Psych study measures peoples overall optimism

Researchers at the University of Illinois published a study on why it is that some people just seem to enjoy everything, while others can’t stand almost anything.

The study was published in the March volume of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Researcher and graduate student Justin Hepler, in collaboration with Dolores Albarracin, professor of psychology and communication at the University of Pennsylvania , asked participants to rate a variety of objects from one to seven; one indicates a strong dislike while seven indicates a strong liking toward something.

“Some people just kind of dislike everything, other people are going to like pretty much everything,” he said.

Hepler said research helped to develop a valid and reliable way of measuring an aspect of personality that hadn’t been looked at before in formal literature and didn’t yet have a measurement system. But he added that most people are intuitively aware of whether they have a positive or negative general outlook.

Hepler said his follow-up research concluded that when people enjoy something more, they are more inclined to do it, which wasn’t surprising to him.

“If you enjoy running you’re going to be more likely to run than somebody else,” he said.

He said people who have a higher average number on the scale aren’t likely to turn down many opportunities.

“People with a positive dispositional attitude are more active; they do more stuff with their time, whereas people who dislike things, they kind of find the one or two things that they do like and then they stick to that,” Hepler said.

Psychology major Cassandra Barnas, junior in LAS, said she agreed with the results of the study and added that “knowing your attitudes would help you change the way you’re acting or change the way you’re thinking.”

Barnas said she has studied similar concepts in psychology classes.

“One thing we looked at was upward and downward comparison,” she said. “If you always look at people that are above you, those who have more money or are doing better, you’re going to feel negatively about yourself, and if you look the other way, you’re going to feel better about yourself.”

Hepler said the questionnaire he created for the study was composed of completely unrelated objects, including architecture, cold showers, public speaking and statistics.

“It’s stuff that’s not going to be related to each other, and the basic idea is once you get attitudes toward these things that are unrelated, if you average it together, what you should be left with is someone’s tendency to like or dislike things, regardless of all of these (objects),” Hepler said.

He said the scale for the study was made so that four was the neutral midpoint, adding that the results of the study determined “a pretty normal distribution.”

“Most people are mixed; they are not on the extremes,” Hepler said. “So most people are kind of central, and then you get a small portion of the population that would be at either really disliking everything or really liking everything.”

Bryan can be reached at [email protected]