Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Posttraumatic growth and disability: On happiness, positivity, and meaning
by Hayward, H'Sien, Ph.D., Harvard University, 2013, 191; 3566913
Abstract (Summary)

The field of psychology has traditionally focused on the deleterious effects of adversity to the exclusion of positive effects. However, a literature on positive sequelae of traumatic events has burgeoned over the past decade. The issue of whether individual's reports of positive changes are merely illusory self-enhancing biases or are reflective of objective, quantifiable change is perhaps the most contentious in the posttraumatic growth research at this time. This dissertation begins with a broad overview of the extant research on posttraumatic growth, then presents the evidence supporting each side of the validity debate. As the population studied in this dissertation is adults with traumatic-onset spinal cord injuries, a presentation of research that ties disability to the posttraumatic growth literature follows. Finally, the introductory chapter concludes with an argument for the importance of including a disability perspective in psychological science. Three papers follow, each taking up aspects of this relatively new focus on positive aspects of disability.

The first paper lays the foundation for the work that follows by exploring the question of whether people with disabilities are, in fact, doing well. Establishing a baseline of subjective well-being would seem necessary before venturing into an exploration of how this happiness may have come to be. In a replication of a classic study, I find that indeed, people with spinal cord injuries report levels of happiness that are equal to both those of controls and lottery winners. In the second study, I use experimental and survey evidence collected over a span of eight-years to explore posttraumatic growth and its relationship to emotion regulation advances. Finally, Paper 3 takes an in-depth look at one of the critical components of posttraumatic growth, a sense of meaning in life, and its relationship to happiness.

The concluding chapter outlines several limitations of this program of research, and provides directions for research that will carry it forward. Finally, it returns to the validity debate in the posttraumatic growth literature most broadly, making recommendations for future research that will shed light on this issue, and presenting reasons that resolution of this debate is important for academia, clinical practice, and society-at-large.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Vaillant, George E.
Commitee: Gilbert, Daniel, Hehir, Thomas, Sidanius, Jim
School: Harvard University
Department: Psychology
School Location: United States -- Massachusetts
Source: DAI-B 74/10(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Clinical psychology
Keywords: Disability, Happiness, Meaning, Positivity, Posttraumatic growth, Well-being
Publication Number: 3566913
ISBN: 9781303184680
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