Positive Psychological Interventions beyond WEIRD contexts: How, when, and why they work

Llewellyn Ellardus van Zyl (Editor), M. Schotanus-Dijkstra (Editor), Susana Llorens (Editor), Jeff Klibert (Editor), Machteld van den Heuvel (Editor), Claude-Helene Mayer (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issueAcademicpeer-review


Positive psychological interventions (PPIs) are criticized for being a Western-, Educated-, Industrialized-, Rich- and Democratic- (WEIRD) enterprise. The term ‘WEIRD enterprise’ reflects the idiosyncratic nature of the populations on which the science and practice of positive psychology is built; and the extent towards which such is then generalized to the entire human population. Traditionally, PPIs are built on the experiences of white, privileged, wealthy and highly educated individuals that resides in the United States (Hendriks et al., 2019). This approach neglects the experiences of the under-privileged, under-represented, and vulnerable groups as well as ignores the cultural embeddedness/origins of the positive states, traits and behaviors that PPIs aim to improve. Yet, PPI designs, -content, and methodologies are presented to be universally relevant and effective. A recent bibliographic analyses showed that despite more than 8000 published randomized control trials on PPIs, only 187 of them were from non-WEIRD contexts. Further, when attempts are made to replicated prominent PPIs in non-WEIRD contexts, they tend to show mixed or non-significant results.

This raises the question: Do PPIs really ‘work’ for those it argues its designed for?

This question roughly translates into a need for understanding “If”, “When”, “How”, and “Why” do PPIs work in non-WEIRD contexts. We therefore call for papers that aims to present theoretical- or empirical based answers to these imperative questions. Our aim is to synthesize cutting edge knowledge on how to enhance the effectiveness of PPI designs, content, dissemination methods, methodologies, and evaluation methods within non-WEIRD contexts. We welcome original research, brief reports, systematic literature reviews, meta-analyses, guidelines and case studies centered around:

(a) IF PPIs Work in non-WEIRD contexts. This implies investigating the effectiveness of traditional PPIs in vulnerable populations, or within cross-cultural or multi-cultural contexts. Further, providing theoretical perspectives that supports or critically evaluates the theories, methods, concepts and constructs underpinning traditional PPIs. Finally, we seek papers that develops and evaluates culturally sensitive PPIs within non-WEIRD clinical, educational, organizational, community and societal contexts.
(b) WHEN do PPIs work in non-WEIRD contexts. Here the focus is on knowing when PPIs work and don’t work. A critical reflection on the methods, intervention content, and cultural contexts are required to understand the conditions under which PPIs can yield positive results. What is required in terms of the development, design, implementation and evaluation of PPIs to ensure sustainable results within non-WEIRD contexts?
(c) HOW do PPIs work in non-WEIRD contexts. This implies a need for understanding the meth-odological factors, and conditions that are required to ensure that PPIs yield desired results. Fur-ther, we have to understand how PPIs affect changes in positive states/traits and behaviors and not just “if” it leads to positive outcomes. Guidelines for enhancing positive states (e.g. positive af-fect; life satisfaction), -traits (e.g. strengths), -cognitions (e.g. hope; optimism) and -behaviors (e.g. pro-social behaviors) of individuals from non-WEIRD contexts are also encouraged.
(d) WHY do PPIs work/ not-work in non-WEIRD context. Here, we seek to develop an understanding as to why PPIs tend to fail or produce mixed results outside of WEIRD contexts. What are the content related, methodological factors or evaluation methods that practitioners/researchers need to consider when designing PPIs for non-traditional contexts?

To be considered for this research topic in Frontiers, we invite potential authors to submit a 300 Word Abstract of their proposed contributions via the Frontiers System before or on the 31st of May 2021. The final manuscripts will be due on the 30th of August 2021 and will be subjected to the normal blind collaborative review process as Frontiers. You are welcome to submit your manuscripts earlier.

Original languageEnglish
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 11 Mar 2021


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