Optimism and Pessimism

Julie K. Norem

in Psychology

ISBN: 9780199828340
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Optimism and Pessimism

More Like This

Show all results sharing these subjects:

  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Health Psychology
  • History and Systems in Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Social Psychology



In psychology, the most commonly used optimism/pessimism construct is dispositional optimism, which is the general tendency to expect positive outcomes, as opposed to dispositional pessimism, which is the general tendency to expect negative outcomes. Dispositional optimism/pessimism refer to broad, stable individual differences that are influenced by interactions between environment and genetics. Early interest in dispositional optimism/pessimism arose from its role in self-regulation models, because our expectations drive our responses during goal pursuit, especially when we encounter obstacles. Dispositional optimism is associated with a wide variety of positive outcomes, including better mental and physical health, motivation, performance, and personal relationships. Dispositional optimists typically show more persistence and approach-focused ways of coping with short- and long-term stressors. There are several other psychological concepts also labeled optimism and pessimism. There is a large research literature on unrealistic optimism, which is sometimes referred to as “comparative” optimism, because it is defined as being more optimistic about one’s own future outcomes than about others’ future outcomes. Unrealistic optimism is positively related to dispositional optimism but often shows different relationships to outcomes. There is also research on defensive pessimism, strategic optimism, hopeless pessimism, and situated (or situation-specific) optimism, as well as related concepts such as hope and illusion of control. Ongoing research investigates the relations among different kinds of optimism/pessimism, the potential independence of optimism and pessimism, and the specific processes by which they influence and are influenced by other constructs. Explanatory or attributional styles, which refer to characteristic ways that people explain events, are often described as optimistic or pessimistic (or referred to as optimism or pessimism). Those with an optimistic style explain negative events in terms of external, variable, and specific causes, while those with a pessimistic style use explanations that focus on internal, stable, and global causes. Dispositional and attributional optimism/pessimism are not strongly correlated, and attributional optimism/pessimism focus on explanations of past events rather than expectations about the future. There is an extensive research literature on attributional optimism, but the multidimensional nature of attributional styles and their weak relationship to other kinds of optimism/pessimism make extensive integration of that work with other optimism research beyond the scope of this article. Thus, there will be some discussion of the construct and its measurement but only a few references to specific research results.

Article.  15476 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Cognitive Psychology ; Developmental Psychology ; Health Psychology ; History and Systems in Psychology ; Educational Psychology ; Social Psychology

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribeRecommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »