A Seminar in Positive Psychology

  • Sanford Lopater


This chapter describes an upper level, undergraduate, writing-intensive seminar in positive psychology. A true seminar format is employed in which the instructor and students share coequally in responsibilities for teaching and learning. This format is most successful when 20 or fewer students are enrolled, and when an uninterrupted 3-h segment of time can be set aside, usually during evening hours. Introductory lecture material reviews the history of positive psychology and sets the stage for subsequent topics and assignments. Correlative chapters in the textbook supplement weekly topical content and discussion. Three films are presented to exemplify various attributes of individuation, personal responsibility, courage, redemption, resilience, perseverance, and the importance of sharing vulnerabilities within the context of relationships. Several movies have been employed; these include, but are not limited to: The Fountainhead, Gandhi, Schindler’s List, Good Will Hunting, The Full Monty, and Rainman. Students write 5–7 page reaction papers for each of the three selected films. At the beginning of the term, each student selects a research paper topic which culminates in a 20-page manuscript. Only primary sources from the literature may be employed. Each student selects two others to read and write 2–3 page critiques of the research paper. Toward the end of the semester, each student prepares and presents a PowerPoint summary of their work, and the two critics present their analyses immediately afterwards. Copies of all research papers and critiques are distributed to all members of the seminar. This seminar format reinforces productive, independent scholarship, critical thinking, assessment of the primary literature, and the preparation of a concise oral presentation. The student is further encouraged to appraise the cinematic arts and contemporary literature through the “lens” of a positive psychological perspective.


Positive psychology Pedagogy Seminar PowerPoint Cinema 


  1. Alexander, M., & Waxman, D. (2000). Cinemeducation: Teaching family systems through the movies. Families, Systems, & Health, 18, 455–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Allport, G. W. (1961). Pattern and growth in personality. New York: Holt.Google Scholar
  3. Aristotle (1976). Ethics. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  4. Casteel, M. A., & Bridges, K. R. (2007). Goodbye lecture: A student-led seminar approach for teaching upper division courses. Teaching of Psychology, 34, 107–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Exley, K., & Dennick, R. (2004). Small group teaching: Tutorials, seminars, and beyond. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Josephs, A. P., & Smithers, A. G. (1975). Personality characteristics of syllabus-bound and syllabus-free sixth-formers. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 45, 29–38.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Maier, N. R. F., & Hoffman, L. R. (1960). Using trained “developmental” discussion leaders to improve further the quality of group decisions. Journal of Applied Psychology, 44, 247–251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Mayer, R. E., & Anderson, R. B. (1992). The instructive animation: Helping students build connections between words and pictures in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84, 444–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Mayer, R. E., & Johnson, C. I. (2008). Revising the redundancy principle in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100, 380–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Peterson, C. (2006). A primer in positive psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000). Positive psychology: An introduction. American Psychologist, 55, 5–14.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410–421.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Taylor, P. (1992). Improving graduate student seminar presentations through training. Teaching of Psychology, 19, 236–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Christopher Newport UniversityNewport NewsUSA

Personalised recommendations