Summer 2007

SCIE 624
Emotions, Motivation, and Positive Psychology


06/25/2007 - 07/12/2007
Monday-Thursday 01:30 PM - 04:30 PM

Science Tower 137

The past decade has seen an explosive growth of interest in what has been called positive psychology: the study of emotions, traits, and institutions that promote adaptive and healthy psychological functioning. The origins of this field date back to the earlier humanistic psychology movement, and especially seminal work by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Both humanistic and positive psychology stress that while mainstream psychology has done an excellent job of understanding and developing treatments for psychopathology, mainstream psychology has had surprisingly little to say about the "other half" of human functioning--happiness, meaning, self-actualization, etc.

The major goal of this class is to take an in-depth and critical look at current theory, research, and practice in the field of positive psychology. Because much of the study of positive psychology focuses on the nature and motivational role of happiness and other positive emotions, the first half of this class takes a detailed look at current psychological work on the general nature of emotions. This first half of the class focuses on the difference between emotional intelligence and the intelligence of emotions. Most recent emotions research begins with an evolutionary model that emphasizes the adaptive, functional role of emotions for human communication and motivation. As one prominent researcher put it, "emotions contain the wisdom of the ages." In this view, emotions are seen as intelligent adaptations for addressing recurring biological and psychological challenges. In contrast with this normative account of emotions, the focus on emotional intelligence emphasizes individual differences in how people understand and control emotions. Another issue is how emotions, if they are supposedly adaptive, could then be involved in so many forms of psychological maladjustment, ranging from depression, to anxiety disorders, and behavior problems.

With this scientific and theoretical foundation in place, the second half of the class explores the specific nature of the positive psychology movement. We begin by reading Maslow's seminal book, Towards a Psychology of Being, and move on to consider evolutionary models of positive emotions and how they act to promote both social and cognitive development. We will also explore some of the emerging research on the psychological and physiological effects of positive emotions, and on specific attempts to improve and modify existing mood states. In addition to class readings, we will examine some of the specific techniques used in this field, including meditation, guided life exercises, directed journal writing, etc. Although this "practical" component will only be a small part of the class (this is not a "self-help" class), it is essential for understanding the methods used in this area. Overall, this second half of the class attempts to address several key questions, including: a) is happiness, per se, a "worthy" psychological goal; b) how much of our individual "positive psychology" is the result of experience vs. genetics; and c) why has positive psychology (unlike humanistic psychology) attracted some of the leading academic research psychologists.

In-class sessions will include initial lectures by the instructor, multiple breakout discussion groups, as well as several academically-oriented movies on basic emotion and positive psychology themes.

There are several course requirements. 1) Maslow's book, Towards a Psychology of Being, should be completed before the start of the first class, and a brief response paper (3 pages) on that book is due at the 6th class meeting. 2) Each student will responsible for being a discussion facilitator for one of the daily breakout discussion sections. 3) A brief report (3 pages) on an exploration of a technique used in positive psychology is due on the last day of class. Finally, a 10-12 page paper is due 3 weeks after the completion of the class. Additional details on course requirements will be distributed to all registered students.

William Arsenio previously taught SCIE 614: Emotions: Motivation and Development. This course is a substantially revised version of that course. Students who have previously taken SCIE 614 for credit may take this course for credit by petition.

For the first class meeting, students should have read chapters 1-4 is Maslow's Towards a Psychology of Being, and chapters 12-14 in Oatley's Understanding Emotions.

A syllabus for this course is available at:
Course Syllabus

William Arsenio (B.A. Brandeis University; M.A. University of California, Berkeley; Ph.D. Stanford University) is head ot he Developmental Psychology Program at Ferkauf Graduate School, Yeshiva University. He is a prolific writer in his field, with 4 articles currently in press and another 16 published recently. He is also an active speaker, having presented 16 papers during the past 9 years. Click here for more information about William Arsenio.


Consent of Instructor Required: No

Format: Seminar

Level: GLSP Credits: 3 Enrollment Limit: 18

Texts to purchase for this course:
Abraham Maslow, TOWARD A PSYCHOLOGY OF BEING (Wiley), Paperback

Keith Oatley, UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONS (Blackwell Publishing), Paperback

Christopher Peterson, A PRIMER IN POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY (Oxford University Press), Paperback


PLEASE NOTE: A course packet will be available for purchase at PIP Printing, 179 Main Street, Middletown, (860) 344-9001

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