Optimism and the School Context

Boman, Peter, Furlong, Michael J., Shochet, Ian, Lilles, Elena, & Jones, Camille (2009) Optimism and the School Context. In Furlong, Michael J., Gilman, Richard, & Heubner, E. Scott (Eds.) Handbook of Positive Psychology in Schools. Routledge, New York, NY, pp. 51-64.

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Optimism has its modern roots in philosophy dating back to the 17th century in the writings of philosophers such as Descartes and Voltaire (Domino & Conway, 2001). Previous to these philosophical writings, the concept of optimism was revealed in the teachings of many of the great spiritual traditions such as Buddhism and Christianity (Miller, Richards, & Keller, 2001). It has been reported that people with spiritual faith tend to have a more optimistic and hopeful outlook on life (Myers, 2000). This spiritual connection has provided the basis for research that sought to distinguish the differences between the positive psychological constructs of optimism and hope. Optimism has been defined as a general expectation for good outcomes in the future (Scheier & Carver, 1985), whereas hope has been defined as a set of cognitive processes that were directed at attaining specific goals (see the Lopez et al. chapter, this book; Snyder, Sympson, Michael, & Cheavens, 2001). Recent research supports this distinction (Bryant & Cvengros, 2004).

In the 20th century, optimism research involving youth focused on its association with academic achievement and attainment (Gough, 1953; Teahan, 1958). These early studies examined optimism as a personality trait emphasizing its association with future time orientation, which characterized high-performing students. As research progressed, optimism became defined in juxtaposition to pessimism, sometimes conceptualized as a bipolar unidimensional construct and others as two related, but separate constructs (Garber, 2000). Contemporary models (Scheier & Carver, 1985; Seligman, 1991) have increasingly focused on distinguishing optimism–pessimism as a general dispositional orientation, as described by expectancy theory, and a coping explanatory process, as described by explanatory style theory. Optimism as an expectancy is "a sense of confidence or doubt about the attainability of a goal value" (Carver & Scheier, 1999, p. 183). From the expectancy perspective, optimism and pessimism are forward looking, proactive dispositional tendencies. Alternatively, the explanatory perspective maintains that optimism and pessimism are immediate, reactive tendencies that are used to explain the cause of events, and these tendencies are associated with a general coping response. Thus, expectancy is a generalized belief about goal attainment, and explanatory style describes a predominant process of cognitive mediation.

The following sections (a) review the expectancy and explanatory style perspectives of optimism, (b) summarize the various benefits associated with high optimism, (c) summarize instruments that can be used in school contexts to assess optimism with youth, and (d) conclude by showing how school-based prevention and intervention programs are using optimism as an organizing theme.

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ID Code: 14768
Item Type: Book Chapter
Additional Information: For more information about this book please refer to the publisher's website (see link) or contact the author.
Additional URLs:
ISBN: 9780805863611
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > EDUCATION (130000)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > Schools > School of Cultural & Professional Learning
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Current > Schools > School of Psychology & Counselling
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2009 Taylor & Francis
Deposited On: 09 Sep 2008 00:00
Last Modified: 30 Oct 2013 02:30

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