We’re Too Optimistic About Optimism


Years of exposure to Disney movies and motivational posters have taught you that optimism is the most important key to success.


Well, they’re wrong, according to a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.


In one test, subjects of comparable ability had to take a math test. Some were told they’d likely do well and others were told that they’d likely fail, thus influencing their optimism. A separate set of subjects, “predictors”, had to guess how well the first set of subjects would do, knowing full well that a) they were all about equally as good at math and b) that they were given feedback to influence their optimism. The “predictors” thought that the optimistic people would do well on the test, but no so for the others.


The “predictors” were wrong. How optimistic test subjects were barely influenced their performance, even though the “predictors” expected a significant difference.

The Takeaway

Obviously, optimism can’t create math ability out of nothing. The real finding here is in the people who expected optimism to make such a big difference; we constantly expect optimism to yield great results, but it’s a minor factor at best.



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