PSY 180

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PSY 180
Lecture 4
Positive thinking
George Vaillant
• Harvard longitudinal study of 3% of their
students
– All WASPs, males
– Started in the 1930’s
– Most went to war and responded to a
questionnaire asking to describe in own words
the “difficult wartime experiences” he had
encountered
Peterson examined a random
sample…
• Looked at how they explained the causes
of bad events throughout the war
– Scored them for pervasiveness
• Did they see the bad things as indicative of non
changing flaws (possibly in himself too)?
– “I hated the military…” – pessimist
• Did they see the bad things distant from himself
– “I was in danger in the military because I had no specific
task assigned to me” – optimist
What did they find?
• Optimism predicted good health
– Especially around age 40 and 45 (r =.37)
Presidential election results
• The more optimistic candidate won 18/23
times between 1900 and 1988
– Hasn’t predicted any since though- maybe
because elections got word of these studies
and now everyone tries to be optimistic….
The Pollyanna Principle
• In thought, we focus on the positive
Support for the PP
• Table 5.1
– Find a paper or two that goes into a few of
these in detail…
Selective attention to the negative
• When something bad happens or has the
potential to happen, our consciousness
gets directed to it
• Evolution has selected for people with
these attributes
– They will survive more than others
• The default to the positive plays out on a
nonconscious level according to the PP
Optimism
• A mood or attitude associated with an
expectation about the social or material
future- one for which the evaluator regards
as socially desirable, to his or her
advantage or for his or her pleasure
– No objective definition because it depends on
what the individual believes is desirable
History of optimism
• Is it human nature?
– Sophocles and Nietzsche argued that it
prolongs suffering- face reality will ya?
– Freud believed that optimism was all over the
place but leads to the denial of our instinctual
nature and the denial or reality
– Freud argued that religions sold the idea of
optimism
• “God will lead me through life and beyond”
Freud continued
• Optimism led to illusion
– Psychodynamic ideas of Freud argued that a
healthy person needs to see the world as it is
without illusions
• Thus by nature optimists are mentally unhealthy
according to historical thought
• “reality testing” was done to test for psychological
problems
– Must be realistic about the present and the future
– Only modest expectations about the future would count
as realistic
Cognitive theorists
• Began to show that negativity led to
depression and that positivity led to
psychologically healthy people
• Taylor (1989) distinguished from optimism
as an illusion vs optimism as a delusion
– Illusions are responsive to reality
– Delusions are not
Evolutionary optimism
• Maybe when we evolved the ability to think
about the future, we needed something to
counteract the fear and paralysis that
accompanies thinking about death and
mortality
Optimism
• Human nature?
– Evolutionary approaches
• Individual differences
– The idea that everyone varies on the amount
of optimism they have
– We are not all simply evolutionarily optimists
Dispositional optimism
• Global expectation that good things will be
plentiful and bad things scarce
– Based on how people pursue goals
– Aka “self-regulatory model”
– In the face of adversity, do people believe
their goals can still be achieved?
• Measures using the Life Orientation task
(LOT)
– Has been linked to effective coping
Explanatory style
• How one explains the causes of bad events
– External, unstable, and specific causes = optimism
• Related to learned helplessness
• Measured using
– Attributional style questionairre
• Hypothetical events are given, asked the provide the one
major cause
• Causes are then rated on internality, stability, and globility
– Content analysis procedure
• Aka CAVE
• Uses written or spoken records which allows for long term
studies
Optimistic explanatory style
• Related to good outcomes
• One exception
– They underestimate the likelihood of bad
events
• Internality is the weakest linked aspect of
explanatory style
LOT vs ASQ/CAVE
• Correlate strongly
• LOT is more expectations
• CAVE and ASQ are focused on HOW
goals are brought about
– Focus on the process not just the end result
like LOT
Hope
• 2 main aspects
– Agency
• A determination that goals can be achieved
– Pathways
• The belief that successful plans can be made to
reach goals
• Measured by a self-report scale
Little vs Big Optimism
• Little
– Specific expectations in life
– May be due to learning history
– Like the explanatory style
• Big
–
–
–
–
–
Less specific
Could be about the country as a whole
Could be biologically driven
Beneficial because it leads to vigor and resilience
Like hope and dispositional optimism
• Could influence different aspects of health and wellbeing
– Little- onset of injuries and diseases
– Big- trajectory of severe illnesses
Optimism vs pessimism
• Seem to be independent of each other
– Explanatory style for good events and bad events are
independent of each other
• Odd note:
– Optimistic explanatory style is how one responds to
bad events, not good ones
• May involve the perception of bad events happening
• Maybe they are measuring optimism wrong?
– Optimists are currently defined as not depressed, not
failing, not ill
– Why the focus on the absence of bad things?
– Where is the presence of good things?
Typical learned helplessness expmt
• Animals or people that are exposed to aversive
events that they cannot control vs animals or
people that are exposed to aversive events that
they can control vs animals or people that are
not exposed to aversive events
– The last two groups do not differ
– Experience with uncontrollable events provides no
real benefit
• Maybe optimism is the baseline unless there is a reason not
to be optimistic?
If the task gets difficult..
• Then having experience with aversive
stimuli does matter
– Learned hopefulness, learned
industriousness, learned mastery, learned
relevance, learned resourcefulness
Unrealistic optimism
• Most underestimate their risk of
experiencing illness or injury
– May not allow for the individual to properly
prevent or plan for these things
• Seligman proposed the idea of flexible or
complex optimism
– People should be optimistic when the future
can be changed by positive thinking but not
otherwise
Religions and optimism
• Religious texts that were more
conservative were rated as more optimistic
than liberal ones (Seligman 1993)
Parents and optimism
• Explanatory styles of parents and children
converge
• If optimism is lost…?
– Cognitive behavioral therapy
• Seeks to change the thoughts that accompany a
pessimistic explanatory style to combat depression
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