Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Paul D. Windschitl
It is a widely assumed principle that organisms reflexively approach possibilities for pleasure and avoid possibilities for pain. However, highly evolved organisms not only reflexively react to future possibilities of pleasure vs. pain, but also evaluate the chance or risk of actually experiencing such possibilities. Given the import of optimism judgments in shaping behavior and other outcomes, the main goal of the current research was to examine the relationship between the rudimentary systems of approach-avoidance that orient us toward possible outcomes in the environment and the higher-order optimism judgments we make when evaluating whether such outcomes are likely to occur. To this end, two experiments examined the impact of approach-avoidance cues in shaping participants' optimism judgments about experiencing positive and negative future life events. For the primary operationalization of approach-avoidance, college student participants engaged in arm flexion (a motor movement associated with approach) or arm extension (a motor movement associated with avoidance) while simultaneously making optimism judgments about experiencing a range of positive and negative events in the future. A secondary operationalization involved correlations computed between participants' chronic personality tendencies related to approach-avoidance (e.g., positive vs. negative affectivity) and their optimism judgments. The results of these experiments revealed complexities in the relationship between approach-avoidance and optimism, suggesting that when, how and why approach-avoidance cues will shape optimism may critically depend upon 1) the specific operationalization of approach-avoidance, 2) how optimism is measured, and 3) characteristics of the outcomes under consideration. Explanations for the complexities in the results are offered, and attempts are made to link the current work to broader theoretical and practical aspects of the connection between approach-avoidance and optimism.
approach-avoidance, flexion-extension, likelihood judgment, motor signals, optimism, positive and negative affect
Copyright 2009 Jason Paul Rose