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Set point theory Early studies showing that even large disturbances don’t have lasting effects, criticisms, and newer ideas about modifying the set point.

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Presentation on theme: "Set point theory Early studies showing that even large disturbances don’t have lasting effects, criticisms, and newer ideas about modifying the set point."— Presentation transcript:

1 Set point theory Early studies showing that even large disturbances don’t have lasting effects, criticisms, and newer ideas about modifying the set point. H. Atkinson, C. Fischer, S. Gerbase and O. Pollock

2 Happiness, well-being, positive psychology “The ability to be happy and contented with life is a central criterion of positive mental health and psychological adjustment” (Lyubomirksy & Abbe) “The ability to be happy and contented with life is a central criterion of positive mental health and psychological adjustment” (Lyubomirksy & Abbe) Factors: life satisfaction, satisfaction with important domains, positive affect and low levels of negative affect (Diener, 2000) Factors: life satisfaction, satisfaction with important domains, positive affect and low levels of negative affect (Diener, 2000) What if we could go through life with bad things happening to us and know that we will always return to a neutral state? What if we could go through life with bad things happening to us and know that we will always return to a neutral state? Or, what if we seek increased happiness and know that we can never be happier than a certain set point? Or, what if we seek increased happiness and know that we can never be happier than a certain set point?

3 What is set point theory? Also known as Hedonic Adaptation, Hedonic Treadmill (Brickman and Campbell, 1971) Also known as Hedonic Adaptation, Hedonic Treadmill (Brickman and Campbell, 1971) Happiness levels fluctuate around a biologically determined set point that rarely changes (Lucas, 2007) Happiness levels fluctuate around a biologically determined set point that rarely changes (Lucas, 2007) People can adapt to almost any life event (Lucas, 2007) People can adapt to almost any life event (Lucas, 2007) Destined to hedonic neutrality Destined to hedonic neutrality Return to their previous happiness baseline (Lyubomirsky & Abbe) Return to their previous happiness baseline (Lyubomirsky & Abbe) Inborn personality factors cause an inevitable return to genetically determined happiness set points (Lucas, 2007) Inborn personality factors cause an inevitable return to genetically determined happiness set points (Lucas, 2007) Happiness and unhappiness are just short-lived reactions to changes in people’s circumstances (Diener et al 2006) Happiness and unhappiness are just short-lived reactions to changes in people’s circumstances (Diener et al 2006)

4 Effects of set point theory Individual and social efforts to increase happiness are doomed to failure (Diener et al, 2006) Individual and social efforts to increase happiness are doomed to failure (Diener et al, 2006) Every desirable experience is transitory (Myers, 1992) Every desirable experience is transitory (Myers, 1992) But: Protection from potentially dangerous psychological and physiological consequences of prolonged emotional states (Lucas, 2007) But: Protection from potentially dangerous psychological and physiological consequences of prolonged emotional states (Lucas, 2007) And: Changes in current environment receive extra attention And: Changes in current environment receive extra attention Empirical support Empirical support

5 Evidence for hedonic adaptation Life-satisfaction measures are stable over up to 20 years Life-satisfaction measures are stable over up to 20 years Long term happiness is heritable Long term happiness is heritable Extraversion and Neuroticism are strong predictors of happiness Extraversion and Neuroticism are strong predictors of happiness  Events can influence short term levels of happiness but personality-based adaption processes inevitably move people back to their genetically determined set point after a short period of time  Events can influence short term levels of happiness but personality-based adaption processes inevitably move people back to their genetically determined set point after a short period of time Individuals who have experienced important life events Individuals who have experienced important life events

6 Scenarios Pro: Lottery winners were not happier than non-winners and people with paraplegia were not substantially less happy than those who can walk (Brickman et al, 1978) Pro: Lottery winners were not happier than non-winners and people with paraplegia were not substantially less happy than those who can walk (Brickman et al, 1978) Con: Poorest diseased beggar with no family or friends Con: Poorest diseased beggar with no family or friends As happy as the healthy billionaire who has a surfeit of close and supportive relationships (Diener et al, 2006) As happy as the healthy billionaire who has a surfeit of close and supportive relationships (Diener et al, 2006)

7 Revisions & Criticisms include More specifics on neutrality and dependency of set points (Diener et al, 2006) More specifics on neutrality and dependency of set points (Diener et al, 2006) Ability to increase happiness (Sheldon, 2002) Ability to increase happiness (Sheldon, 2002) Very serious life events do create lasting changes in subjective well-being (Lucas, 2007) Very serious life events do create lasting changes in subjective well-being (Lucas, 2007) Impact of individual differences on how much people adapt (Lucas, 2007) Impact of individual differences on how much people adapt (Lucas, 2007) Lack of longitudinal and prospective studies (Lucas, 2007) Lack of longitudinal and prospective studies (Lucas, 2007)

8 Early Studies Brickman and Campbell (1971) All people labor on "hedonic treadmill“ Similar to sensory adaptation, emotion system adjusts to current life circumstances Briefly react to good and bad events --> return to neutrality Happiness & unhappiness = short-lived reactions to changes in circumstances

9 Pursuit of happiness - actually futile As we rise in our accomplishments and possessions, expectations also rise Habituate to new level and it no longer makes us happy In same way, people are unhappy when first encounter misfortune, but soon adapt--it no longer makes them happy Adaptation processes: protect people from potentially dangerous psychological/physiological consequences of prolonged emotional states

10 Brickman, Coats, Janoff-Bulman (1978) Lottery winners and patients with spinal-cord injuries compared to control group Found: Lottery winners not significantly happier than control subjects Paraplegic subjects not substantially less happy than those without

11 Silver (1982) Further work on spinal cord injury Immediately after accident = extremely unhappy, but adapted quickly Within 8 weeks = positive emotions predominated over negative emotions Downward trend in unpleasant emotions, upward trend in positive emotions Return to baseline conditions of mood for most subjects

12 Suh, Diener, Fujita (1996) In less than 3 months, effects of many major life events lost impact on SWB Cancer patient, during study informed that cancer in remission Mood/happiness levels skyrocketed, but 2 days later returned to former baseline

13 Demographic Variables Campbell, Converse, Rodgers (1976) 10 resources: income, number of friends, religious, faith, intelligence, education All counted for only 1.5% of variance in happiness Even physical health barely correlated with SWB Diener, Wolsic, Fujita (1995) Objective physical attractiveness correlated at very low levels

14 Personality Further research (Lucas) – E and N relatively strong predictors of happiness compared to external factors While events influence short-term happiness levels, personality-based adaptation processes will inevitably move these back to genetically determined set-point

15 Some Criticisms of Set-Point Theory Ed Diener “Dr Happiness”

16 Diener, Lucas and Scollon (2006) believe that set-point theory [aka the hedonic treadmill, (Brickman & Campbell, 1971)] does have value, however it needs updating. 5 main criticisms 1.Set-points are not hedonically neutral 2.Set-points differ between people, partly depending on their temperament 3.A person may have several set points for happiness 4.Well being set-points can move under some conditions. 5.People differ in their adaptation to certain events with some changing their set-points and others not.

17 1. Set-points are not hedonically neutral Most people are happy most of the time (Diener & Diener, 1996) In the World Values Survey of 2006, 80% of respondents said that they were very or quite happy. So Diener believes that if people do adapt and return to a baseline then it’s a positive one, not a neutral one.

18 Diener, Lucas and Scollon (2006) believe that set-point theory [aka the hedonic treadmill, (Brickman & Campbell, 1971)] does have value, however it needs updating. 5 main criticisms 1.Set-points are not hedonically neutral 2.Set-points differ between people, partly depending on their temperament 3.A person may have several set points for happiness 4.Well being set-points can move under some conditions. 5.People differ in their adaptation to certain events with some changing their set-points and others not.

19 2. Set-points differ between people, partly depending on their temperament Set points vary considerably between individuals. This is partly due to inherent, personality-based influences (Diener and Lucas, 1999; ) Personality factors are strong correlates of well being variables… This may be because traits… and I quote Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, and Schkade (2005)... “are cognitive, affective and behavioural complexes that are consistent across situations and across life span”* …and hence may be able to account for some of the stability of the set point. McCrae and Costa (1990) have shown impressive long term stability for all ‘big 5’ traits… especially those which are most related to well being Enough said here… lets move on!* Terms and Conditions apply…

20 Diener, Lucas and Scollon (2006) believe that set-point theory [aka the hedonic treadmill, (Brickman & Campbell, 1971)] does have value, however it needs updating. 5 main criticisms 1.Set-points are not hedonically neutral 2.Set-points differ between people, partly depending on their temperament 3.A person may have several set points for happiness 4.Well being set-points can move under some conditions. 5.People differ in their adaptation to certain events with some changing their set-points and others not.

21 3. A person may have several set points for happiness Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006, pp.307) Different forms of well-being can move in different directions.

22 Diener, Lucas and Scollon (2006) believe that set-point theory [aka the hedonic treadmill, (Brickman & Campbell, 1971)] does have value, however it needs updating. 5 main criticisms 1.Set-points are not hedonically neutral 2.Set-points differ between people, partly depending on their temperament 3.A person may have several set points for happiness 4.Well being set-points can move under some conditions. 5.People differ in their adaptation to certain events with some changing their set-points and others not.

23 4. Well being set-points can move under some conditions. There are strong national differences in well being. These differences can be predicted by objective characteristics of these nations. This allows us to assume that the stable external circumstances can have a lasting impact on happiness. Diener, Diener and Diener (1995) found that wealth and human rights of nations were strong predictors of average national well being. European Values Study Group and World Survey Association (2005) yielded data showing life satisfaction differences: Canada , US … Turkey , Russia Fujita and Diener (2005) conducted a 17 year longitudinal study using a large representative sample in Germany. They found that 24% of respondents changed significantly from their baseline.

24 Diener, Lucas and Scollon (2006) believe that set-point theory [aka the hedonic treadmill, (Brickman & Campbell, 1971)] does have value, however it needs updating. 5 main criticisms 1.Set-points are not hedonically neutral 2.Set-points differ between people, partly depending on their temperament 3.A person may have several set points for happiness 4.Well being set-points can move under some conditions. 5.People differ in their adaptation to certain events with some changing their set-points and others not.

25 Study on adaptation to marriage revealed that less satisfied individuals were more likely to benefit from marriage, and for longer (Lucas et al., 2003). For any individual, events that deviate from their typical life experiences cause most change.

26 Future Research

27 Methodology Mostly panels used so far: limits psychological variables assessed Better methodology will allow: Investigation of moderator variables and their potential effects Identification of events to which people cannot adapt

28 Processes Underlying Hedonic Adaptation What psychological processes does adaptation result from? Reduced emotional reactivity? Change in the way we think about life events? How much control does one have over adaptation? Do some components of well-being adapt more easily than others?

29 Individual-Level Characteristics Clarify characteristics that promote/prevent adaptation Personality Demographic characteristics Personality x gene interaction? Why do adaptation effects vary accross different events and circumstances?

30 Happiness-Increasing Interventions? Many questions to be answered before effective interventions can be designed Discover factors that control adaptation process Lyubomirsky, Sheldon & Schkade (2005) o o Intentional activity as the most promising means of altering one’s happiness level?

31 Oh, and don’t forget… If any ladies fancy some ‘lunch’… Just Call. +1(001) Ed x

32 Criticisms: Key References Diener, E., Lucas, R. E., & Scollon, C. (2006). Beyond the hedonic treadmill: Revising the adaptation theory of well-being. American Psychologist, 61, Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing Happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9 (2), 111–131 Criticisms Criticisms: Other Reading Lykken, D., & Tellegen, A. (1996). Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon. Psychological Science, 7, Headey, B., Muffels, R., & Wagner, G. G. (2010). Long-running German panel survey shows that personal and economic choices, not just genes, matter for happiness. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,107 (42),


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