Summary of Research: AI Supports Wellbeing

Research from Dr. Barbara Fredrickson on the effects of positive emotions (Positivity, 2009) shows that people are more open as a result of experiencing one or more of these 10 emotions she studied: joy, gratitude, hope, interest, serenity, amusement, pride, awe, love, and inspiration. Dr. Fredrickson found that in the short term, positive feelings lead to an increased awareness of possibilities for navigating issues or situations.

Over a period of time the effect of feeling one or more of these emotions on a regular basis accrues. Dr. Fredrickson found that experiencing positive feelings over time leads to increased resilience, enabling one to “bounce back” more quickly and fully from the effects of negative experiences, and build mental assets. She calls this the “broaden and build theory”. Dr. Fredrickson cited Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as a way to access positive emotions. In the book Positivity, she used an AI Peak Experience style set of questions as the main tool in her toolkit section for how to build positive emotions.

Dr. Martin Seligman, a key researcher in the field of Positive Psychology has confirmed these findings. Dr. Seligman also found that positive emotions are part of an overall formula for wellbeing (Flourish, 2011) along with engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement, leading to the acronym PERMA.

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is an approach that has been used in organizational development for about 25 years and more recently has been applied in coaching. It involves discovering what is working well and what the strengths are in an individual, team or group and applying those to creating and implementing a vision of a future that excites, engages and motivates the individual, team or group. There are 4 stages to an AI approach: 1) identify strengths, assets and wishes 2) identify the dream or vision as an expression of strengths in the future 3) determine plan to realize vision 4) take action toward vision. In the realm of coaching, the AI approach also includes ongoing support for actions toward the vision, involving the whole system as much as possible, handling any internal issues (such as assumptions or objections) in the way of achieving the vision, continuing to learn about and build upon strengths, and sometimes revisiting or refining the vision as new information or opportunities become available.

Dr. Fredrickson as noted above, and Dr. Seligman have stated in their books and lectures that AI engenders positive emotions in participants. Dr. Seligman went further to say that AI also leads to experiences of engagement and meaning in participants (Appreciative Inquiry Conference Keynote Address Orlando, 2007).

Emotional contagion has been studied for many years. Nicholas Christakis (Harvard) and James Fowler (Harvard/UC San Diego), among other researchers, found that emotions are contagious out to several degrees of relationship encompassing entire social networks, such as from and to our friends’, friends’ friends.

The research above supports my appreciative inquiry and positive psychology approach in coaching engagements where the goals are related to infusing positive energy, igniting innovation, building morale, increasing bottom line productivity, connecting employees to what they value about the organization or team, creating a future vision, leveraging strengths, building a team, strategic planning, improving interpersonal relationships, and other related topics.


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