is a word most people would be glad to hear themselves described as, but which science hasn’t really managed to consistently classify and describe until now.

    “It appears to come down to an individual experiencing a sense of development, of getting better at something, and succeeding at mastering something.

    “In the simplest terms, what underpins it is feeling good about life and yourself and being good at something.”

    The study outlines the ‘shopping list’ underlying Dr Brown’s simple definition. To thrive doesn’t need all the components, but suggests a combination of some from each of the two following lists may help

    A: Is:

    • optimistic,
    • spiritual or religious,
    • motivated,
    • proactive,
    • someone who enjoys learning,
    • flexible,
    • adaptable,
    • socially competent,
    • believes in self/has self-esteem.

    B: Has:

    • opportunity,
    • employer/family/other support,
    • challenges and difficulties are at manageable level,
    • environment is calm,
    • is given a high degree of autonomy,
    • is trusted as competent.

    Research has established that though thriving is similar to resilience, prospering or growth, it stands alone.

    Thriving has been examined at various stages of human life and has at times been described as vitality, learning, mental toughness, focus, or combinations of these and other qualities. It has also been examined in various contexts, including in the military, in health and in child development.

    “Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a quest in science to better understand human fulfilment and thriving, there’s been a shift towards wanting to understand how humans can function as highly as possible,” said Dr Brown.

    “Part of the reason for a lack of consensus is the research so far has been narrowly focused. Some have studied what makes babies thrive, others have examined what makes some employees thrive and others not, and so on. By setting out a clear definition, I hope this helps set a course for future research.”

    Dr Brown’s research makes six recommendations for future research, including the need for close examination of what enables thriving, and whether thriving has any lasting or cumulative effect on individuals.

    He carried out the research as part of his PhD studies at the University of Bath. His primary supervisor, Dr Rachel Arnold, an expert in the psychology of performance excellence, is a co-author of the paper.

    The study is published in European Psychologist.