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The Spirited, the Observant, and the Disheartened: Social Concepts of Optimism, Realism, and Pessimism


  • This research was supported by Grant We 1779/4-1 from the German Research Foundation (DFG) awarded to Hannelore Weber and Britta Renner.

  • The authors would like to thank Manja Harning, Katrin Matiba, and Kirsten Schweinberger for their help with data collection. We are very much indebted to Rainer Reisenzein for his generous and invaluable assistance and his many insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper. We are also grateful to Christopher Leone for his helpful comments on an earlier version of this article.

concerning this article should be addressed to Hannelore Weber, Department of Psychology, University of Greifswald, Franz-Mehring-Str. 47, D-17487 Greifswald, Germany. Phone: +49 3834 863752; Fax: +49 3834 863779; E-mail:


ABSTRACT The social concepts of optimism, pessimism, and realism were investigated by assessing the prototypical acts (thoughts, feelings, goals, and actions) that laypersons assign to optimists, pessimists, and realists responding to a controllable and an uncontrollable situation. Optimists and realists, but not pessimists, were seen as adjusting their behavior to the situation. However, whereas optimists were characterized by flexibility in thoughts and feelings but invariance in goals and actions (i.e., they pursued their goals in both controllable and uncontrollable situations), the act profiles assigned to realists varied on all of these dimensions. The profile assigned to pessimists was characterized by cognitive, affective, motivational, and behavioral invariance, encompassing negative construals of the situation, giving up, and a focus on distress.

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