November 28, 2008

Overemphasizing the importance of strengths?

Recently some doubts about the claims being made in positive psychology about the strengths perspective have come up. A great thing about positive psychology focus is that it tries to gain understanding and knowledge of how individuals and institutions thrive and overcome difficulties. But does this necessarily imply we should focus on 'playing to your strengths'? This might be too individualistic and static. Perhaps we'd do well to move into a more interactive, dynamic and situationalist perspective. The research by Professor Anders Ericsson and many others (which has become a large body of research over many years) is interesting and a good example of positive psychology. It deemphasizes the role of talents, not from a dogmatic point of view by simple by looking at empirical research. The researchers did not set out too disprove the role of talent. Actually, they were quite amazed they could not find evidence that talent played a major role. Here is one example

Back to the strengths perspective. Over the years, I have read a few books by Gallup and by Marcus Buckingham. These books are interesting but they did not describe the research detailedly but more in a general and suggestive way (2 million people have been interviewed!) Overall, these books have a very convincing tone and make broad claims but lack details about the research. It is not that I don't agree with many of the points these authors make. I do. But I feel they go too far in their conclusions and speak in too absolutist terms about talents and strengths. Also, they identify interesting phenomena but seem to come to wrong interpretations (this post contains an example). I could be wrong of course but I think we should question it. Do you know of empirical research which confirms the crucial importance of identifying talents and playing to your strengths? Ericsson and others seem to disconfirm it (as work by others like Carol Dweck and Joshua Aronson seems to do), is there research that confirms it?

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