Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 879–889

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Clinical Psychology Review

Charles S. Carver a,⁎, Michael F. Scheier b, Suzanne C. Segerstrom c
a b c

Department of Psychology, University of Miami, Coral Gables, FL 33124-0751, United States Carnegie Mellon University, United States University of Kentucky, United States

a r t i c l e
Keywords: Optimism Subjective well-being Coping Health Personality

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
Optimism is an individual difference variable that reflects the extent to which people hold generalized favorable expectancies for their future. Higher levels of optimism have been related prospectively to better subjective well-being in times of adversity or difficulty (i.e., controlling for previous well-being). Consistent with such findings, optimism has been linked to higher levels of engagement coping and lower levels of avoidance, or disengagement, coping. There is evidence that optimism is associated with taking proactive steps to protect one's health, whereas pessimism is associated with health-damaging behaviors. Consistent with such findings, optimism is also related to indicators of better physical health. The energetic, taskfocused approach that optimists take to goals also relates to benefits in the socioeconomic world. Some evidence suggests that optimism relates to more persistence in educational efforts and to higher later income. Optimists also appear to fare better than pessimists in relationships. Although there are instances in which optimism fails to convey an advantage, and instances in which it may convey a disadvantage, those instances are relatively rare. In sum, the behavioral patterns of optimists appear to provide models of living for others to learn from. © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Contents Theoretical grounding . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1.1. Measurement issues . . . . . . . . . . . 1.2. Further issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Optimism and subjective well-being. . . . . . . 2.1. Medical contexts . . . . . . . . . . . . 2.2. Other settings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. Optimism, pessimism, and coping . . . . . . . . 3.1. Categories of coping . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Fostering and interfering with well-being . . . . 4.1. Optimism and health promotion . . . . . 4.2. Pessimism and health-defeating behaviors 5. Optimism and physical health . . . . . . . . . 6. Optimism and resources . . . . . . . . . . . . 6.1. Optimism and socioeconomic status . . . 6.2. Optimism and social resources . . . . . . 7. Does optimism have any drawbacks? . . . . . . 8. Cultural issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9. Can pessimists become optimists? . . . . . . . 10. Concluding Comment and Future Directions . . . Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 880 880 880 881 881 882 882 882 883 883 883 883 884 884 884 885 886 886 886 887 887

⁎ Corresponding author. Tel.: +1 305 284 2817; fax: +1 305 284 3402. E-mail address: (C.S. Carver). 0272-7358/$ – see front matter © 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.cpr.2010.01.006

Optimists are people who expect good things to happen to them; pessimists are people who expect bad things to happen to them. Folk psychology has long held that these differences among people are

Individual differences in optimism are relevant to clinical psychology because this dimension is associated. In sum. Ellicott. 1. As with most traits. 2006). & Umberson. Put differently.2. Räikkönen. Räikkönen. Scheier et al. 1988. They may stop prematurely. 1994). coping. optimism by definition is inversely related to hopelessness. the outlook for the future may be brighter.. 1998. Carver. we know more about people who are less optimistic than we know about people who are truly pessimists. Indeed.4 year period in a group of middle-age women. In the same way it is also possible to identify people who are pessimists in an absolute sense.. it will”). Carver & Scheier. Stephens. Lucas..S. 1996. Howe. 1985. Dember. it is still substantial.g. ranging from . their states of confidence may shift temporarily downward. & Suh. 1996. Diener. Kawachi & Berkman. People who are confident about eventually reaching an outcome will persevere even in the face of great adversity. Sutton-Tyrrell. If past failures are seen as reflecting unstable causes. 1992). 2006a). because the cause (which is relatively permanent) is likely to remain in force. 1989). The ways in which optimists and pessimists differ in their approach to the world have substantial impact on their lives. Finally.1. This is the measure we have used in our own work on this topic. Optimism and pessimism are broad. Carroll. Indeed.71 across a 10. as people prepare to confront a threat. If past failures are seen as reflecting stable causes. because the cause may no longer be present. For example. This links these ideas to a long history of expectancy-value models of motivation. This approach is reflected in the Life Orientation Test (LOT) and its successor the Life Orientation TestRevised (LOT-R. 2003). 2001. Nonetheless. 2006). e. but this is a verbal convenience. the ability to prepare an elegant meal).. Brown. & Melton. and infer that the attributions ultimately yield expectancies. optimism clusters with other factors such as socioeconomic status and social integration. because they agree with optimistic items (e. Measurement issues There are at least two ways to think about generalized expectancies and how to measure them. the ability to develop a reputation as an exceptional host). and contextual resources that promote better mental health. 1994). Peterson & Seligman. People range from very optimistic to very pessimistic. with risk for psychopathology. which as a group have protective effects for both mental and physical health (House. & Townsend.79 over periods lasting from a few weeks to 3 years (Atienza. 2006). there are also variations in optimism. Finlay-Jones & Brown.58 to . & Keltikangas-Järvinen. Lorant et al. “If something can go wrong for me. Almost never is a line drawn and people placed in one group or the other. they cannot be considered interchangeable. Test–retest reliability has been found to be high even across longer time periods.. the ability to go to a grocery store to obtain food).. They also have implications for the manner in which people cope with stress. that stable attributions for negative events are only modestly associated with measures of generalized expectancies (Ahrens & Haaga. both directly and indirectly. 1992).g. Higgins. 2004. Further issues How stable is a person's level of optimism? Optimism is a trait. 1. both momentto-moment and over extended periods. Hummer.” “I rarely count on good things happening to me” [reversed]) to which people indicate their agreement or disagreement on a multi-point scale (other measures of this trait have also been created with a similar structure. generalized versions of confidence and doubt. the trait of optimism may provide cognitive. Pessimists should be doubtful and hesitant in the same situations. Martin. This rather simple difference—anticipating good versus anticipating bad—is linked to core processes that underlie behavior. or the action may never really start. It is perhaps noteworthy that this study examined the stability of optimism across a period of time of considerable change in the . The expectancy construct has a wide range of applicability. Other evidence points to childhood environment. 2005. Matthews. more failure will be expected. Scheier & Carver. Confidence and doubt can pertain to narrow contexts (e. It consists of a set of statements (e. optimists should tend to be confident and persistent in the face of diverse life challenges (even when progress is difficult or slow). 1990. On the other hand. A different approach to measuring optimism rests on the idea that people's expectancies for the future stem from their interpretations of the past (Peterson & Seligman. Gitlin. 1984). rather than to just a specific context (Scheier & Carver. If people doubt they can reach a goal. 2007). “I'm always optimistic about my future. For instance. Research over the past two and a half decades suggests that the folk wisdom is right (at least in this case).. both social and socioeconomic. This clearly indicates change in this trait for at least some people. to moderately broad contexts (e. and to even broader contexts (e.g.g. Even though this is lower than many personality traits. they are confidence and doubt pertaining to life. Peterson & Vaidya.g. / Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 879–889 important. “In uncertain times. These people differ in how they confront problems. however. Most people are optimistic... at the broadest levels. Theoretical grounding Scientific definitions of optimism and pessimism focus on expectancies for the future. 1993. they also differ in their resources. Some of this stability arises from optimism's stable sources. 1981). the pattern of associations that optimism has with various behavioral and cognitive tendencies may give us broader hints about the nature of optimal living.g. 2001). with most being somewhere between. Landis. Each measurement approach yields a continuous distribution of scores. In line with this reasoning. but to varying degrees (Segerstrom. Scheier.. & Jamison. which are associated with risk for both onset and relapse of psychopathology (e. & Bridges. Further.g. particularly the presence of resources such as parental warmth and financial security. long-term stability in optimism–pessimism is not always high. 1992).. despite the fact that the two measures relate to conceptually similar outcomes.g. The other facet of this motivational model is expectancy—confidence that the goal can be attained. Hammen. 1. It turns out. optimism appears to confer resilience to stressful life events. the greater its value (see Austin & Vancouver. they may withdraw effort toward it. test–retest correlations are relatively high. Carver et al. Optimism's heritability estimate is approximately 25% (Plomin et al. and Kuller (2004) found a test–retest correlation of .. Thus. Expectancy-value theories assume that behavior reflects the pursuit of goals: desired states or actions.. One 10-year test–retest correlation was only . and at both an individual and a social level. & Shepperd. or the element that is more susceptible to therapeutic change. A preference for one approach to assessment versus the other may depend on whether one views attributions or expectancies as the more fundamental or crucial element. it is possible to identify people who are optimistic in an absolute sense. and the literature should be interpreted in this light. 2006). some assess optimism and pessimism as patterns of attributions about the causes of events (e. whether they are basically optimists or pessimists (Sweeny. It is common to refer to optimists and pessimists as though they were distinct categories of people. Doing this reveals that pessimists are a minority.. The more important a given goal is to the person. I usually expect the best”) and disagree with pessimistic items (e. One is to measure them directly. Such differences in how people confront adversity have implications for success in completing goal-directed behavior. a risk factor for depressive disorders (Alloy et al. 1984). asking people whether they expect outcomes in their lives to be good or bad (Scheier & Carver.35 (Segerstrom.g. as a predictor of adult optimism (Heinonen.880 C. Thus. they differ in how well they cope with adversity. Heinonen et al. At the most basic level.

participants reported their optimism.. This study found that the most optimistic participants were the least distressed after a disappointing event. The study focused on people who were unsuccessful (Litt et al. These studies give a better picture of how distress shifts over time and circumstances. It is also of interest that change in that study was mainly in the optimistic direction and was predicted by increases in social resources. a few days after surgery. 1993). 1989). & Pransky. Carver et al. controlling for effects of medical variables and earlier distress. controlling for initial levels. The balance among feelings relates to differences in optimism. Of the initial variables. 2006). and the impact of infertility on their lives. in other studies what matters most was the extent to which people endorse versus reject an optimistic outlook. and this relationship did not change on receipt of a positive biopsy result or after surgery. and outcomes become more uncertain. sadness. That is. There have been cases in which separating those qualities has led to better prediction of outcomes (Marshall. if indeed there are two sides at all. Medical contexts A good deal of the work on optimism and subjective well-being has been done in the context of medical settings.S. One assessed people a month before surgery and eight months afterward (Fitzgerald et al. Affleck. Optimism has also been studied in the context of other health crises. 1987). A similar study by Scheier et al. 1997) but that consequence has by no means been universal. Thus optimism appeared to confer resistance to postpartum depressive symptoms.. Tennen. Shifren & Hooker. the day before surgery. however. 1998. bone marrow transplantation (Curbow. Stewart. others that there are two dimensions (Herzberg. and 12 months later.C. Scheier et al. it remains an important clinical as well as theoretical question. expectancies for fertilization success. 1992). failed attempts at in vitro fertilization (Litt. In this study (Shnek. Yet another context in which effects of optimism have been examined is treatment for ischemic heart disease. Whether one side or the other is more important. and the progression of AIDS (Taylor et al. Women completed the LOT and a depression scale in the last third of their pregnancy. Optimism related to lower depression symptoms at initial assessment and also predicted lower depression postpartum. Optimism and subjective well-being A straightforward influence of optimism and pessimism is on how people feel when they encounter problems. Another medical context in which optimism has been studied is in vitro fertilization. 1993). 2006a). 1992. Optimists had less distress beforehand. and 3. For the sake of simplicity. only optimism predicted follow-up distress (controlling for time-1 distress). They completed the depression scale again three weeks after delivery. fostering and interfering with wellbeing. Tennen. Optimism (at initial assessment) predicted less distress over time. However. cancer (Carver et al. The question of how readily change in optimism can be purposefully induced is also taken up later. 2. 2000). A very early study of optimism and emotional well-being examined the development of depressed feelings after childbirth (Carver & Gaines. Eight weeks beforehand. controlling for initial ratings. physical health. 1995). Hervig. 1992. & Abbey.. MacCallum. & Klock. Wortman. coping. & Hutchinson. distress was measured again. & Hoyer. some holding that a unidimensional view is accurate (Rauch. When confronting difficulty. further contradicting the idea that optimists are more vulnerable to disappointment than pessimists. in that some have argued that interventions should be targeted to address optimistic as well as pessimistic cognition (Riskind. This yields a relatively positive mix of feelings. Two weeks after notification of a negative pregnancy test. In the next sections we describe some ways in which individual differences in optimism versus pessimism. 1992. 1996). An example is treatment for breast cancer (Carver et al. We focus here on this sort of research. that in some studies what mattered most was the extent to which people endorse versus reject a pessimistic outlook. relate to other aspects of life (see also Segerstrom. Brissette. Schweizer. Sarampote.. & Affleck. this issue did not matter at all. and the follow-up came when participants were well engaged in their law practices. Robinson-Whelen. 6. when there is break from prior experience. in this article we treat optimism– pessimism as one dimension. 1993). and (controlling for presurgical life satisfaction) optimists had more life satisfaction after surgery. 2002). anxiety. 1987). even despair (Carver & Scheier. even when things are hard. Kusulas. We will consider the effects of optimism on social and socioeconomic resource accumulation later on. Although it has been suggested that optimism might set people up for disappointment (Schwarzer. Glaesmer. 1987). evidence that optimism is also affected by such resources suggests the possibility of a mutually reinforcing cycle. Several projects have studied people having coronary artery bypass surgery. Shifren. Monahan. 1992). 1992). dealing with subjective well-being. 1994. A final issue that bears mention is that there has been controversy about whether the optimism construct should be seen as one bipolar dimension or whether there are two separable dimensions. & Carver. 1993). (1989) found that optimists retained higher quality of life even up to five years after the surgery. anger. Scheier. Wingard. Somerfield. Optimism about life appeared to lead to a specific optimism about the surgery. Alzheimer's caregivers (Hooker. 1993.. Baker. 1992). and from there to satisfaction with life. needs further empirical clarification. and people dealing with stresses of childbirth (Carver & Gaines. less optimism related to more symptoms of depression shortly after hospitalization. Manifestations of optimism are grouped here into five sections. Thus. Some of the work is cross-sectional.. 2007). people's emotions range from enthusiasm and eagerness to anger. Lower optimism also . & Gilain. 2001). & Mercier. Those studied include students starting college (Aspinwall & Taylor. Optimists expect good outcomes. The jury is still out on that issue. Guichard. survivors of missile attacks (Zeidner & Hammer. a procedure that helps people overcome fertility problems. cancer caregivers (Given et al. Irvine. Patients were assessed before treatment and three months afterward. Perhaps optimism is more changeable during times of life transition. the other pertaining to affirmation of pessimism. Friedman et al. optimism predicted resilience against distress during the full year. measured as expectations for one's future.. Optimists reported higher quality of life before treatment and also after treatment. one pertaining to the affirmation of optimism. & Kiecolt-Glaser. / Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 879–889 881 participants' life circumstances. coronary artery bypass surgery (Fitzgerald. baseline measures occurred when participants were in law school. 1992). & Vickers. and allow researchers to control for initial levels of distress. Tennen. & Legro. It should be kept in mind. Relations between optimism and distress have been examined in a wide range of contexts. showing that lower optimism relates to reports of more distress in some difficult situation. Affleck. 1992). A number of studies aimed at settling the issue have come to different conclusions. Women were interviewed at diagnosis. Pessimists expect bad outcomes. 1993. What those studies cannot show is whether less optimistic people had more distress even prior to the adversity. Stanton and Snider (1993) found that optimism predicted better mood before breast cancer biopsy. 2.. This yields more negative feelings— anxiety. The studies done vary in complexity and what they are able to show.1. The core question seems to be whether the separation of responses to positively worded items from responses to negatively worded items (a pattern that is quite common in measures with that structure) reflects method variance or substantive variance. and depression. distress. In yet other studies. & Moosbrugger. Scheier & Carver. A study of head and neck cancer patients yielded similar results (Allison. and socioeconomic and social resources. Kim. Other studies assess people at multiple time points.

. Higher optimism predicted less distress at the end of the semester. Optimists also focused less on negative aspects of the experience—distress and symptoms. placing as positive a light on it as possible. optimists were responsive to what sort of stressor was being confronted. & Ruland. in the context of well-being. 3. Carver. People who are doubtful try to escape the adversity by wishful thinking.. These responses mediated the relationship between optimism and quality of life a year after diagnosis. denial. several of the studies described earlier. because the differences often remain when controls are included for prior distress. (1989) assessed attentional–cognitive strategies as ways of dealing with the experience. associated with the two subsets of engagement coping responses: those that are problem-focused (e. by becoming closer to their spouse. 1995).1.. 1993) examined how women coped with treatment for breast cancer during the first year after diagnosis.. As would be expected from the expectancy-value viewpoint. Perhaps the best known distinction. Further analyses revealed that the effect of optimism on distress was largely indirect through coping.. The study of failed in vitro fertilization described earlier (Litt et al. 2003). people who are confident about eventual success continue trying. and they sometimes even stop trying. 2003). and coping If optimists experience less distress than pessimists when under adversity. acceptance). Solberg Nes and Segerstrom (2006) crossed these two distinctions. For example.. Optimism predicted more problem-focused coping with controllable stressors (e. in ways that reflect flexible engagement. Skinner et al. 1986. the simple process of late-life aging is a challenge. Another particularly important distinction is between engagement or approach coping—aimed at dealing with the stressor or emotions stemming from it—and disengagement or avoidance coping—aimed at escaping the stressor or emotions stemming from it (e. The greater fighting spirit of optimists (assessed before diagnosis) predicted better quality of life at the oneyear follow-up. Skinner et al. 1984). and many different ways to assess coping (Compas et al. but are less severe. Optimism was positively associated with broad measures of engagement coping.g. starting college is a stressful time. Optimists also were less likely to say they were suppressing thoughts about their symptoms. when controlling for earlier depression and a variety of other variables. 1992. Cognitive avoidance before the biopsy predicted distress afterward among women with positive diagnoses. Pessimism related to escape as a coping response. Caregivers' optimism predicted less depression and less adverse impact of caregiving on their physical health. made very early in the analysis of coping. & Bridges. Relations between optimism and coping also have been examined among cancer patients in several studies. Caregivers are another highly stressed group. Optimism related negatively to disengagement coping. Indeed. then. in turn. pessimism. That is.S. Optimism. Before surgery. they are drawn into temporary distractions that don't help solve the problem. wishful thinking). Other projects have studied coping strategies in specific difficult contexts. In their study of coronary artery bypass surgery. 2010. & Kromhout. 2006). Other studies have targeted events that might be viewed as challenging. Ekeberg. 2006). optimism related to coping that involved accepting the reality of the situation as one that must be dealt with. planning. seeking instrumental support) and those that are emotionfocused (e. and measures of wellbeing were obtained at the end of the semester. Furthermore. Once surgery was past. and to both specific subsets of problem-focused disengagement (e.. 2.882 C. Another study of cancer patients mentioned earlier (Carver et al.. 2003). There are also many ways to categorize these various responses (Carver & ConnorSmith. 1992. 3. Hopelessness/helplessness (reported by pessimists) predicted poorer quality of life.. Both before and after surgery. Brissette et al. A Dutch study of elderly men examined the role of personality at the initial assessment as a predictor of depression across a 15-year follow-up (Giltay.. Categories of coping As reflected in the preceding paragraphs. particularly at postsurgery.g. There was also evidence that the positive impact of optimism on quality of life six months later occurred through the indirect effect of these differences in coping. Shifren & Hooker.. 2001).g. Thus. Skinner et al. Differences in coping that correspond to this picture have been found in a number of studies (for detailed review and meta-analysis see Solberg Nes & Segerstrom. In their meta-analysis of optimism and coping. At least two studies have examined the role of optimism among students adjusting to their first semester (Aspinwall & Taylor. Indeed.. the relationship of optimism to . Similar results have been found among caregiver spouses of Alzheimer's patients (Hooker et al... Carver et al. / Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 879–889 predicted more symptoms of depression at a 1-year follow-up. even when the going is hard. academic demands) and more emotion-focused coping with uncontrollable stressors (e. Optimism was also positively. Scheier et al. Optimists were also more likely than pessimists to report feeling they had benefited from the experience—for example. and pessimists appear to be avoidant copers. and with problem-focused coping. 2005) focused on two coping responses: fighting spirit (confronting the cancer and trying to beat it) and hopelessness/helplessness (feeling a sense of giving up). Conceptually similar results have followed repeatedly. Early studies examined student reports of situational coping responses and general coping styles (e. The ways in which optimists and pessimists differ in coping resemble the differences in broad behavioral tendencies discussed earlier in the article. Roth & Cohen. cognitive restructuring. 2001. 2002).g. confronting people with a variety of circumstances to which people must adjust. Scheier. Folkman & Moskowitz. behavioral disengagement) and emotion-focused disengagement (e. Zitman.g.g. there are many distinct ways to cope.2. The coping responses that were related to optimism and pessimism were also related to distress. This section considers another path to differences in well-being: differences in coping. is between problem-focused coping—aimed at doing something about the stressor itself to blunt its impact—and emotion-focused coping—aimed at soothing distress (Lazarus & Folkman. Optimism predicted significantly lower cumulative incidence of depression symptoms. optimists were more likely than pessimists to report seeking out information about what the physician would require of them in the months ahead. 1992) also examined coping. 1993). optimism predicted active attempts to both change and accommodate to stressful circumstances... led to more distress after the fertilization failure.g. fitting particular coping responses from various studies into the 4 resulting categories. and about equivalently.g. Another study of coping among women under treatment for breast cancer (Schou. also looked at coping. finding that optimists appear generally to be approach copers. One project studied a group of cancer patients and their caregivers (Given et al. Stanton and Snider (1993) found that pessimistic women used more cognitive avoidance in coping with an upcoming biopsy than optimists.. Optimism and other variables were assessed when the students arrived on campus. and trying to relieve the situation with humor. Escape. The pattern for disengagement coping was generally opposite that of engagement coping. trauma). optimists more than pessimists reported making plans for their future and setting goals for recovery. Pessimism related to overt denial (reports of trying to push the reality of the situation away) and to giving-up tendencies at each time point. is it just because they are cheerful people? That apparently is not the full story. 2004. Other settings Medical conditions are not the only sources of stress in which optimism has been studied.

They focus on risks that apply to them and relate to potentially serious health problems (Aspinwall & Brunhart. health-damaging behavior. This section describes a few examples of this type of studies (for broader treatment and meta-analysis see Rasmussen. For example. and to be enrolled in a cardiac rehabilitation program (Scheier & Carver. It might seem paradoxical that people who expect good things to happen take active steps to make sure good things do happen. optimists appear to take action to minimize health risks. 2004). An example is seeking knowledge pertaining to areas of potential risk. Wang. In sum.. by suicide. 1992). Denial (refusing to accept the reality of the situation) means trying to maintain a worldview that is no longer valid. 1987). Maroto. along with emotional distress and fatigue. Yet another study (Park. 5. Lehman. But at least one study found that pessimism was actually a stronger predictor of this act. It should be stressed that acceptance here does not mean giving up.. 1990. There is evidence that resignation to illness may actually hasten death (Greer. Proactive efforts in health promotion have also been examined among patients in a cardiac rehabilitation program (Shepperd. At each assessment. Optimists experienced almost no increase over the three-year period. which is often seen as an escape from problems. Carver et al. Another study of the lifestyles of coronary artery bypass patients five years after surgery found optimists more likely than pessimists to be taking vitamins. 1997) found that. This would resemble problem-focused coping. The general line of thinking underlying this research is that optimists may be less reactive than pessimists to the stresses of life. however. optimists appear to differ from pessimists in stable coping tendencies and in coping responses that emerge when confronting stressful situations (Solberg Nes & Segerstrom. 1996). 1994). 2006). Taylor. 1997). the ultimate disengagement from life (Beck. Pettingale. people who had been treated for alcohol abuse were followed as they entered an aftercare program. intima thickness was measured among middle-aged women at a baseline assessment and at threeyear follow-up (Matthews et al. Pessimism and health-defeating behaviors We have characterized optimists as being persistent in trying to reach goals and pessimists as less persistent and more likely to give up. the end result may be better physical health and even greater longevity. / Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 879–889 883 coping differed far more substantially between engagement and disengagement than between problem focus and emotion focus. & Garrison. But experience presumably teaches people that their own efforts play an important part in many kinds of life outcomes. This suggests that optimists were making efforts to reduce their risk. more avoidance coping. A more recent study examined a different indicator of giving up: the disruption of normal social activities. & Pbert.S. In one study bearing on physical well-being. a sizeable body of evidence indicates that pessimism can lead people into self-defeating patterns. safeguarding their health. In this study. Optimists appear to scan for threats to well-being but save their behavioral responses for threats that are truly meaningful. Kovacs. 1992).g. Fostering and interfering with well-being The concept of coping readily broadens into related content areas. 1996). Carver. giving up is more complete. 4. & Greenhouse. breast cancer patients reported illness-related disruption of social activities after treatment (Carver. & Adler. they are quicker to engage those efforts when there is a need for them. Particularly noteworthy may be the contrast between acceptance and active denial. One study of women with a family history of alcoholism found that pessimists in that group were more likely than optimists to report drinking problems (Ohannessian. The result can be less persistence. There is. By avoiding certain sexual practices (e. giving up may underlie excessive alcohol use. For that reason. Although this article is primarily about psychological health. pessimism predicted more disruption. & Visscher. Steer.. Acceptance may actually serve the purpose of keeping the person goal-engaged. . there may be nothing to sustain life. Pessimists are more vulnerable than optimists to such maladaptive behavior. optimists were less likely to engage in substance abuse during the course of their pregnancies.2. One study of HIV-negative gay men found that optimists reported fewer anonymous sexual partners than pessimists (Taylor et al. Moore. 4. Giving up can be reflected in many ways. Perhaps optimists take active steps to ensure positive outcomes in their future. 1985). Hesselbrock. Optimism predicted success in lowering levels of saturated fat. A simple extension is to what has been called preventive or proactive coping (Aspinwall & Taylor. & Blaney. people develop adaptive parameters within which to live the time that's left to them. processes that promote good health and well-being rather than just reacting to adversity. people reduce risk of infection. Reed. 2003). When confronted with a health threat. & Affleck. eating low-fat foods. If the potential problem is minor. 2002). in fact. except that it is intended to prevent a stressor from arising. body fat. and an index of overall coronary risk. a physical marker of the development of heart disease. Some of these giving-up tendencies have adverse consequences. sex with unknown partners). They do not simply stick their heads in the sand and ignore threats to well-being. One study investigated heart-attack-related knowledge in a group of middleaged adults (Radcliffe & Klein. Some of that research has gone on to examine optimism and physical well-being.C. Turner. 2009). Sometimes. 4. Alcohol dulls awareness of problems. Without confidence about the future. & Antoni. Kemeny. Tennen. 2001). Optimism and physical health The preceding sections on subjective well-being and coping included frequent mention of medical problems. & Haybittle. among pregnant women. much of the research on optimism has been conducted in the domain of health psychology. Acceptance of the reality of the diagnosis has different consequences. In sum. Optimism and health promotion There are many ways in which this might occur. By accepting that life is compromised (but not over). It is often assumed that depression is the best indicator of suicide risk. though. Optimists may be more confident than pessimists that their efforts will be successful. Sometimes people give up not just on specific goals. they are not especially vigilant. Those high in dispositional optimism. Scheier. In sum. there are also reasons to consider the relevance of this trait for physical health.1. Acceptance implies restructuring one's perceptions to come to grips with the situation. Morris. Greater pessimism at the initial assessment predicted increases in intima thickness at follow-up. but on their lives. 1993). and indeed “life-engaged” (Scheier & Carver. evidence of giving-up tendencies among pessimists. and potentially even an impulse to escape from life altogether. pessimism led to a withdrawal from the social activities that are important to a normal life. the lower physiological stress responses may (over many years) result in less physical wear and tear on the body. Another proactive health-related behavior concerns HIV risk. actually knew more about the risk factors than those who were less optimistic. or if it is unlikely to bear on them. Pessimists were more likely to drop out and return to drinking than optimists (Strack. Some might expect that adults who are optimistic would not make much effort to learn about risks related to heart attacks. Carotid intima thickness is an index of atherosclerosis in the carotid artery. Optimism also related to increases in exercise. They attend to risks. but they do so selectively. As is implied by that. In another study.

. . 2004).667 increment in annual income (Segerstrom. Perhaps the most compelling study to date on optimism and cardiovascular disease grew out of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI). (2002) described earlier examined how students coped with the challenge of starting college. morbidity and mortality among women across America. respectively. Slow healers were significantly lower in optimism than fast healers. / Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 879–889 Another project concerning cardiovascular health examined patterns of rehospitalization after coronary artery bypass surgery (Scheier et al. We noted earlier that pessimistic women under treatment for breast cancer were more likely to report withdrawing from their social activities because of their treatment than were more optimistic women (Carver et al. can make it possible for them to translate short-term tendencies toward approach (rather than withdrawal) into long-term resources. (2009). There was a significant positive association between parental indicators of socioeconomic status (SES) in 1980 and adult optimism 21 years later. 2004). optimism was found to have a significant effect on health even in those studies that adjusted for neuroticism and other psychosocial factors. Other research has found. Optimism and socioeconomic status Health psychology and the domain of subjective well-being have probably been the main arenas for studying effects of optimism and pessimism. Heinonen et al. Owens. Sadeghian.2. Why do optimists have better social connections than pessimists? One reason is that optimists are easier to like than pessimists. Hoekstra. It is also the case that socioeconomic resources are linked to the development of optimism over time. One study even found that optimism predicts longer life. the available research suggests that optimism is relevant to biological outcomes. 6. Scheier. dispositional optimism before starting school was associated with a significantly higher probability of returning the second year (Solberg Nes. were less likely to die from CHD-related causes.1. Other research has also found associations between expecting positive outcomes in the future and having broader social networks (MacLeod & Conway.000 women across an 8 year period. suggesting that it is more than the association of optimism with these variables that is producing the effect. The effect of childhood SES on adult level of opimism–pessimism remained significant even when adult SES was controlled. Thus. Individual differences in healing and immunity have also been examined. However. 2003). from a mean item score of 3 to 4) was associated with a $32. In one study. 2003. In a study alluded to earlier.. Dunn & Berridge. 2006b). 1990). In yet another study. their active coping with stressors. The dropout rate for pessimists (about 30%) was roughly twice that for the very optimistic (about 15%).S. differences in physiological reactivity to stress may themselves result in differences in vulnerability to psychological problems. 1994. Among 900 elderly Dutch persons. Thus. which can suppress immune responses so as to conserve energy. Zitman.884 C. Optimism and resources 6. Nickolaus. However.. a poor childhood socioeconomic circumstance breeds pessimism later in life. 2005). 2002). but relations between optimism and physical well-being clearly deserve further study. 6. & Scheier. The evidence on biological outcomes is less consistent than it is for self-reports concerning health (Rasmussen et al. and even their better health. Carver et al. That was a large scale project designed to study changes in and predictors of quality of life. and had lower total mortality due to all causes. The physiological stress responses and physical health outcomes that relate to optimism are important in and of themselves. because social networks are very important to well-being (Taylor. 1999). depression. & Schulz. 1999). optimism predicted a better immune response two weeks later (Kohut. Each mean item increment in optimism at the start of law school (e. men receiving a biopsy were followed throughout the healing process (Ebrecht et al. & Talajic. To sum up. In that metaanalysis. 2007). Interestingly. occupational class. a study by Brissette et al. Flory.. however. (2009) studied over 95. Cooper. however. those reporting a high level of optimism at baseline were less likely to die over the next 10 years (Giltay.. The results were clear and striking. Tindale et al. & Cunnick. myocardial infarction greatly increases the risk for major depressive disorder (Lesperance. neurophysiological substrates of stress such as norepinephrine and corticotrophin releasing hormone have been implicated in anxiety disorders (Brunello et al. dispositional optimism before starting school predicted higher income 10 years later. they also suggest additional pathways by which optimism could influence mental health. In a smaller sample of law students. older adults received an influenza vaccine. and employment status) of a group of children who were either 3 or 6 years of age in 1980. Another study found that actual social interactions with optimistic people are more positive than those with less optimistic people (Räikkönen. this study also made the point that optimists experienced greater increases in their social networks across the first semester of school than did pessimists.g. The need for rehospitalization is quite common in this population. & Segerstrom. immune responses (Segerstrom. 2002. 2005. & Schouten. there is evidence that social networks and optimism may have mutually reinforcing effects: Segerstrom (2007) found that developing larger social networks over a 10-year period was related to increases in optimism over that same period. Russell. rather than higher. This same conclusion is echoed in the recent meta-analysis conducted by Rasmussen et al. Studies have confirmed that people are more accepting of someone who expresses positive expectations for the future and more rejecting of someone who expresses negative expectations (Carver. Evans. across the 8 years of study. (2006) assessed the parental socioeconomic status (an aggregate of education level. Segerstrom (2005. not all research on this trait has had this focus. Geleijnse.. For example. The sample was split into “slow healing” and “fast healing” groups. Kus. for broader treatment of optimism and immunity. this study also found that the effects of optimism were independent of self-esteem. All of the women were free of cancer and cardiovascular disease at study entry. 2004). both for general social networks and also for close relationships. Using WHI participants. In this study. This is a real problem. & Webb. Although there have been few studies of the associations of optimism with socioeconomic resources. and neuroticism. As another example. see Szondy. Beyond subjective well-being. Optimists' tendency toward persistent goal pursuit. & Gump. These children were again assessed 21 years later when they were 24 and 27 years old. Frasure-Smith. 2006). 1996). Helweg-Larsen. optimism predicted significantly less likelihood of rehospitalization and a longer time before it occurred. 2007). pessimism among men who were about to undergo coronary artery bypass surgery predicted reports of higher caregiver burden from their wives 18 months later (Ruiz. Optimism and social resources Optimists are also likely to benefit in the social domain. 2009). The advantage due to optimism ranged from 9% for incident cases of CHD to 30% for CHD-related mortality. Interestingly. 2006b) suggested that the reduction under high challenge may reflect greater behavioral engagement with the challenge. For example. A number of people have by now come to characterize optimism as a positive resource for relationships. Matthews. Matthews. 2009). Optimists were less likely then pessimists to develop coronary heart disease (CHD). optimism related to lower. chronic disease. In a large sample of first-year undergraduates. that under very high challenge. the available evidence points toward correlations with two indicators of socioeconomic status: education and income. In another study.

In sum. Carver. Carver et al. optimists gave up on a task they could not master in order to turn to a similar task that they could perhaps master. This study also examined prediction of relationship status two years later. 2006). although there are relatively few studies of the role of optimism in relationships. & Leventhal. whether the qualities that follow from optimism can potentially lead to problems in certain kinds of contexts. perhaps optimists don't know when to quit. Does the persistence of the optimist prevent that from occurring? One project on this question stemmed from the reasoning that greater persistence should lead to development of greater goal conflict. Trunzo & Pinto. that it is easier for them to find new goals to value and pursue (see also. which can cost large amounts of money and create additional problems in work and relationships. which predicted more positive engagement in the conflict discussion. Participants completed measures of cooperative problem solving. When there was no alternative task to switch to. optimists perceived more supportiveness in their partners than pessimists. 2002. Gibson and Sanbonmatsu (2004) reasoned that gambling is a context in which positive expectancies and persistence might be counterproductive. Duke. / Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 879–889 885 Another contributor to better social relations may derive from the fact that optimists tend to see things in the best light. This was the only part of the study with a gender difference. Evidence from the second study suggested that optimistic people balanced expectancy. Scheier. McGonigal. Men's optimism (but not women's optimism) was a significant predictor of the relationship's survival. to the Western mind at least. women's optimism (but not men's) was a significant predictor of relationship survival. Raters coded the tapes for relationship quality and negative interactions. Wrosch. Two studies (one of them prospective) found that optimism did relate to greater goal conflict. In one condition. 2006). This project (Assad. 1999) examined people's willingness to disengage from tasks on which they were failing (the task actually was impossible). but they were more efficient at managing the conflict. These effects occurred in the individual's own reports. relationship partners first had a conversation in the laboratory about the area of their greatest disagreement. Optimism was associated with better relationship quality. and they display accommodative coping when the adversity simply has to be endured. Brownlee. however. and suggested that this may have made the difference in partner supportiveness more salient and more impactful for the men. both for themselves and for their spouses. Srivastava et al. Scheier. They do report.g. 2006). More positive engagement in the discussion predicted better conflict resolution a week later. They engage in problem-focused coping when there is something to be done. everyone persisted at the impossible task. 7. there was no alternative task to turn to. 2001. Perhaps as a result of these differences in coping.S. & Schulz. 2002). In this case. even when controlling for earlier relationship quality.C. From this was created an index of positive engagement (being a good listener. This might make the optimist more satisfied in the relationship even if things are not perfect. Given the importance of close relationships (Kawachi & Berkman. Perhaps years of practice had led to this greater efficiency. Consider problem gambling. and again there was evidence of partial mediation by perceptions of partner supportiveness. both broadly and in intimate relationships. 2009). this conflict had no adverse psychological consequences. Leventhal. Richards. Indeed. not criticizing. 2006). optimism at time 1 also predicted relationship quality. in other conditions there was an alternative. when goals are percieved to be unattainable. This study controlled for that possibility. In effect. Evidence that optimists perceive greater social support than pessimists also comes from other sources (e. Yet another reason why optimism represents a resource for relationships may be that optimists work harder (or work more effectively) at their relationships. Optimists were committed to more mutually demanding goals. Participants in that research were not people with actual gambling problems. These results parallel associations between optimism and goal disengagement and goal re-engagement reported by others (Rasmussen. a recent study of close relationships found that optimists had higher relationship satisfaction than pessimists. and cost of goal pursuit more effectively than did pessimistic people. That is. & Carver. & Gross. trying to understand the other's point of view). they even outperformed the less optimistic people. Abend & Williamson. Butler. what evidence does exist is consistent in indicating that pessimists have a harder road than do optimists. whereas women have support from multiple sources. Another set of studies asks whether the persistence of optimists can create problems because they fail to recognize what they cannot accomplish. One year later the couples were contacted and were asked about the status of the relationship. & Conger. Indeed. Some have asked. if they had been led to think that the other task measured a somewhat different skill. Wellman. About a third of the couples had broken up by that time. Finally. and with higher levels of cooperative problem solving. Other research (Aspinwall & Richter. this represents yet one more area in which the optimist appears to have the advantage. Among those who were still married. because optimists are easier to like (and thus support). They were also videotaped while discussing diverse aspects of their relationship. Of course. Indeed. they experience less distress when they encounter adversity. When there was another task. This would be consistent with their generally greater engagement with high priority tasks (Geers. . The following associations emerged: Optimism predicted perceptions of greater supportiveness from the partner. Compared to people who are more pessimistic. Optimists had more positive expectations for gambling than did pessimists. quite adaptive. Certainly there are circumstances in which people have to recognize that their goals are lost. These properties sound. just as optimists engage in problem-focused coping when under stress. with less negative interactions. Optimists seem to have the kind of life we all want. and also in the reports of the partners. Does optimism have any drawbacks? The evidence reviewed in the preceding sections suggests that optimists have somehow found the keys to a rich and fulfilling life. they found a variety of worrisome tendencies among optimists. they also have better health-related outcomes and better social connections. Then the couples rated their own behavior and their partner's behavior during that interaction. Uchino. But this pattern suggests the possibility that optimists may be more likely to develop such problems than pessimists. it may be that partners of optimists really are more ready to be supportive than partners of pessimists. (2006) noted that men's social support tends to be more bound up in their partners. More simply. the couples were asked how well the conflict had been resolved by that time.. value. 2007) studied married couples across a 2-year period.. 2003). & Lassiter. 2004). perhaps including things pertaining to their relationships. However. the beneficial effect of optimism on conflict resolution was partially mediated by perceptions of supportiveness and by positive engagement. Even with that control. and that the adaptive course is to turn away from them (Wrosch. A week later. partly because commitment to many goals makes people spread their resources thinner (Segerstrom & Solberg Nes. In a study bearing on this question (Srivastava et al. however. optimists do not find it easier to disengage from those goals than pessimists. Another recent project examined the idea that optimists would have an orientation to relationships that fosters effective problem solving. They cope with stressful situations by remaining engaged in the goals and activities that the stressor is threatening. and that this difference was mediated by perceptions of the relative supportiveness of their partners (Srivastava. Donnellan. optimism related to faster disengagement from the impossible task. and they were less likely to reduce their betting after poor outcomes. however. 2003).

The logic behind these techniques is that people sometimes have patterns of negative cognitive distortions. Other studies have tied optimism to an attentional bias toward positive over negative stimuli (Isaacowitz. Antoni et al. Cultural issues The picture described in the preceding pages has been relative coherent and internally consistent. & Tryon. The multi-modal intervention that they implemented was an effort to instill a range of stress-management techniques. whether domain-specific or generalized.S. A decrease in negative thinking does not necessarily translate into an increase in positive thinking. 2006a). either by intervention or by structured practice. & Hollon. reducing pessimism). We have focused here on changes in generalized optimism. 10. optimists may know that they are already engaging in health protective behaviors. (2001) tested an intervention among women who were newly diagnosed with non-metastatic breast cancer. 1999. and ignore threats. 9. but it should also be apparent that cognitive–behavioral interventions often— perhaps even usually—target beliefs that are domain-specific rather than global. Alternatively. “I don't deserve good outcomes”) and actively engaging in rehearsing positive strategies and positive outcomes. The information on that question is limited. They suggested both the challenging of beliefs that are not only negative but actually “optimismsuppressing” (e. Segerstrom. compared to a control condition. 2005). (1996) argued for the importance of actively developing a positive perspective. An important question is the extent to which the knowledge derived from these studies generalizes to other groups. When people change negative schemas about themselves and the world. South Koreans endorsed pessimism less than European Americans (Chang. but are quick to encode threat-related information when that information is perceived as being useful to them. 2002. Schulman. 1996). There are contexts in which pessimism may follow from demanding too much. Riskind et al. More recently. Chang. & Yang. provided the threat is serious and is relevant to them (Aspinwall & Brunhart. or whether there are moderators that serve to limit the range of the problems. This class of therapies aims to make the cognitions more positive. that it can be unwise to simply substitute an unquestioning optimism for an existing doubt. but a relatively minor element. What a person with this pattern needs is realistic goals. (1996) have suggested one more twist on that reasoning. an Asian American sample endorsed pessimism more than a European American sample. there do appear to be at least some cases in which optimism has drawbacks. These domain-specific beliefs include domain-specific pessimism. Nonetheless. Can pessimists become optimists? Given the many ways in which optimists' lives seem to be better than those of pessimists. Carver et al. 2001). DeRubeis. and so have less need to gather further information about the disease. an important question is whether optimism can be acquired. The most straightforward way to talk about turning a pessimist into an optimist is the set of techniques known collectively as cognitive– behavioral therapies. One difference is that Asians seem to distinguish more sharply than European Americans between affirmation of an optimistic view and rejection of a pessimistic view. Luo and Isaacowitz (2007) found the reverse effect. In one study. / Clinical Psychology Review 30 (2010) 879–889 Yet another set of studies deals with the question of whether optimism causes people to see only what they want to see. and thus relatively stable over time. People's levels of optimism appear to be trait-like. and practice in adopting alternative goals to replace those that cannot be attained (Carver & Scheier.g. 2007). that intervention proved to increase women's optimism scores over time. in one study optimists looked at pictures of skin cancers more briefly than pessimists (Isaacowitz. or when they learn to deal more effectively with stress. Wrosch et al. Riskind et al. It is not clear how circumscribed these cases are. There is no consistent pattern of overall mean differences in optimism between cultures. but questions remain about how large a change can reasonably be expected from a person and how permanent such a change will be. Positive reframing was one element in the broader treatment. These studies also employed multi-modal cognitive– behavioral procedures. Seligman. As noted earlier in the article. that optimists prefer to attend to positively-valenced stimuli. sometimes people demand perfection from themselves. Schulman. aimed at teaching skills to decrease negative automatic thoughts and increase more constructive thoughts and behaviors. and that much less is aimed at actually enhancing positive thoughts (increasing optimism). There also remain questions about whether an optimistic view that is induced. 2005. Thus far. interventions need not have that specific focus to have that effect.886 C. Beliefs about one's future would certainly be an important subset of the cognitions to target for change in such therapies (for an example of this viewpoint applied to optimism see Pretzer & Walsh. and as a result develop doubts about their adequacy. which returns us to the question of whether absence of pessimism is the same as presence of optimism. but there have been some differences in patterns. they noted that much of cognitive therapy is aimed at reducing negative thoughts (in effect. As an example. and that changes in pessimistic style mediated those changes. In sum. change away from domain-specific pessimism should also reverberate back into reduction of more generalized pessimism.. they may gravitate to a more optimistic view of life more generally. Sanna. but so far there have been both differences and similarities (Chang. 2003. that much of what is known about optimism comes from studies of North Americans. We would imagine the interior monologue of the pessimist is filled with such negativity. We should note explicitly. 8. For example. in another study. for example. 2003). Two other studies were conducted by Seligman and colleagues to try to prevent depression among college students at risk for depression (Seligman. however. the evidence suggests that optimism and pessimism relate to quality of life outcomes in the same general way across cultures (Chang. though. This doubtless will remain a topic for future work. That is. 2006a). Exactly how to interpret the aggregated information on this question is not clear. Generally speaking. thereby reducing distress and fostering renewed effort toward desired ends. the key would appear to be to train oneself to think in the ways optimists think and act in the ways optimists act. It is important to recognize. Segerstrom. Expectancies influence how people approach both stressors and . 2003). even in the absence of stress. confidence and doubt can exist at many levels of abstraction. & Sanna.. Both studies found evidence that the intervention reduced the incidence of episodes of moderate depression compared to a control condition. Certain kinds of negative thoughts foster negative affect and lead people to stop trying to reach their goals. Presumably that is why generalized optimism sometimes results from therapies that are not targeted toward change in that trait. Furthermore. optimism is likely to confer benefits in both intrapersonal and interpersonal domains. however. The initial evidence suggested the opposite: that optimists pay closer attention to information about health threats than pessimists. Chang. Specifically. From a cognitive–behavioral view. has the same beneficial effects as derive from a naturally occurring optimistic view. 2009). hardly ever see perfection. Concluding Comment and Future Directions A large and growing literature indicates that people who dispositionally hold positive expectations for the future respond to difficulty and adversity in more adaptive ways than people who hold negative expectations. It may be. Change certainly is possible (see Segerstrom. 2002). mostly of European descent. 2002. This line of inquiry is likely to become more important over time. Although some projects have aimed specifically at increasing optimism.

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