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Martin Seligman

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Title: Martin Seligman  
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Subject: Positive psychology, Character Strengths and Virtues, Gumption trap, Aaron T. Beck, Psychotherapy
Collection: 1942 Births, American Bridge Players, American Jews, American Psychologists, American Self-Help Writers, Animal Testing, Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellows of the Society of Experimental Psychologists, Guggenheim Fellows, Living People, Positive Psychologists, Positive Psychology, Presidents of the American Psychological Association, Princeton University Alumni, Social Psychologists, University of Pennsylvania Alumni, University of Pennsylvania Faculty
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Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman
Born (1942-08-12) August 12, 1942
Albany, New York
Other names Marty
Fields Psychology
Institutions University of Pennsylvania (Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology)
Alma mater Princeton University (A.B.)
University of Pennsylvania (Ph.D.)
Known for Positive psychology
Learned helplessness

Martin E. P. "Marty" Seligman (born August 12, 1942) is an American psychologist, educator, and author of self-help books. Since the late 90's, Seligman has been an avid promoter within the scientific community for the field of positive psychology.[1] His theory of learned helplessness is popular among scientific and clinical psychologists.[2] A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Seligman as the 31st most cited psychologist of the 20th century.[3]

Seligman is controversial in the psychology field because his studies have been used repeatedly by the US Army as the cornerstone of their torture practices in Iraq.[4]

Seligman is the Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Psychology. He was previously the Director of the Clinical Training Program in the department. He is the director of the university's Positive Psychology Center.[1] Seligman was elected President of the American Psychological Association for 1998.[5] He is the founding editor-in-chief of Prevention and Treatment Magazine (the APA electronic journal) and is on the board of advisers of Parents magazine.

Seligman has written about positive psychology topics in books such as The Optimistic Child, Child's Play, Learned Optimism, and Authentic Happiness. His most recent book, Flourish, was published in 2011.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Learned helplessness 2
  • Positive psychology 3
    • PERMA 3.1
    • MAPP program 3.2
  • Personal life 4
  • Publications 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life and education

Seligman was born in Albany, New York. He was educated at a public school and at The Albany Academy. He earned a bachelor's degree in philosophy at Princeton University in 1964, graduating Summa Cum Laude. During his senior year, Seligman had to choose between three offers from various universities. They included a scholarship to study analytic philosophy at Oxford University, animal experimental psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and finally an offer to join Penn's bridge team. Seligman chose to attend the University of Pennsylvania to study psychology.[6] He earned his Ph.D. in psychology at University of Pennsylvania in 1967.

Learned helplessness

Seligman's foundational experiments and theory of "learned helplessness" began at University of Pennsylvania in 1967, as an extension of his interest in depression. Quite by accident, Seligman and colleagues discovered that the conditioning of dogs led to outcomes that were opposite to the predictions of B.F. Skinner's behaviorism, then a leading psychological theory.[7]

Seligman came under fire for providing the CIA with information on effective torture techniques based on his electrocution of dogs in the learned helplessness study and providing the underlying psychological justification for CIA torture practices. [8]

Seligman's learned helplessness experiments have also been criticized for their deliberate mistreatment of animals, specifically for inflicting electrical shocks upon dogs at random intervals, until the dogs reached a helpless state in which they did not escape the shocks even when given the opportunity to do so.[9] It has been asserted that under current ethical standards for humane treatment of animals, the learned helplessness experiments could not be performed today.[10]

Seligman developed the theory further, finding learned helplessness to be a psychological condition in which a human being or an animal has learned to act or behave helplessly in a particular situation — usually after experiencing some inability to avoid an adverse situation — even when it actually has the power to change its unpleasant or even harmful circumstance. Seligman saw a similarity with severely depressed patients, and argued that clinical depression and related mental illnesses result in part from a perceived absence of control over the outcome of a situation.[11] In later years, alongside Abramson, Seligman reformulated his theory of learned helplessness to include attributional style.[12]

According to author Jane Mayer,[13] Seligman gave a talk at the Navy SERE school in San Diego in 2002, which he said was a three-hour talk on helping US soldiers to resist torture, based on his understanding of learned helplessness.

Positive psychology

Seligman worked with

Educational offices
Preceded by
Norman Abeles
107th President of the American Psychological Association
Succeeded by
Richard Suinn
  • Authentic Happiness, Seligman's homepage at University of Pennsylvania
  • "Eudaemonia, the Good Life: A Talk with Martin Seligman", an article wherein Seligman speaks extensively on the topic of eudaemonia
  • "The Positive Psychology Center", a website devoted to positive psychology. Martin Seligman is director of the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Program description for Master of Applied Positive Psychology degree established by Seligman
  • Martin E. P. Seligman's curriculum vitae at the University of Pennsylvania
  • TED Talk: Why is psychology good?
  • University of Pennsylvania's page on MAPP program

External links

  1. ^ a b Positive Psychology Center, University of Pennsylvania.
  2. ^ Bower, Gordon H. (1981). The psychology of learning and motivation: advances in research and theory. Academic Press, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. p. 30.   "The most popular theoretical interpretation of the learned helplessness phenomenon to date is that of Seligman (1975) and Maier and Seligman (1976)."
  3. ^ Haggbloom, Steven J.; Warnick, Jason E.; Jones, Vinessa K.; Yarbrough, Gary L.; Russell, Tenea M.; Borecky, Chris M.; McGahhey, Reagan; et al. (2002). "The 100 most eminent psychologists of the 20th century". Review of General Psychology 6 (2): 139–152.  
  4. ^ "Trying to Cure Depression, but Inspiring Torture". The New Yorker. Retrieved 2015-10-17. 
  5. ^ List of APA Presidents
  6. ^
  7. ^ Seligman, M.E.P.; Maier, S.F. (1967). "Failure to escape traumatic shock". Journal of Experimental Psychology 74 (1): 1–9.  
  8. ^ "Meet the Psychologists Who Helped the CIA Torture". Science of Us. Retrieved 2015-10-17. 
  9. ^ Bekoff, Marc (5 January 2012). "Drowning Rats and Human Depression: Positive Psychology for Whom?". Psychology Today. 
  10. ^ Danko, Meredith (20 September 2013). "10 Famous Psychological Experiments That Could Never Happen Today". mental_floss. 
  11. ^ Seligman, M.E.P. (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman.  
  12. ^ Abramson, L.Y.; Seligman, M.E.P.; Teasdale, JD (1978). "Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation". Journal of Abnormal Psychology 87 (1): 49–74.  
  13. ^ Horton, Scott (14 July 2008). "Six Questions for Jane Mayer, Author of The Dark Side".  
  14. ^ Linley, P.A.; Maltby, J.; Wood, A.M.; Joseph, S.; Harrington, S.; Peterson, C.; Park, N.; Seligman, M.E.P. (2007). "Character strengths in the United Kingdom: The VIA Inventory of strengths" (PDF). Personality and Individual Differences 43 (2): 341–351.  
  15. ^ "Army's "Spiritual Fitness" Test Comes Under Fire". Retrieved 2015-10-17. 
  16. ^ a b Seligman, Martin (2011). Flourish. New York: Free Press. pp. 16–20.  
  17. ^ "MAPP program". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  18. ^ Francis, Henry G., Editor-in-Chief;  
  19. ^ Burling, Stacey (30 May 2010). "The power of a positive thinker". The Inquirer - Interstate General Media. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  20. ^ Hirtz, Rob (January 1999). "Martin Seligman's Journey: from Learned Helplessness to Learned Happiness". The Pennsylvania Gazette. The University of Pennsylvania. 


  • — (1975). Helplessness: On Depression, Development, and Death. San Francisco: W.H. Freeman. (Paperback reprint edition, W.H. Freeman, 1992, ISBN 0-7167-2328-X)  
  • — (1991). Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. New York: Knopf. (Paperback reprint edition, Penguin Books, 1998; reissue edition, Free Press, 1998)  
  • — (1993). What You Can Change and What You Can't: The Complete Guide to Successful Self-Improvement. New York: Knopf. (Paperback reprint edition, Ballantine Books, 1995, ISBN 0-449-90971-9)  
  • — (1996). The Optimistic Child: Proven Program to Safeguard Children from Depression & Build Lifelong Resilience. New York: Houghton Mifflin. (Paperback edition, Harper Paperbacks, 1996, ISBN 0-06-097709-4)  
  • — (2002). Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press. (Paperback edition, Free Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7432-2298-9)  
  • — (Spring 2004). "Can Happiness be Taught?".  
  • — (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.  


Seligman was inspired by the work of the psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck at the University of Pennsylvania in refining his own cognitive techniques and exercises.[20]

He has seven children, four grandchildren, and two dogs. Seligman and his second wife, Mandy, live in a house that was once occupied by Eugene Ormandy. They have home-schooled five of their seven children, and they are still currently home-schooling one. [19]

He plays bridge, and finished second in one of the three major North American pair championships, the Blue Ribbon Pairs (1998), and has won over 50 regional championships.[18]

Personal life

The Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania was established under the leadership of Seligman as the first educational initiative of the Positive Psychology Center in 2003.[17]

MAPP program

These theories have not been empirically validated.

  1. It contributes to well-being.
  2. Many people pursue it for its own sake, not merely to get any of the other elements.
  3. It is defined and measured independently of the other elements.

"Each element of well-being must itself have three properties to count as an element:

From Martin Seligmans book:

  • Positive emotion — Can only be assessed subjectively
  • Engagement — Like positive emotion, can only be measured through subjective means. It is presence of a flow state
  • Relationships — The presence of friends, family, intimacy, or social connection
  • Meaning — Belonging to and serving something bigger than one's self
  • Achievement — Accomplishment that is pursued even when it brings no positive emotion, no meaning, and nothing in the way of positive relationships.

In his latest book, Flourish, Seligman articulated an account of how he measures well-being, and titled this work, "Well-Being Theory".[16] He concludes that there are five elements to "well-being", which fall under the mnemonic PERMA:[16]


In July 2011, Seligman encouraged British Prime Minister David Cameron to look into well-being as well as financial wealth in ways of assessing the prosperity of a nation. On July 6, 2011, Seligman appeared on Newsnight and was interviewed by Jeremy Paxman about his ideas and his interest in the concept of well-being.

Similar to criticism received in the learned helplessness study, Seligman was the center of controversy when his 'learned optimism' theory was used as a cornerstone of resilience training in the US Army. This training may have led to US soldiers committing violence against Iraqi civilians during the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. [15]

The authors do not believe that there is a hierarchy for the six virtues; no one is more fundamental than or a precursor to the others. [14]

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