Everyone admires the “Orphan Annies” of the world—those resilient kids who keep on smiling, forging ahead in the face of adversity. But can you actually teach someone to be resilient and positive?
Apparently so, according to Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. Speaking at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention in Toronto this past weekend, Seligman shared findings from several studies suggesting that injecting some life lessons into the curriculum can improve students’ outlook on life, curb depression, and boost grades.
In one such unpublished study, 240 9th graders were randomly assigned to literature courses with and without a dose of positive psychology. The kids in the positive psychology group read “Romeo and Juliet,” The Scarlet Letter, and all the other literary works taught in the control-group class but with added attention to the strengths of the main characters. Students in the experimental group were also required to do three “loving” things for another person, according to the APA Convention blog, which carried an account of Seligman’s talk on Saturday.
The researchers followed the students through high school. Later on, they found, the students who had taken the enhanced literature class improved their social skills and had a greater love of learning and higher grades than those who had taken the straight-up literature class.
Seligman is now getting ready to teach resilience lessons to U.S. Army soldiers before they are deployed. The hope, he said, is to ward off—or at least lessen the effects of—post-traumatic stress disorder.
You can read more about what Seligman had to say in Science Daily.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.