Imagine a situation in which you feel physical pain and then you have to complete a task… what an effort! But here’s the good news: by practicing the optimism your mood and your task performance will benefit a lot.
Researchers from the University of Maastricht have tested these findings recruiting 80 healthy undergraduates and assigning them to one of the following conditions: (1) optimism and pain, (2) optimism and no pain, (3) no optimism and pain, (4) no optimism and no pain. The experimental conditions consisted in the ‘optimism manipulation’, containing the Best Possible Self (BPS) exercise, a positive future thinking technique, and in the ‘pain manipulation’, which included the Cold Pressor Task (CPT) with a box containing water at 2°C. On the other hand, the control conditions consisted in writing about a Typical Day (TD) and being assigned to the Warm Water Control Task (WWCT). All the participants, after being assigned to one of the four conditions, had to complete an operation-span task, which is a working memory task. What the researchers have found is, on the one hand, in alignment with prior findings – which confirmed the higher levels of positive affect and future expectancies with the optimism manipulation –, and, on the other hand, something really powerful: the deteriorating effect of pain on executive task performance was only present in participants who did not receive the optimism manipulation. This means that optimism can really act as a protective factor that may enhance your self-regulatory capacity, besides having great effects on your mood.
J.J.L.M. Boselie, L.M.G. Vancleef, T. Smeets, M.L. Peters. (2014). Increasing optimism abolishes pain-induced impairments in executive task performance. Pain 155(2), 334-340.