About this sample
About this sample
Words: 1705 |
9 min read
Published: Aug 14, 2023
Words: 1705|Pages: 4|9 min read
The debate of how optimism and pessimism can affect one’s lifestyle has been ongoing for at least the last hundred years. Optimism is described as having a positive outlook towards the future, and pessimism is defined as an attitude that expects the worst. In this essay on optimism and pessimism, before diving into the research, I thought of the topic as very synthetic and overvalued by society. I saw optimism and pessimism as two insignificant elements that have no control over your health. I did not realize of the numerous subcategories and different measurement techniques for them, as well as how they can have a tremendous impact on one’s future. The research methods that have been used to study the topic are mainly case studies of large groups, and surveys to reach a large audience. The latter, however, has been proved to be ineffective and inaccurate, as people do not tend to have an exact sense of their conceptions.
The background of the two types of thinkers is that optimists see setbacks as relatively temporary, whereas pessimists look at them as stable and permanent factors. This results in pessimists giving up much faster, and optimists making and following plans to expunge such failures. The high amount of stress perceived by pessimists leaves them vulnerable to anxiety, low mental and physical health, and even depression. Optimists, on the other hand, have a stronger immune system, higher self-esteem, and more adaptive to heterogeneous environments. A key point to note is that optimistic thinking cannot be done superficially, and needs to come from within.
To better understand the optimism measuring scales, it is necessary to know the different subdivisions of optimism. Optimism is divided into two major categories labelled absolute and comparative optimism. Unrealistic absolute optimism uses defense strategies that completely avoid updating risk information, leaving the person at higher risk. Dispositional and unrealistic comparative optimism make people perceive slightly lower risk, leaving them at a lower chance of a heart attack than pessimists or absolute optimists.
Good incidents are viewed with three distinct characteristics for optimists and pessimists. Optimists will view positive events as permanent, internal, and global. Pessimists will see them as temporary, specific to a certain scenario, and external. An example of how optimists and pessimists think alike in polar scenarios was done in a short experiment in which the same person was interviewed by two people that lied on opposite sides in the Life Orientation Test (LOT). The LOT is an 8 item report to measure expectations of negative and positive results. It has a scale from 0 to 4 (strongly disagree to strongly agree). The overall score ranges from 0 to 32, where a higher score denotes more optimism. The interviewees would talk with a fixed script; they would narrate a negative incident to the optimist, such as how they got kicked out of school for plagiarism, and would tell the pessimist about how they they got a scholarship to Europe because of their good grades (Beck, 1987). A 2 X 2 factorial design was devised, which included the type of thinker (optimistic or pessimistic) and the academic incident (positive or negative). The ratings of likability and thinking styles (which were previously tested) of the interviewers had a significant correlation of of 0.6. In fact, pessimists gave an even lower average rating of the interviewees than the optimists because they misjudged them as arrogant. This controlled experiment depicts how cardinal a role optimism and pessimism play in judging people from a single encounter.
Not only do optimism and pessimism play an importance role in judgement, but also in emotional stability and well-being. In a case study of 63 undergraduate students (29 males and 34 females) enrolled in a management course in a southern United States university, researchers used the LOT and Kochanska's scale to see how different parenting styles affected college students (Schrepferman, & Synder, 2005). The Kochanska’s scale measures parenting styles from permissive to authoritarian by asking questions that students would say describe or do not describe their parents. It was found that there was a correlation of 0.62 between an authoritative mother and father. Students raised by authoritative parents had higher LOT scores, and displayed better psychosocial skills and emotional well-being. The non-restrictive or permissive parenting style resulted in students that were more pessimistic and would give up easily. A point to note is that students whose parents that were too authoritative or negative, made the students more vulnerable to rejection, hostility, and depression.
Despite how specific these research experiments may seem, optimism and pessimism are still qualitative, and no tool can have an exact measure of what someone is feeling. Everyone’s outlook towards a specific thing is going to be different, which creates too many confounding variables despite all the precision implemented. In fact, the limitations on this topic, start from the definitions of optimism and pessimism. They are highly subjective, and can differ every moment based on a subject’s mood, experience, and bias. These experiments are also too specific, and most of the information pulled from them refute the results from other experiments. This is mostly because of what is still unknown about this topic. There are still many unanswered questions; is it possible to not be depressed, but be pessimistic? Do people in bad moods show a lower level of comparative optimism, but are still not pessimistic?
After looking at all the research in the field of optimism and pessimism, I feel as if it is necessary to mildly touch these topics in psychology courses. There are confirmed health benefits of specific ways of thinking, and the more the people know about it, the more likely they will be influenced to think in a comparative optimistic manner. A field experiment was done with 365 participants in 80 Chinese firms to see if there is a relationship between transformational leadership (leadership that causes change to individuals by positivity) and self efficacy or optimism (Nguyen, Mia, Winata, & Chong, 2017). When the employers congratulated employees on good work, or encouraged them to do better if they made a mistake, employees tended to be more social, and had a higher level of self-efficacy, optimism, and efficiency. This goes on to say that optimism is a key factor in learning environments, and will not only boost performance, but also motivation.
As stated before, optimism cannot be superficially produced. However, teachers and employers can work to encourage and motivate students. Simple positive reinforcement techniques such as saying “good job” or giving bonuses will indeed increase socialization and optimism, not to mention provide the countless health benefits of optimistic thinking. There is still ongoing research happening in this field of psychology, but these techniques seem to work on a consistent basis, and using them towards other people could reduce the need to go to psychologists or psychiatrists for medical help. I think that it is necessary for teachers and supervisors to take classes on how to spread comparative optimistic thinking. These classes would help companies in the long run because of the fewer amount of employees that would seek medical attention from the company’s health insurance.
On the biological level, optimists have a much more stable level of cortisol, and pessimists have a much higher level. Optimists also have a proper serotonin and dopamine level in their bodies, compared to their counterparts, who usually lack both neurotransmitters. Supplements such as Rhodiola and Mucuna may increase neurotransmitter levels for some time, but will also have side effects such as addiction. If methods such as transformational leadership can naturally stabilize neurotransmitter levels, then that will stop the need to visit a psychiatrist. Humanistic Psychologists use positivity on a daily basis, and their work should not go unnoticed because of the established results of other experiments. School Psychologists and Industrial-Organizational psychologists also utilize similar methods to help students and workers cope with stress. Not to mention, researchers are regularly trying to find other effective methods to help boost or reduce people’s optimism levels as necessary to avoid health impediments.
The research that I did on this topic gave me an overview of how some of the most unnoticed parts of life can change your life for better or worse. It has made me realize the effects or being positive towards situations. Not that I can consciously change my thinking style, but I can definitely help people become as close to comparative optimists as possible to the best of my ability. This can be done by encouraging people and increasing their self-esteem to become more positive, if they are pessimists, or by shattering someone’s overconfidence by showing them the hidden risks, if they are absolute optimists. There are still many unanswered questions about how optimism and pessimism affect health: What the most influential forces are that mold a certain type of thinker, what other biological changes are present in optimists and pessimists, and what the best alternatives to increase optimism are than medicines.
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Beck, A. T. (1987). Cognitive models of depression. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 1(1), 5-37.
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