Sunday, March 02, 2014

Summary of the "Measurement and Determinants of Well-Being" (ESRC Workshop 1/6, Stirling 21/2/14)

Thanks to all of those who attended on ESRC workshop on “Measurement and Determinants of Well-Being” in Stirling on Friday February 21st. Some notes and suggested readings are below. Since some of these papers are in the working stages we cannot provide full slides for them. Details of future workshops will be provided via the mailing list, the blog and our twitter account.

09.30-10.00: Professor Alex Wood (Stirling Behavioural Science Centre):
Title: "From Aristotle to Big Datasets: Conceptualising and Measuring Well-Being"

Alex Wood started the day by welcoming the audience, introducing the general topic, and presenting an overview about different measures of well-being. In particular, he highlighted two major perspectives on wellbeing, which would re-appear throughout the day in different talks. These two perspectives on wellbeing are the Aristotelian perspective and the Benthamite perspective. 

The Aristotelian perspective suggests that people who live a good and virtuous life are happy.
Happiness, understood in this way, does not have to involve emotions. People could define for themselves what they consider to be the good life and give an evaluation of their life as a whole (as with life satisfaction measures). Or, as Aristotle preferred, we could adopt a culturally shared definition of what the good life entailed and assess whether the person lives according to this. Contrary to this, the Benthamite perspective suggests that happiness can be understood in terms subjective experiences of pleasure ­and pain. In this view, indicators of pleasure and pain (both mathematically represented as "pleasure/pain = intensity * duration") can be used to obtain an overall measure of subjective happiness. 

Alex discussed both views on happiness and gave several examples of situations where the one or the other concepts seemed to suit better. He showed that both views on happiness are related to measures of happiness that are used in current happiness research - for example Subjective Well-being (SWB), positive affect, negative affect, life satisfaction, capabilities, Psychological Well-being (PWB), autonomy, purpose of life, positive relationships, and measures of health. These concepts are either related to the Aristotelian, or the Benthamite perspective. Alex also touched upon public policy issues related to both perspectives (“What should we promote? Good life or good moods?”). Having presented this general overview, Alex presented some insights from his own research on happiness. He showed, for example, that two factors related to SWB and PWB emerge as the best description of the data when conducting a factor analysis on various measures of well-being. Lastly, he presented data on the role of conscientiousness with regard to income changes and unemployment (see #4).

10.00-10.30: Eimear Crowe (Stirling Behavioural Science Centre):
Title: "Measurement of Well-being in Major Depression"

Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) is the leading cause of disability worldwide and a key contributor to the global burden of disease (WHO, 2012). It affects well-being at the moment-to-moment, day-to-day level, and in ways in which healthy individuals may not experience (eg. negative self-cognitions, emotion instability, extreme fatigue and suicidality). Dynamic MDD-specific measures are therefore needed. In order to get an accurate account of well-being in MDD, we need multidimensional measures that are sensitive to the following: (1) The effect of retrospective recall biases and negative cognitive distortions on self-report measures in MDD. (2) How MDD affects well-being in terms of daily, momentary functioning and experience. (3) The specificity of symptom experience in MDD. (4) The diurnal ebb and flow of affect/symptoms in MDD and how these temporal dynamics themselves affect well-being. 

This talk discussed existing methods of well-being measurement in MDD and the limitations of these. It demonstrated the usefulness of state-level, momentary measures such as the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) in elucidating the dynamic nature of the disorder. Finally, the results of a new ESM study which measured diurnal patterns of affect and key MDD symptoms in an Irish sample of severely depressed psychiatric patients was presented. The clinical implications of such intra / inter-day conceptualisations of MDD were discussed; specifically, how they may advance our understanding of depression both in terms of mechanism of action and therapeutic manipulation.

11.00-11.30: Hilda Osafo Hounkpatin (University of Manchester):
Title: "Does it matter how we measure well-being? Implications for the income and happiness literature?" (with Christopher Boyce, Alex Wood and Graham Dunn).

Research on the association between income and well-being has often focussed on subjective well-being measures such as life satisfaction. While life satisfaction has been theoretically and empirically associated with income, we argue that income may not relate to other domains of well-being, such as psychological needs. We explore the association between income and a broad range of subjective and psychological well-being (PWB) measures. 

We find that income is significantly associated with self-reports of life satisfaction and environmental mastery, but not with PWB measures such as personal growth and purpose in life, suggesting that increases in income may not improve overall well-being. These findings highlight the importance of distinguishing between the different well-being domains when examining predictors of well-being and further suggest the need for alternative quality of life indicators besides income. We provide evidence for the use of personality measures as more fitting indicators of well-being as changes in personality measures are associated with changes in a broad range of well-being measures, and more strongly related to well-being than income and demographic factors together. Altogether this research suggests that income is not associated with overall well-being and other indicators such as personality measures may serve as more adequate markers of national progress.

11.30-12.00: Christine O'Farrelly (University College Dublin):
Title: "Investigating the impact of a home visiting programme on self-reported and psychophysiological indices of parental stress" (with Michael Daly, Liam Delaney, Orla Doyle, Nick Fitzpatrick and Judy Lovett).
Note: The Preparing for Life project is described in detail here and the presentation slides are available here

Prolonged exposure to stress and poor well-being can have detrimental effects on health, labour market and social outcomes. Thus identifying effective interventions which can mitigate these negative consequences is a key public health and policy concern. This study examines the impact of an Irish early childhood programme on parental stress and well-being utilising multiple measurement techniques including a self-report standardised measure of parenting stress, an adapted day reconstruction method which charts emotional responses to activities, self-reported life satisfaction and mood, and wrist-mounted ambulatory measurements of electrodermal activity. Utilising multiple measures allows us to elicit treatment effects on positive and negatives aspects of well-being in order to yield a more comprehensive understanding of which dimensions of well-being may be amenable to change through social intervention.

Preparing for Life (PFL) is a five-year home-based intervention which provides disadvantaged families with education and support on child development and parenting through regular mentoring sessions from pregnancy until the child starts school.  The aim of the programme is to improve child outcomes through working with parents directly to improve their personal, parental, and material wellbeing. Research on the impact of similar programmes on parental well-being is inconclusive. However, much of this literature is restricted to self-report measures. This study includes 102 mothers, who were previously randomised to the treatment or control group. Data were collected in a field setting over a 6-month period on the four indicators of parental wellbeing. The results suggest that PFL is having some effect on mothers’ wellbeing, specifically in terms of their positive affect, yet there were no differences between the treatment and control group regarding the overall scores for negative affect, life satisfaction, or parenting stress. Treatment effects were observed for positive affect, mood, and enthusiasm. Analysis of mothers’ electrodermal activity, a physiological marker of emotional arousal, is ongoing. The addition of this data may help to provide further insight on the effectiveness of PFL on maternal wellbeing. The findings of this study could hold important practical applications for those interested in promoting wellbeing.

12.00-12:30: Dr. Michael Daly (Stirling Behavioural Science Centre)
Title: "Nation-level and individual-level associations between money and sense of meaning in life" (with Liam Delaney)

A large body of research suggests that income contributes positively to subjective well-being and that the impact of money on well-being may be greatest amongst the poor. However, recent research has shown that high levels of meaning and purpose exist together in poor countries (Oishi & Diener, in press) leading to the suggestion that improving the economic circumstances of those living in poverty may not improve their sense of meaning and purpose. Drawing on examples of Simpson's paradox we suggest that nation-level correlations between a country's wealth and the average sense of meaning of its residents could be spurious and that the relationship between money and meaning may be reversed when examined at the individual and within-individual level.

To test this idea, we utilize data from the World Values Survey (WVS) (N = 210,089) and the Midlife in the United States (MIDUS) longitudinal study (N = 1,657). We first replicate the negative correlation between nation-level meaning/purpose and GDP per capita first identified by Oishi & Diener (in press) in the Gallup World Poll. Next, we show that the association between household income and meaning and purpose in life is positive at the individual level in WVS. Our test of the robustness of this association found that income at baseline robustly predicted increases in purpose in life over a ten year period in the MIDUS study. These findings were supported by twin-fixed effects analyses. In combination, our findings suggest that the negative nation-level link between country wealth and meaning may be a result of omitted third variables. At the individual-level earning more money appears to predict greater purpose in life and initial evidence suggests this is unlikely to be due to reverse causation, stable genetic factors or the early life childhood family environment. We propose that to resolve this question the association between nation-level within-country changes in wealth and meaning over time must be examined. This would provide a robust test of the money-meaning link that adjusts for stable unobserved differences between countries.

13:30-14:15: Dr. Martin Binder (University of Kassel and University of Sussex)
Title: "Capabilities and Subjective Well-Being".
As a result of the disenchantment with traditional income-based measures of welfare, alternative welfare measures have gained increasing attention in recent years. Two of the most prominent measures of well-being come from subjective well-being research and the (objective) capability approach. Despite their promising features, both approaches have a number of weaknesses when considered on their own. This paper sets out to examine to what extent a fusion between both approaches can overcome the weaknesses of both individual approaches. It uses features of the capability framework to enrich what is basically a subjective well-being perspective. Key drawbacks of normative subjective well- being views can be overcome by focussing welfare assessments on ‘‘Subjective Well-being Capabilities’’, i.e. focussing on the substantive opportunities of individuals to pursue and achieve happiness.

14:15-15:00: Dr. Samantha Dockray (University College Cork)
Title: "Psychobiological correlates of wellbeing; Mix-ups of measurement and meaning"
Note: Slides available here

Positive psychological well-being has been associated with favourable health outcomes, and it is likely that several biological processes mediate the effects of positive mood on physical health.  These biological processes include the activation of the neuroendocrine and autonomic systems, and these systems are often used as direct associates of psychological states, and the system reactivity and recovery are usually presented as explanatory pathways.

Although measures of psychological wellbeing continue to be delineated, the measures of physiological activation used to show differences in positive wellbeing are based on models of stress, distress and psychopathology.  This paper will examine individual differences and intra-individual change in positive wellbeing, and the concomitant and/or consequent physiological activation of the cardiovascular and neuroendocrine systems.  Findings are drawn from several prospective and intervention studies of psychophysiological wellbeing. The summary findings indicate the measurement of the dynamic between physical and psychological wellbeing must consider type as well as intensity of emotion, and examine the usefulness of physiological measures in relation models of positive wellbeing and health outcomes. The results are discussed with reference to models of health, and the potential for health interventions using a positive psychology framework.

15:20-16:05: Professor Suzanne Skevington (University of Manchester)
Title: "What is Quality of Life and Wellbeing? Can we really measure it?"
In recent years there has been debate about whether we can measure quality of life and wellbeing. Professionals and decision-makers in health and social care need good quality outcome measures that can precisely  assess whether treatments and interventions significantly improving life, especially for those with limiting long term conditions. Clinical Consulting Groups now seek suitable measures that can be used to assess their population, but the seemingly interchangeable use of the terms quality of life and wellbeing serves to confuse those who must make these important choices.  

This talk considered some definitions of quality of life and wellbeing with other related issues, and looked at how they have changed recently. Such definitions provide clues to the ways that measures are constructed and used, and by whom. Several measures on wellbeing, were outlined to illustrate these points. The features of a cross-cultural  measure - the WHOQOL - were also discussed. The WHOQOL was developed by a collaboration at the World Health Organisation, and represents the first international generic patient-reported outcomes measure.

16:05-16:35: Anne-Marie Conlong (Performance Unit, Office of The Chief Statistician & Performance, Scottish Government).
Title: "Measuring Well-Being in Scotland: Scotland Performs".
Note: Scotland Performs website 

Anne-Marie Conlong gave an overview about how well-being measures are currently used in the Scottish Government. In particular, she presented the work of “Scotland Performs” which deals with the measurement of well-being at the national level. 

Ms. Conlong talked about the aims of the government to decentralise institutions, give more power to local authorities and abolish departmental silos. She presented the outcomes-based approach that the government has recently put forward. The outcomes-based approach aims to combine all areas in the government to generate a successful country with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish through increased sustained economic growth. 

Ms. Conlong also presented the 16 national outcomes and indicators, and presented the current state of measurement of well-being today. She noted that Joseph Stiglitz has mentioned Scotland Performs as a recent governmental success story and is not far away from the dashboard of indicators that Stiglitz has called for. While being optimistic about recent developments, Anne-Marie also stressed that the situation is far from perfect and that there is room for improvement. For the future, a round table was initiated, which brings together various stakeholders who are interested in improving Scotland Performs. Anne-Marie highlighted four specific topics for future work within Scotland Performs: 1. Parliamentary engagement (disseminating knowledge about the outcomes-based approach), 2. improving indicators and participation (especially environmental indicators, work and wellbeing indicators, and indicators related to the communities in which people live in), 3. presentation and communications around Scotland Performs (e.g., website improvement), and 4. imbedding and impact (how is Scotland Performs imbedded in the Scottish Government). In order to increase the impact and policy making Scotland Performs aims to build up evidence, understand, and identify where Scotland Performs can change policy making and policy thinking. 

16.35 - 17.15: Panel Discussion

The presenters and audience discussed various aspects of the measurement and determinants of well-being. One interesting topic related to an insight of Suzanne Skevington’s presentation which indicated that people's evaluations about what is important for the quality of their lives does not cohere with what actually leads to a high quality of life in the data. The panel discussed whether judgements about what increases quality of life or data about what actually increases quality of life should be used as a basis for policy interventions. This discussion led to the question of whether prescriptive or descriptive forms of well-being should inform (behavioural) policy-making. Libertarian paternalism and nudge-theory were critically discussed as a specific type of policy intervention that aims to support people to lead happier lives. At this point it was noted the Behavioural Science Centre will host a workshop specifically dedicated to the interplay between behavioural science and public policy in June 2015

The panel then discussed whether there is sufficient collaboration between key stakeholders such as NGOs, GPs, charities, and the Government in the context of well-being policy. It was argued that in economics more attention has been devoted to this kind of research since the economic crisis. Although a lot of collaborations between different institutions have started, there is a lot of unknown terrain and the “devil is in the details”. In the Scottish Government, for example, not everybody is at the table yet, but the situation is improving. The final topic discussed was the type of data that is currently used in well-being research. Almost all the data presented during the workshop was self-reported. It was argued that self-reported data is limited because it is difficult to obtain really big datasets that can compete with datasets of objective measures often used in economics. Several instruments that allow obtaining objective measures of well-being were mentioned.

That concludes the summary of the day. Click on our Twitter hashtag #StirBSC to see the day's tweets. Our next ESRC-funded workshop will take place on May 23 on "Increasing the richness and frequency of social science survey data". 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for summarizing the whole debate and sharing it online. As a researcher on wellbeing, I deeply appreciate the effort by the Stirling to keep this blog, organize panels and advance collaborative knowledge building in the field.