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The proper APA Style reference for this manuscript is:
O`DELL, L. M. (2000). Optimism and Its Effects on Depression. National Undergraduate Research Clearinghouse, 3. Available online at http://www.webclearinghouse.net/volume/. Retrieved September 25, 2023 .

Optimism and Its Effects on Depression
Missouri Western State University DEPARTMENT OF

Sponsored by: PHIL WANN (wann@missouriwestern.edu)
The effects of optimism on depression were examined. One group received a lecture on optimism and explanatory styles. The other group only filled out some questionnaires. I hypothesized that optimists are less vulnerable to depression as measured by the Beck Depression Inventory. There was no significant difference, as measured by the depression scores, between the experimental group and the control group.

What do you see when you look at a glass that is filled half way? Is it half full or half empty? An optimist would be likely to say that it is half full while a pessimist would be more inclined to say that it is half empty. Martin Seligman (1998) defines an optimist as someone who believes defeat is only a temporary setback. Optimists believe that defeat is due to bad luck and circumstances that are not their fault. They may believe that other people are responsible rather than themselves. When confronted by a bad situation, they see it as a challenge and try harder. Seligman characterizes a pessimist as someone who believes that bad events will last a long time. Pessimists undermine everything that they do, and think that everything is their own fault. There are many benefits associated with optimism such as health, the amount of stress that is experienced, immune changes, and mood When optimists do experience depression, they are more likely to deal with the depression better, or get over it faster, than a pessimist might. An optimist has more positive life outcomes than a pessimist. Some benefits of being an optimist include recovering from illnesses quicker and improved quality of life. Optimists are also known to possess better mental health than a pessimist might. Pessimists tend to give up more easily and are also associated with getting depressed and staying depressed more often. In Seligman`s book, Learned Optimism (1993), he says that depression is the ultimate expression of pessimists. The World Health Organization says that depression will be the first epidemic of the new Millennium. The organization also said that the cost of this disease is anticipated to hit $53 billion annually in the U.S. alone by the year 2020, (Abramson, Alloy, 1998). I decided to study the effects that optimism had on depression. People who have a positive outlook, optimists, are less likely to experience depression as frequently as a person who has a negative outlook, a pessimist. The main research tool used to measure optimism is called "explanatory style." Our explanatory style develops in childhood and lasts throughout our lifetime. In Seligman`s book, The Optimistic Child (1993), he defines explanatory style as the way that people explain the good and bad events that occur in their lives. There are three different components used to explain these events; permanence, pervasiveness, and personalization. Permanence refers to whether or not an event is permanent or short-lived. Seligman says that children who believe that the bad events that happen to them are permanent are most at risk for depression. Children who are more resilient and "bounce back" believe that the events are more short-lived and won`t last. Pervasiveness refers to how many areas of a person`s life the event (good or bad) will effect. Children are considered global if they generalize their problems to other areas of their life, whether the events they are generalizing are good or bad events. Children are considered specific if they don`t generalize the event that occurred, they keep it localized, not allowing if to effect other areas of their life. The last component is personalization. This deals with internal explanatory style versus external explanatory style. If someone has an internal explanatory style they will blame themselves when something goes wrong. If someone uses an external explanatory style they will blame other people or circumstances for the events that occur in their life. Alloy and Abramson did a study at Temple University and the University of Wisconsin using freshmen. They followed 173 optimists and 176 pessimists. They found that 17% of the pessimists succumbed to a major depression contrasted with 6% of optimists who developed minor depression. The researchers in this study also said that depression is a disorder that is repetitive and it has a tendency to happen to the same people over and over again. They wanted to study whether optimism offered protection for those who had formerly experience depression. They found that pessimists were more probable to be hit with depressions than optimists were.


For my experiment I used two different peer counseling classes. Forty-four subjects were used in this study, 29 females and 14 males. I flipped a coin to determine which group would be my experimental group and which one would be my control group.

I used a few different materials for my experiment. I used a questionnaire by Martin Seligman to measure optimism levels (Appendix A). Having the participants fill this out allowed me to see how many participants were optimists and how many were pessimists. My experimental group received a lecture by Dr. Tim Crowley, who is very experienced in this area. He discussed explanatory style, explained in the introduction, and positive behavior techniques. I also used a questionnaire by Aaron Beck to measure depression levels (Appendix B). Each group also received a handout asking them about their negative thoughts throughout the day (Appendix C).

I am using a between subjects design with a pre-test and a post-test. The groups were also given a questionnaire to fill out before and after the treatment. Two different groups were used and they both received different levels of the independent variable.

Subjects were acquired by talking to Dr. Crowley in the counseling department about his peer counseling classes. After he agreed to let me use his classes, I tossed a coin to determine which would be my experimental group and which would be my control group. After establishing my groups, Dr. Crowley agreed to lecture my experimental group on explanatory style and positive behavior techniques. He agreed to do this because he is familiar with this subject and talks to people about this frequently. We then decided what days we would meet for each group. We decided to meet with the control group first and have them fill out Selgiman`s questionnaire to measure their optimism. After filling out their questionnaires we decided to give them a handout that asked the subjects questions about their negative thoughts throughout the day. We had them fill this out once a day for two days, recording at least five thoughts each day. We decided to meet with the control group exactly one week later. The following day we met with the experimental group and had them fill out the Seligman questionnaire. After filling out the questionnaire, Dr. Crowley talked with them about positive behavior techniques and discussed explanatory styles. After the lecture, I gave them the handout that asked them questions about their negative thoughts, which they were to fill out once a day for two days, recording at least five thoughts each day. We also decided to meet with them one week later. When we met with the control group, the following week, I picked up their handouts on their negative thoughts and gave them the Beck questionnaire to measure their depression. I did the same for the experimental group the following day. I picked up their handouts and had them fill out Beck`s questionnaire to measure their depression as well.

The results did not support the hypothesis. There were 20 students used in my control group and 24 subjects used in my experimental group. The mean scores for the Beck Depression Inventory were 17.10 for the control group and 17.33 for the experimental group (see Figure 1 and Figure 2). There was no difference between the groups after the lecture on optimism was given. The results from my t-test for the control group were .067 and .069 for the experimental group. My results for the Seligman questionnaire were about the same for both groups when they were filled out. The mean score for the control group was .66 and the mean score for the experimental group was .33. The high score for these results was six and a low score was -7. Six is moderately optimistic and -7 is very pessimistic. The means scores fell in between zero and one, which shows that most of the participants, were moderately to very pessimistic. I also mentioned that the participants were going to be filling out a handout on their thoughts throughout the day. I read these papers and found no differences between the experimental group and the control group. There were many the same terms used to describe their feeling such as: frustrated, tired, lonely, anxious, annoyed, angry, etc. After writing their thoughts down, they had to write down an alternative thought, a positive thought counteract their negative thought. Their alternative thoughts seemed to help them deal with their negative thoughts that they were having.

I could have done a few things differently in my experiment. I think that I should have given the Seligman questionnaire to the groups after the treatment was given to compare the scores. The groups did not necessarily show any optimism to begin with, but maybe the experimental group would have been a little higher if I would have measured it after the treatment was given. My results also may have shown more significance if the experimental group could have received more than one lecture on optimism. Maybe one lecture a week for three weeks, assessing optimism with the Seligman questionnaire before and after the treatment. I think that this is an important study. If optimism can be learned to prevent depression, then maybe this is something that should be looked into with more detail. My results were not significant in this experiment, but I wouldn`t mind doing something similar to this again, if there was more time allowed to complete the study. It would be interesting to see results of and experiment where I could spend more time with the experimental group, teaching them about learned optimism and looking at their results over a period of time.

Submitted 3/31/00 1:52:55 PM
Last Edited 4/19/00 3:36:27 PM
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