A Meta-Analysis Review: Do Strength-Based Interventions Elicit Positive Behavioral Outcomes?

As we explore more deeply the art and science of executive coaching, it is vital that we stay up-to-date and current with the latest research on what methodologies make executive coaching a powerful and effective force for good. In October 2022, the International Journal of Wellbeing published, “Are character strength-based positive interventions effective for eliciting positive behavioral outcomes? A meta-analytic review.” This meta-analysis examines the effects of “strength-based positive interventions” on measurable behavioral outcomes. Below we discuss the meaning of this meta-analysis and determine how it impacts our coaching practices today.



What is a meta-analysis?

A meta-analysis is a culmination of all current research on a specific topic


According to A B Haidich, a “meta-analysis is a quantitative, formal, epidemiological study design used to systematically assess previous research studies to derive conclusions about that body of research.” (2010) In summary, a meta-analysis is an examination of all the research conducted on a very specific topic. Researchers conducting meta-analysis studies identify their own criteria for what research studies will be included in their analysis and they also outline how they collected research studies (keywords, phrases, databases, and topics).


Benefits of a meta-analysis

Meta-analysis provides a “birds’ eye view” of current research


Meta-analysis provides an overall view of the current body of research regarding a specific topic. By examining a meta-analysis, we get a “bird’s eye view” of the current knowledge regarding a specific topic. In this case, we get to examine the current state of research on strengths-based positive interventions and their effect on behavior. Meta-analysis studies such as these are especially useful when experimental and quantitative studies are not present or in short supply. It is important to note that due to ethical concerns, it can be difficult for researchers to create experimental studies with humans on topics such as well-being and positive/negative behavior.


The goal of this study: do strengths-based positive interventions change behavior for the good?

The goal of this study was to determine if strength-based positive interventions contributed to the development of positive behavioral outcomes. Researchers cite that while strengths-based positive interventions (referred to as SBPIs) are “an increasingly popular approach to behavior change” they “work under the assumption that personal strengths can be used to improve functioning.” Researchers state that this is an “assumption” due to the lack of research done on quantifiable behavioral outcomes. Instead, much research is focused on “affect and well-being” measures, collected from self-report studies. Their primary concern in this study is that SBPIs only contribute to changes in “self-perceptions” and not measurable “behavior change [that] is an essential ingredient in many treatment contexts”.


Methods: how the study was conducted

Using a “lengthy list” of key terms that “could potentially indicate a character strength” such as bravery, character, dignity, fairness, selflessness, teamwork, and self-regulation, researchers used “PsycINFO, Medline, ERIC, clinicaltrials.gov, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials databases” to find research articles from the time the database was published until February 2018. Their initial search “generated 769,202 references.” These references were then filtered through using the following criteria. The study must:

  • Be published in a peer-reviewed venue

  • Must be written in English

  • Focus on at least one character strength

  • Include a “comparison condition. Random assignment was not required”

  • Must have “at least one outcome measure” reflecting a change in behavior, not just “emotional experience or attitude”

  • Have provided “sufficient statistics” to calculate “at least one standardized mean difference between the active and comparison conditions at posttest”


After filtering through the 769,202 references, only 16 articles met all of these criteria. The primary reason for disqualification was the failure to include “behavioral criteria” as a measurable result of SBPIs. Due to the small results, the search was repeated to include research studies from February 2018 to October 2020 (following the same criteria). This second search only resulted in 13 research studies that met all the criteria. Again, the primary cause of disqualification was a failure to include behavioral measures.


With a total of 29 applicable research studies, “two doctoral students independently extracted data from each article” finding 48 analyses “that examined group difference in what was deemed a behavioral outcome at posttest.” The risk of bias was also studied for each of the 29 studies.


Below is a synopsis of the included articles analyses from Table 2 of Bates-Krakoff et al’s research (2022). Click here to download the chart below.


General Statistics and Bias

Research computed statistics using “Comprehensive Meta-Analysis, Version 3.0.” According to their computations, the average length of all included interventions was 8.48 weeks and the average sample size was 229.07. When using the Knapp-Hartung-Sidik-Jonkman method, “the studies on average yielded a small, statistically significant effect size at posttest, g= o.32, 95% CI = [0.19, 0.46], p = .0001. In terms of bias, researchers “most studies were adequately blinded with the majority randomizing appropriately… overall, the results likely did not provide evidence for a substantial amount of methodological bias in these studies, though it should be noted that some of the descriptions were insufficient for judging bias.”


Results

Research indicates that strengths-based positive interventions can be useful interventions for encouraging positive behavioral change, but more research is warranted.


Researchers found that across the 29 included studies “SBPIs had a small, statistically significant effect on behavioral outcomes with a mean effect size of g = 0.32” which is “consistent with results from other meta-analyses.” However, due to the small amount of research available, researchers also state that there is “currently insufficient basis for drawing firm conclusions regarding when, and for whom, SBPIs may be the most appropriate behavior change techniques.” They add that “research has consistently supported interventions that focus on strengths as contributors to well-being, and counseling psychologists, clinical psychologists, school psychologists, and coaching all value enhancing the sense of well-being in the populations with which they work.” They close by stating that their meta-analysis “should encourage…professionals to further explore the benefits of SBPIs on behavioral outcomes.”


What does this mean for executive coaches today?

This research indicates that using a strengths-based positive intervention approach to coaching can increase positive behavioral change in coaching clients. However, it is important to continue developing other methodologies within your coaching practice, due to the lack of research that relates strengths-based positive interventions (SBIPs) directly to behavioral change. It is important to note that positive psychology and general strengths-based coaching interventions have been shown to increase levels of well-being, further encouraging the use of SBPIs in coaching (Grant et al., 2009). While more research needs to be done specifically on the connection between SBPIs and positive behavioral change, it is a promising form of coaching methodology with current research indicating a potential for client benefit.


Questions for coaches to consider

  • When coaching, do you focus on your clients’ strengths or weaknesses? What might happen if you focus on their strengths?

  • How might you increase your clients’ focus on their own strengths?

  • Are you more encouraged to act based on a discussion on your strengths or a discussion on your shortcomings?

  • How do you help clients determine their strengths? What tools might you start implementing to do so?

References

Abbott, J. A., Klein, B., Hamilton, C., & Rosenthal, A. J. (2009, June 15). The impact of online resilience training for sales managers on wellbeing and performance. E-Journal of Applied Psychology, 5(1), 89–95. https://doi.org/10.7790/ejap.v5i1.145.


Akhtar, M., & Boniwell, I. (2010, January 1). Applying positive psychology to alcohol-misusing adolescents. Groupwork, 20(3), 6–31. https://doi.org/10.1921/095182410x576831.


Annesi, J. (2019, September). Effects of exercise self-regulation on subsequent eating self-regulation: Implications for depletion vs. improvement based on behavioral treatment foci. European Review of Applied Psychology, 69(4), 100472. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.erap.2019.100472.


Armenta, C. N., Fritz, M. M., Walsh, L. C., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2022, August). Satisfied yet striving: Gratitude fosters life satisfaction and improvement motivation in youth. Emotion, 22(5), 1004–1016. https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000896.


Bagès, C., Hoareau, N., & Guerrien, A. (2020, September 6). Play to Reduce Bullying! Role-Playing Games Are a Useful Tool for Therapists and Teachers. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 35(4), 631–641. https://doi.org/10.1080/02568543.2020.1810834.


Bates-Krakoff, J., Parente, A., McGrath, R., Rashid, T., & Niemiec, R. M. (2022a, October 1). Are character strength-based positive interventions effective for eliciting positive behavioral outcomes? A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Wellbeing, 12(3), 56–80. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v12i3.2111.


Bates-Krakoff, J., Parente, A., McGrath, R., Rashid, T., & Niemiec, R. M. (2022b, October 1). Are character strength-based positive interventions effective for eliciting positive behavioral outcomes? A meta-analytic review. International Journal of Wellbeing, 12(3), 56–80. https://doi.org/10.5502/ijw.v12i3.2111.


Engbretson, A. M., Poehlmann-Tynan, J. A., Zahn-Waxler, C. J., Vigna, A. J., Gerstein, E. D., & Raison, C. L. (2020, September 12). Effects of Cognitively-Based Compassion Training on Parenting Interactions and Children’s Empathy. Mindfulness, 11(12), 2841–2852. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01495-3.


Frie, K., Hartmann‐Boyce, J., Jebb, S. A., & Aveyard, P. (2020, June 2). Effectiveness of a self‐regulation intervention for weight loss: A randomized controlled trial. British Journal of Health Psychology, 25(3), 652–676. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjhp.12436.


Grant, A. M., Curtayne, L., & Burton, G. (2009, September). Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience and workplace well-being: a randomised controlled study. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 4(5), 396–407. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760902992456.


Haidich, A. B. (2010, December). Meta-analysis in medical research. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved October 20, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3049418/.


Kadir, M. S., Yeung, A. S., Ryan, R. M., Forbes, A., & Diallo, T. M. O. (2018, September 19). Effects of a Dual-Approach Instruction on Students’ Science Achievement and Motivation. Educational Psychology Review, 32(2), 571–602. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-018-9449-3.


Littman-Ovadia, H., Lazar-Butbul, V., & Benjamin, B. A. (2013, July 30). Strengths-Based Career Counseling. Journal of Career Assessment, 22(3), 403–419. https://doi.org/10.1177/1069072713498483.


Maratos, F. A., & Sheffield, D. (2020, September 3). Brief Compassion-Focused Imagery Dampens Physiological Pain Responses. Mindfulness, 11(12), 2730–2740. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-020-01485-5.


McGonagle, A. K., Schwab, L., Yahanda, N., Duskey, H., Gertz, N., Prior, L., Roy, M., & Kriegel, G. (2020, October). Coaching for primary care physician well-being: A randomized trial and follow-up analysis. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 25(5), 297–314. https://doi.org/10.1037/ocp0000180.


Mitchell, J., Stanimirovic, R., Klein, B., & Vella-Brodrick, D. (2009, May). A randomised controlled trial of a self-guided internet intervention promoting well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 25(3), 749–760. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2009.02.003.


Mori, A., & Cigala, A. (2018, October 30). ‘Putting oneself in someone else’s shoes during childhood: How to learn it’ Training for preschool age children. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(4), 750–766. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12255.


Ouweneel, E., Le Blanc, P. M., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2013a, May 17). Do‐it‐yourself. Career Development International, 18(2), 173–195. https://doi.org/10.1108/cdi-10-2012-0102.


Ouweneel, E., Le Blanc, P. M., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2013b, November 8). On Being Grateful and Kind: Results of Two Randomized Controlled Trials on Study-Related Emotions and Academic Engagement. The Journal of Psychology, 148(1), 37–60. https://doi.org/10.1080/00223980.2012.742854.


Pang, D., & Ruch, W. (2019, February). Fusing character strengths and mindfulness interventions: Benefits for job satisfaction and performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 24(1), 150–162. https://doi.org/10.1037/ocp0000144.


Peters, M. L., Smeets, E., Feijge, M., van Breukelen, G., Andersson, G., Buhrman, M., & Linton, S. J. (2017, November). Happy Despite Pain. The Clinical Journal of Pain, 33(11), 962–975. https://doi.org/10.1097/ajp.0000000000000494.


Quinlan, D. M., Swain, N., Cameron, C., & Vella-Brodrick, D. A. (2014, May 29). How ‘other people matter’ in a classroom-based strengths intervention: Exploring interpersonal strategies and classroom outcomes. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 10(1), 77–89. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439760.2014.920407.


Rolo, C., & Gould, D. (2007). An intervention for fostering hope, athletic and academic performance in university student-athletes. International Coaching Psychology Review, 2(1), 44–61. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2007-19807-006.


Roth, R. A., Suldo, S. M., & Ferron, J. M. (2017, March). Improving Middle School Students’ Subjective Well-Being: Efficacy of a Multicomponent Positive Psychology Intervention Targeting Small Groups of Youth. School Psychology Review, 46(1), 21–41. https://doi.org/10.17105/10.17105/spr46-1.21-41.


Sergeant, S., & Mongrain, M. (2014, April). An online optimism intervention reduces depression in pessimistic individuals. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82(2), 263–274. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035536.


Shoshani, A., & Slone, M. (2017, October 26). Positive Education for Young Children: Effects of a Positive Psychology Intervention for Preschool Children on Subjective Well Being and Learning Behaviors. Frontiers in Psychology, 8. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01866.


Shoshani, A., Steinmetz, S., & Kanat-Maymon, Y. (2016, August). Effects of the Maytiv positive psychology school program on early adolescents’ well-being, engagement, and achievement. Journal of School Psychology, 57, 73–92. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsp.2016.05.003.


Style, C., & Boniwell, I. (2010, January 1). The effect of group-based life coaching on happiness and well-being. Groupwork, 20(3), 51–72. https://doi.org/10.1921/095182410x576859.


Timmons, L., & Ekas, N. V. (2018, May). Giving thanks: Findings from a gratitude intervention with mothers of children with autism spectrum disorder. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 49, 13–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.rasd.2018.01.008.


Walker, J. V., & Lampropoulos, G. K. (2014). A comparison of self-help (homework) activities for mood enhancement: Results from a brief randomized controlled trial. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 24(1), 46–64. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036145.


Wingert, J. R., Jones, J. C., Swoap, R. A., & Wingert, H. M. (2020, May 20). Mindfulness-based strengths practice improves well-being and retention in undergraduates: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. Journal of American College Health, 70(3), 783–790. https://doi.org/10.1080/07448481.2020.1764005.


Wittleder, S., Kappes, A., Oettingen, G., Gollwitzer, P. M., Jay, M., & Morgenstern, J. (2019, March 5). Mental Contrasting With Implementation Intentions Reduces Drinking When Drinking Is Hazardous: An Online Self-Regulation Intervention. Health Education &Amp; Behavior, 46(4), 666–676. https://doi.org/10.1177/1090198119826284.


Copyright © 2022 by Arete Coach LLC. All rights reserved.