Behavioral Research

Table of Contents
1 Definition and History
2 Methodological Issues

Measures and Measurements


Usefulness of Constructs and Measures



6 References
7 Measures Appendix
8 Published Examples

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Other Constructs



Dispositional Optimism




Illness Representations

  Implementation Intentions
  Intention, Expectation, and Willingness
  Normative Beliefs
  Optimistic Bias
  Perceived Benefits
  Perceived Control
  Perceived Severity
  Perceived Vulnerability
  Self-Reported Behavior
  Social Influence
  Social Support

Dispositional Optimism
Charles S. Carver

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Measures and Measurements

Individual differences in optimism versus pessimism can be measured by several devices. The measures have somewhat different focuses, but in large part they share the same underlying conception, deriving from the expectancy-value model of behavior.

Life Orientation Test

One early measure of optimism and pessimism was the Life Orientation Test, or LOT (Scheier & Carver, 1985). The LOT consists of 8 coded items, plus fillers. Half the items are framed in an optimistic manner, half in a pessimistic manner, and respondents indicate their extent of agreement or disagreement with each item on a multi-point scale. The LOT has good psychometric properties, in most respects. However, it was criticized because the optimistic and pessimistic item sets form two factors that are not always strongly inter-related (e.g., Chang, D'Zurilla, & Maydeu-Olivares, 1994; Marshall & Lang, 1990). Further, it gradually became apparent that some of the items asked about things slightly different from expectations per se.

Accordingly, the LOT was superseded by the Life Orientation Test-Revised, or LOT-R (Scheier et al., 1994). The LOT-R is briefer than the original (6 coded items, 3 framed in each direction). The revision omitted or rewrote items that did not focus explicitly on expectancies. The LOT-R has good internal consistency (Cronbach's alpha runs in the high .70s to low .80s) and is quite stable over time. Because of the extensive item overlap between the LOT and the LOT-R, correlations between the two scales are very high (Scheier et al., 1994). However, the positive and negative item subsets of the LOT-R are more strongly related to each other than were those of the LOT. Given these various considerations, the LOT-R is preferred over the original LOT.

Both the LOT and the LOT-R provide continuous distributions of scores. Distributions tend to be skewed toward the optimistic, but not greatly so. Researchers often refer to optimists and pessimists as though they were distinct groups, but talking that way is usually just a matter of convenience. There is no specific criterion for saying a person is an optimist or a pessimist. Rather, people range from very optimistic to very pessimistic, with most falling somewhere in the middle. Most research using these instruments uses them to create continuous distributions, with optimists and pessimists being defined relative to each other.

Generalized Expectancy of Success Scale

Another measure of optimism is the Generalized Expectancy of Success Scale, or GESS ( Fibel & Hale, 1978). This scale presents respondents with a series of situations, some specific, others more general, and asks them to evaluate their likelihood of experiencing a success in each. The stem for each item is "In the future I expect that I will " with response options ranging from "highly improbable" to "highly probable." Most of the items refer to successful outcomes, with a few (reverse scored) relating to failures. The situations range fairly widely. Perhaps in part for this reason, its authors found the GESS to have 4 factors, each of which focused around one domain (Fibel & Hale, 1978).

The GESS underwent a minor revision in 1992 (Hale, Fiedler, & Cochran, 1992). In the revision, some items were rewritten, several new items were created, and the resulting item set was distilled to 25 items. Smith, Pope, Rhodewalt, and Poulton (1989) reported correlations of .51 and .55 between the original GESS and the LOT in two samples. Hale et al. (1992) reported a correlation of .40 between the GESS-R and the LOT. These data suggest that the two measures are assessing somewhat different qualities.

Optimism-Pessimism Scale

Another measure that might be used is the Optimism-Pessimism Scale, or OPS (Dember, Martin, Hummer, Howe, & Melton, 1989). The OPS was developed from the assumption that separate tendencies regarding optimism and pessimism should be measured separately. The OPS is considerably longer than the measures just described, with 18 items reflecting optimism, 18 items reflecting pessimism, and 20 fillers. Dember et al. reported a separation among the subsets of items representing optimism and pessimism, but they did not conduct a factor analysis of the item set. Chang et al. (1994) did so, and found multiple factors. On statistical grounds they suggested that three factors be retained, but found the factors not readily interpretable. After further analysis, they concluded that the OPS is a complex, multidimensional instrument which is difficult to interpret theoretically.

Attributional Style

Measures of optimism focus on expectancies, but expectancies are sometimes measured indirectly. This approach to optimism relies on the assumption that expectancies for the future derive from people's view of the causes for events in the past (Seligman, 1991). If a person's explanations for bad outcomes in the past emphasize causes that are stable, the person will expect more bad outcomes in that domain, because the cause is relatively permanent and thus likely to remain in force. If attributions for past bad outcomes emphasize causes that are unstable, the outlook for the future may be brighter, because the cause may no longer be in force. For example, if you attribute a failure to a lack of ability, you will expect to continue to fail in that area of endeavor; if you attribute it to not getting enough sleep the night before, you won't. If explanations for bad outcomes are global (apply across aspects of life), expectancies for the future in many domains will be for bad outcomes, because the causal forces are at work everywhere. If the explanations are specific, the outlook for other areas of life may be brighter, because the causes don't apply. For example, if you perceive that you failed at something because you are generally inept, you will expect to fail in all domains; if you perceive that you simply lack talent in that one particular area, you won't.

It is often assumed that people have "explanatory styles," which bear on the person's whole life space. The theory behind explanatory style (Seligman, 1991) holds that optimism and pessimism are defined by patterns of explanation for bad outcomes that are unstable and specific versus stable and global, respectively. Explanatory style is assessed by a questionnaire that asks people to imagine a series of hypothetical negative events happening to them (Peterson et al., 1982). Respondents write down what they would see as the likely cause for the event and they rate that cause on attributional dimensions.

Another method of assessing attributional style is called Content Analysis of Verbal Explanations, or CAVE technique (Peterson, Schulman, Castellon, & Seligman, 1992). This procedure involves assembling a sample of written or spoken material from a person-letters, diaries, interviews, speeches, and so on-that contain statements about explanations for negative outcomes, and analyzing the statements for their attributional qualities. The CAVE technique is quite flexible; it can be applied to archival data, even records pertaining to people who are no longer alive.

Hope Scale

The Hope scale (Snyder et al., 1991) is a set of 4 items reflecting agency, 4 items reflecting perceptions of pathways, and 4 filler items. As noted earlier, the pathways subscale is a little divergent away from optimism, but the agency subscale is fairly similar to optimism. Although the theory underlying the agency scale emphasizes personal causal influence, that role is less salient in the items themselves. One item expresses energetic goal pursuit; 2 items report a history of success; the fourth item is somewhat more ambiguous, but also seems to express a sense of prior success. To the extent that assessment of prior success can be taken as an index of confidence of future success, 3 of the 4 items seem to imply confidence for the future, a content that is consistent with the optimism construct.

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