Motivation and emotion/Tutorials/Learned optimism

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Tutorial 06: Learned optimism

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This is the sixth tutorial for the Motivation and emotion unit of study.

Overview[edit | edit source]

  1. This tutorial explores learned optimism (the opposite of learned helplessness).
  2. This is the last motivation tutorial - the following tutorials focus more on emotion.

Learned optimism[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Shuttle box used by Seligman to experiment with learned helplessness in dogs.

This exercise explores learned optimism which relates to personal control beliefs in Chapter 10 of Reeve (2018) and the mindsets, control, and the self lecture. Whilst the textbook and lecture focus on learned helplessness, here we turn attention to learned optimism. Both concepts were developed by Martin Seligman, University of Pennsylvania.

Definition[edit | edit source]

  1. Define and discuss learned helplessness vs. learned optimism
    1. What are the characteristics of learned helplessness?
    2. What are the characteristics of learned optimism

Learned Optimism Test[edit | edit source]

  1. Complete the Learned Optimism Test(48 items; takes 10 to 15 mins; Seligman, 1991).
  2. Note down your Total Good, Total Bad, and Hope scores.
  3. Enter these scores into this Google Form.
  4. Explain the theoretical structure - Permanence (Good and Bad), Pervasiveness (Good and Bad), Personalisation (Good and Bad) - see dimensions.
  5. View and discuss the results (see histograms for Total Good, Total Bad, Hope, and Overall).

Dimensions[edit | edit source]

Table 1.

Attributional Dimensions of Pessimism and Optimism

Attribution Bad Good
Permanence PmB PmG
Pervasiveness PvB PvG
Personalisation PsB PsG
Total ToB ToG

Table 2.

Explanatory Styles Based on Attributional Dimensions of Pessimism and Optimism

Optimistic Pessimistic
Good event Permanent






Bad event Temporary






Permanence[edit | edit source]

Time: Temporary vs. Permanent - a pessimistic view is that bad events are permanent and good events are temporary (opposite for optimism)

  • PmB (Permanent Bad)
  • PmG (Permanent Good)

Pervasiveness[edit | edit source]

Space: Specific vs. Universal - across situations/domains: a pessimistic view is that bad events are pervasive across situations/domains and good events are specific to a situation/domain (opposite for optimism)

  • PvB (Pervasive Bad)
  • PvG (Pervasive Good)
  • Hope (HoB) = PvB + PmB (i.e., Hope for Bad Events). Seligman indicates that this is the single most important score.

Personalisation[edit | edit source]

Perceptions of control/causality: Internal vs. External - locus of causality: e.g., a pessimistic view is that bad events are internally caused and good events are externally causes (opposite for optimism)

  • PsB (Personalisation Bad)
  • PsG (Personalisation Good)

Total Bad[edit | edit source]

  • Total B (Bad) = PmB + PvB + PsB
  • Low = Optimistic; High = Pessimistic

Total Good[edit | edit source]

  • Total G (Good) = PmG + PvG + PsG
  • Low = Pessimistic; High = Optimistic

Overall optimism[edit | edit source]

  • Overall Optimism = Total G - Total B
  • Low = Pessimistic; High = Optimistic

ABCDE solution[edit | edit source]

Would you like to become more optimistic?

If so, Seligman suggest a cognitive ABCDE solution:

Table 3.

How to Change Pessimistic Thinking Styles

A Adversity When we encounter adversity, we react by thinking about it.
B Beliefs Our thoughts rapidly congeal into beliefs.
C Consequences These beliefs .... have consequences
D Disputation We find evidence against the negative beliefs, alternatives to our negative reasoning, and limit the implication of the beliefs. Seligman writes that "Much of the skill of dealing with setbacks ... consists of learning how to dispute your own first thoughts in reaction to a setback."
E Energisation We feel energised after we've disputed our false, negative beliefs.

References[edit | edit source]

Seligman, M. E. P. (1991). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Knopf

Recording[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

Book chapters

External links[edit | edit source]