Optimism/Pessimism is conceptualised in two distinct, if not exclusive, manner. One, as a ‘dispositional optimism’ -a generalised expectation that good things will happen in future. Two, as a general feeling of hope and joy with regard to future.Researchers have debated since long whether it is in-born or learnt. The earlier view was that it is rather in-born which is modified by life experiences but later on psychologists like Martin Seligman went on to argue that it is learnt and one can change the level of optimism/pessimism by systematic training and intervention. The latest estimate is that it is approximately 25% heritable but can also be learned and shaped by social influences.Another important question regarding optimism and pessimism is its relationship with age. In the general population, there is a common belief that young people have higher level of optimism than younger kids and elderly people. The general perception about optimism and age is that it grows with age till the youth up to approximately 25 to 30 years and then begins to decline. A new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality in Jun 2020 that gathered data from 3 large samples of a total of 74886 people from three different countries viz. the Netherlands (10045),Germany (42691) and the United States (22150) examines this relationship and presents some very insightful findings.
According to this study, optimism actually continues growing till quite late in life and only in the last phase of life it begins to decline. The team of researchers investigated how optimism changes with age and how life events might affect the speed and direction of the change.They examined the data from three longitudinal studies of people from 16 to 101 years of age and noted the following:
1.Younger adults were lower in optimism than the middle aged people.
2.Optimism plateaued until later life then it started to decline.
- Pessimism was highest in younger age but declined sharply as people reached middle age.
- In German population, younger adults were more optimistic that middle aged people. Which indicates the effect of social and cultural changes.
- There was no clear relationship between life events (like first job, new chronic illness, death of partner,divorce, marriage, death of child, death of parents, improvement in health and decline in health) and level of optimism. In some cases, the people showed higher optimism while life events were negative while in other cases the negative life event led to reduction in the level of optimism.What remains to be seen though is the impact of subjective experience of these life events on the level of optimism or pessimism but it is clear from the study that pessimism is not necessarily related to old age and optimism is not necessarily about ‘youthful optimism’. The key to optimism and pessimism might be in the experiences and subjective interpretation of those experience as positive or negative.
Chopik, W. J., Oh, J., Kim, E. S., Schwaba, T., Krämer, M. D., Richter, D., & Smith, J. (2020). Changes in optimism
and pessimism in response to life events: Evidence from three large panel studies. Journal of Research in Personality, 103985
About the Author.
Mr. Vijai Panday, is an Entrepreneur, Advisor, Chief psychometric Scientist Mentor, and Head of Assessments of the psychometric World