Drawing on theories of motivation and self-regulation (specifically Scheier & Carver, 2009), this is a rough conceptual diagram of how optimism (expectancy of positive outcomes) exerts its influence.
This is purposefully
vague to avoid suggesting overly narrow hypotheses. For example, although the salutary psychological and even physical health benefits of dispositional optimism have been demonstrated numerous times, it is valid to question whether why
this is the case and under what circumstances it would be helpful or harmful.
This diagram would suggest that having positive outcome expectancies would predict continued engagement in self-regulation to maintain goals. Often, this leads to better outcomes than disengaging, even if one is overly optimistic about what can be accomplished.
However, from this system, we can imagine, what happens if the process of maintaining engagement is challenging and takes a toll on the system? For example, Suzanne Segerstrom found that optimistic students had a stronger immune response to a challenge near a major test, suggesting at least short term added strain on the body from attempting to pursue and engage goals.
We can also imagine that it may be more difficult for optimists to give up or revise goals that perhaps should
In summary, taking a step back from what are often the outcomes of interest in health psychology, such as psychological health or biomarkers of physical health, and questioning how
optimism works, what its pathways and mechanisms are, can help to think about when optimism may have salutary effects, and when it may be less beneficial, and even the time course. For example, it could have deleterious short term effects, but salutary long term ones, if persistence towards goals eventually pays off. #optimism
Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (2009). Self-Regulatory Processes and Responses to Health Threats: Effects of Optimism on Well-Being Social Psychological Foundations of Health and Illness (pp. 395-428): Blackwell Publishing Ltd.