College can be one of the most challenging and rewarding periods of our life, so that’s exactly where researchers Heather Lench and Zari Carpenter went when they wanted to examine the power of optimism. Their research confirmed what we here at The Optimist Daily already know: That optimism boosts students’ effort levels and reduces stress.
To come to this conclusion, the researchers conducted two surveys. In the first, they analyzed a group of students before their first psychology exam. They surveyed them two weeks before, one day before, and two days after (when they received their grades) on their anticipated grade and emotions about the exam. They found that greater optimism two weeks prior to the exam yielded more study hours and a better grade.
In the second survey, the researchers took a similar approach, but with fourth-year medical students awaiting to hear which residency programs they had been accepted into. They surveyed the students on their happiness and stress levels and whether they thought they would be accepted into their top-choice programs.
All said and done, half of the students were accepted into their top-ranked program and the survey confirmed that those who were more optimistic about the process had a higher likelihood of being accepted into their favored program.
There is a common misperception that having too much optimism about a situation leads to greater disappointment if we do not get the outcome we desire, but this new study demonstrates that in fact, optimism itself has the power to influence more positive outcomes. “For future events that are specific, controllable, and important,” conclude the researchers, “it appears optimism has benefits with very little cost.”