heliotropic effect
Kim Cameron explains how people with a positive attitude can live longer. (Photo: Wellbeing 360 screenshot)

Aristotle’s theory of virtue resurfaces in the study of organizational psychology. Kim Cameron, founder of the Center for Positive Organizations at the University of Michigan, wields it in his fight against negative emotions.

The Greek philosopher established that virtue is the balance found between harmful extremes. For example, bravery is a virtuous attribute because it is in the center of a continuum whose extremes are cowardice and recklessness.

More than two thousand years later, Cameron picks up this idea in his psychological proposal geared towards the study of the positive, in contrast with the current psychology inherited from Sigmund Freud, which focuses on the negative.

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Psychology concerned with virtue

“We know that 95% of psychological research is based on the negative side, that of disorders. Depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia are on that side,” said Cameron in one of the virtual talks at the Wellbeing 360 summit.

According to this expert, all companies want to rid themselves of harmful extremes in order to reach the right balance of maximum efficiency. This in turn is akin to the heliotropic effect between the plant kingdom and the king of the sky.

“The heliotropic effect can be shown by putting a plant next to a window. Over time, that plant will lean towards the sun. The definition of this effect is that all living things have a tendency to move towards light and away from darkness, or to move towards positive energy and away from negative energy,” clarified Cameron.

Therefore, the heliotropic effect states that human beings can flourish in the light of positive energy. That is where you can find the necessary virtue for any human organization to grow.

“This is confirmed with positive emotions. People who are in a positive situation, who are compassionate and generous, don’t get sick as often as people who have an angry state of mind,” declared Cameron.

Likewise, he mentioned that psychology has confirmed that people respond based upon their own expectations. When there are positive expectations, people tend to react in a better way.

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Optimistic nuns

According to Cameron, this was demonstrated in a classic study on 678 Catholic nuns living in a convent.

“They found the diaries of these women from when they entered the convent 60 years earlier. They had lived under the same diet, the same regime, and the same environment. Some of them had written positive phrases like, ‘this is the accomplishment of my life’ or ‘I’m very happy to be in this order. It’s a blessing’. Others wrote instead, ‘this is a sacrifice. It’s going to be very difficult, but I’m committed. I’m going to carry on’,” explained Cameron.

Finally, the survival rate was reviewed in samples representative of both groups. Of the 90 nuns in the first group, 70 were alive, whilst of the 90 nuns in the second group, only 30 had not passed away.

“Furthermore, the nuns in the optimistic group lived on average 9 years longer,” remarked Cameron.

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