Optimism-Paper_-032010.doc - 1 From Optimism or Reality to Optimism and Reality C W Von Bergen Southeastern Oklahoma State University John K S Chong The

Optimism-Paper_-032010.doc - 1 From Optimism or Reality to...

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1 From Optimism or Reality to Optimism and Reality C. W. Von Bergen Southeastern Oklahoma State University John K. S. Chong The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey
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2 From Optimism or Reality to Optimism and Reality Abstract America culture emphasizes upbeat thinking, cheerfulness, optimism, and other manifestations of positive affect in its aphorisms, songs, religion, books and magazines, medicine, and business and psychology. This has led to the often unchallenged idea that positive thinking is always a good thing. This belief has caused the power that negative thinking and affect hold, in terms of realistic appraisals of the self and the world, to be not only underestimated, but often shunned as well. It is dangerous, however, to lose sight of unpleasant realities. This paper presents a curvilinear, inverted U-shaped model that suggests that an optimal range of affect is most adaptive and that extremes in either positive or negative affect are less beneficial.
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3 From Optimism or Reality to Optimism and Reality “Almost everyone is overconfident—except the people who are depressed, and they tend to be realists.” --Stefano DellaVigna (2009, p. 149) The American way of life is replete with encouragement to be optimistic and upbeat (Ehrenreich, 2009). Optimism fosters a positive mindset to undertake challenges with the confidence that one can succeed. The common view that people should always feel positive about themselves has caused the power that negative thinking holds to be shunned by society. This rejection is dangerous since negative thinking promotes truthful and realistic appraisals: “Truth matters to people, even if it is at the expense of feelings of well-being, self-satisfaction and social adjustment” (Jopling, 1996, p.541). Furthermore, Woolfolk (2002) commented that: “... negative thinking is not only valuable, but indispensable, and suggest that we give much too little attention to acknowledging, confronting, accepting, and perhaps even embracing suffering and loss. I want to suggest also that there may be worse things in life than experiencing negative affect. Among those worse things are ignorance, banality, credulity, self-deception, narcissism, insensitivity, philistinism, and isolation” (p. 20). Consequently, the thrust of this paper is that there needs to be a greater balance between optimism and realism. Our discussion of optimism and realism is presented within the context of a model of affect (more commonly known as emotions). As organized psychobiological responses, emotions link physiological, cognitive and motivational systems (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). Additionally, there is a history of a number of theories ascribing a central role to affect (emotions) in determining goal-directed behavior and self-regulation (Carver & Scheier, 1996, 1998; Lazarus, 1991; Mehrabian, & Russell, 1974; Oatley & Johnson-Laird, 1996; Stein, Trabasso, & Liwag, 1993). Thus, because of its integrating role, affect appears to be a worthy factor.
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4 Affect is an overreaching construct that encompasses emotions, feelings, moods, and temperament (Weiss, 2002; Barsade & Gibson, 2007) that permeates organizations. Interest in
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