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Broaden-and-Build Model



The broaden-and-build model is a theory put forth by Barbara Fredrickson, a Stanford University Professor, and argues that feeling positive emotions leads to feeling more positive emotions and enhanced creativity, problem-solving skills, and the ability to find solutions. The alternative, negative emotions, lead to reduced problem-solving skills. Negative emotions lead to survival-orientated behaviours that hinder the ability to find solutions. Fredrickson argues that when we feel happy, we are much more likely to feel optimistic and creative, thus building on our happiness levels further.


The broaden-and-build theory emerged from positive psychology in response to fostering positive organisational behaviours (Luthans and Youssef, 2007) that allow individuals to flourish. Consequently, the broaden-and-build theory posits that positive emotions broaden an individual’s ‘thought-action repertoire’ that pave the way for creativity, innovation, taking action and increasing social bonds (Fredrickson, 2003). Individuals can then draw on these resources when needed.


According to Fredrickson (2001), experiencing positive emotions, such as joy, will increase the likelihood of an individual being creative, with other studies showing that positive emotions are linked to greater flexibility of thinking. This has been contrasted with negative emotions that have been shown to limit the person’s repertoire, narrowing their mindsets and hindering their ability to find solutions.


In the face of stress, harnessing positive emotions broadens an individual’s ability to cope (Folkman, 1997), enhances their quality of life (Fredrickson, 1998), and plays a role in fuelling resilience (Fredrickson et al, 2003). It has been linked to faster cardiac recovery from stress (Chapman et al, 2011) and happier and healthier workforces (Isen, 2001). Fostering positive emotions has also been linked to increased life expectancy and undoing the impact of negative emotions both physically and psychologically.

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