Optimistic Explanatory Style

Christopher Peterson and Tracy A. Steen

in The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology

Second edition

Published in print July 2009 | ISBN: 9780195187243
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:
 Optimistic Explanatory Style

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So-called optimism has long given thoughtful people pause because of connotations of naiveté and denial, but optimism has become a more respectable stance, even among the sophisticated. Research has linked optimism to positive mood and good morale, to perseverance and effective problem solving, to achievement in a variety of domains, to popularity, to good health, and even to long life and freedom from trauma. In this chapter, we review what is known about one cognate of optimism—explanatory style, how people habitually explain the causes of events that occur to them. We trace the history of explanatory style research, which originated in studies of learned helplessness and depression as a way to make sense of the range of reactions in the wake of uncontrollable bad events. We focus on the neglected question of the origins of explanatory style, which seem to be multiple. We conclude by addressing issues that need to be considered by positive psychologists doing research on explanatory style. Research still focuses too much on negative outcomes, ignoring the premise of positive psychology that what makes life most worth living needs to be examined in its own right, not simply as the absence of problems.

Keywords: attributional reformulation; explanatory style; learned helplessness; optimism; pessimism

Article.  6046 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology ; Clinical Psychology

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