Recalculating a Positivity Ratio, and Finding a Metaphor

To the Editor:

The Chronicle recently featured coverage regarding positivity ratios, featuring a new article critical of the nonlinear-dynamic-modeling element of a 2005 paper I published with Marcial Losada (“The Magic Ratio That Wasn’t,” The Chronicle, August 5). In my own renewed consideration of positivity ratios, published as an adjacent response, I accept the authors’ assessment of errors within the nonlinear-dynamic model developed by Mr. Losada, yet I also believe it is important to recognize that considerable theory and evidence point to the continued value of tracking and raising positivity ratios.

Prompted by this new critique, I submitted a correction notice to the 2005 paper with Mr. Losada. In it, I formally withdraw as invalid (with Mr. Losada’s consent) the nonlinear-dynamic modeling element of the paper, and along with it the model-based predictions about the particular positivity ratios of 2.9 and 11.6. Other elements of the original article remain valid and unaffected by this change, most notably the empirical finding—replicated across two independent samples—that positivity ratios were significantly higher for individuals identified as flourishing relative to those identified as nonflourishing.

I was admittedly intrigued when Mr. Losada approached me in 2003 with a nonlinear-dynamic model he believed represented key tenets of my work regarding positive emotions. His model had undergone peer review, so I accepted it as valid. To support our collaboration, I educated myself on nonlinear dynamics, but it’s fair to say I did not attain expert status. When a physicist with this expertise joins the conversation, I certainly have the chance to learn more.

I have long approached my research with a learning orientation. True, it is unpleasant to encounter mistakes in one’s past published work. Such mistakes, however, also represent opportunities to learn. Over the years, my learning orientation has led me to draw on approaches from other disciplines as well as from other sub-disciplines of psychology. Along the way, it has also drawn me to collaborate with those who hold expertise that is complementary to my own. Teamwork like this can push the boundaries of what the science of emotions can offer.

Collaboration remains vital as a way for us scientists to expand the reach of our own knowledge and expertise. Despite some element of risk, the costs of not venturing to push boundaries are far greater. Scientific teamwork requires trust in our co-investigators, as well as in the peer review process. It also requires openness to what we can learn from each other, from our peers, and from our data, both now and into the future. If we maintain transparency in our methods and professionalism in our dialogue, we till the soil for a collective-learning orientation to bear fruit. The privilege of collaborating on studies that advance our understanding of human welfare is what energizes my work.

Science, at its best, is self-correcting. When an area of science becomes popularized—as has positive psychology—the responsibility rests with scientists to make those corrections known more widely as well. To this end, in addition to issuing the aforementioned formal correction to the original scholarly paper, I’ve made my 2013 article, “Updated Thinking on Positivity Ratios,” freely available on the Web site that accompanies my 2009 book, Positivity, which I wrote for a general audience. Future printings of Positivity will also feature a new note to readers that references the current scientific dialogue and urges readers to take Mr. Losada’s contributions, which are limited to Chapter 7, as compelling and useful metaphors, rather than as mathematically precise prescriptions.

My hope is that these efforts will provide practitioners and other interested readers with a balanced scientific perspective on the continued value of tracking and raising positivity ratios.

Barbara L. Fredrickson
Professor of Psychology
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, N.C.

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