A Novel Positive Psychology Intervention to Increase Subjective Well-being and School Engagement among a Cohort of Inner-City Adolescents Attending School in Southeastern Florida

Interdisciplinary Category: Behavioral Psychology and Education; Funding Source(s): None

Harvard Medical School
John T Avella, EdD
Linnaya Graf, PhD
Leah B. Hammond, EdD
Presentation Date: 
Sunday, April 3, 2016
Event or Conference: 
New England Science Symposium
Presentation Type: 
Poster Presentation
Boyer's Domain: 
Presentation Location: 
Joseph B. Martin Conference Center
Harvard Medical School
Boston, MA
United States
Mental health problems among adolescents are a public health concern because of the long-term, negative, social and psychological consequences of poor mental health in adulthood. Global and national population studies have linked mental health and well-being to academically-related outcomes, self-sufficiency and risky health behaviors in young adulthood, as well as mental illness in adulthood. The problem is that in the United States, 20-25% of adolescents reported attempted suicide, depression, and other psychological symptoms; 33% reported feelings of sadness or hopelessness—negative trends that have continued for more than two decades. The traditional, deficits model is to diagnose and treat mental health and psychological problems after they occur. The positive psychology framework is a preventative approach of increasing positive strengths, such as an optimistic outlook, and emotions, such as the emotions of compassion and gratitude, to increase measured subjective well-being (SWB). Life satisfaction, a component of SWB, is positively associated with academic achievement and school engagement. Among youth, school engagement is inversely related to school drop-out. Interventions based on the contemplative sciences paradigm include practices such as Tai Chi, Hatha Yoga, and meditation to increase general well-being, as well address specific psychological and health-related diagnoses. The review of the literature revealed a paucity of both well-being and contemplative interventions conducted among general, non-clinical youth, particularly youth representing culturally diverse backgrounds. The purpose of this five-week, pretest-posttest, quasi-experimental intervention was to examine the effect of a novel gratitude-meditation program upon the well-being of a cohort of adolescents. The research question guiding this intervention is the following: Controlling for extraneous factors, such as ethnic background and gender, to what extent does the intervention (independent variable) affect school satisfaction (dependent variable), life satisfaction (dependent variable), and gratitude (dependent variable), among a cohort of culturally diverse adolescents. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) models were generated to establish causality between the intervention and the three dependent variables. A main effect was detected (p<0.05) for each dependent variable. The null hypothesis was rejected. The intervention significantly affected posttest school satisfaction, life satisfaction, and gratitude for the experimental group, when compared to the control group. The results suggest that low-cost, effective interventions, such as the intervention conducted in this study, can be investigated by educational leaders, school psychologists, and leaders of community programs looking to improve mental health, emotional, and behavioral outcomes, among culturally diverse adolescents. This study could inform those seeking interventions targeting academic outcomes and adolescent school dropout.