Looking on the Bright Side: Children’s Knowledge About the Benefits of Positive Versus Negative Thinking


  • This research was submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for a doctoral degree at University of California, Davis (CB). Portions of this research were presented at the biennial meeting for the Society for Research in Child Development, 2009. Support for the preparation of this article for KHL was provided by a grant from the National Science Foundation (0723375). We thank our research assistants Kristine Aphugh, Millie Copara, Yasmin Hashemzadeh, Siera Levinson, and Malay Phoong for their assistance with this project, and Theresa Wong and Jonah Cox for drawing the illustrations for the stories. We especially thank Dr. Liat Sayfan for her advice during all phases of the project, as well as Drs. Simona Ghetti and Robert Emmons for commenting on an early draft of the manuscript.

concerning this article should be addressed to Christi Bamford, Department of Psychology, Jacksonville University, 2800 University Blvd. N., Jacksonville, FL 32211. Electronic mail may be sent to cbamfor@ju.edu.


Five- to 10-year-olds (= 90) listened to 6 illustrated scenarios featuring 2 characters that jointly experience the same positive event (and feel good), negative event (and feel bad), or ambiguous event (and feel okay). Afterward, one character thinks a positive thought and the other thinks a negative thought. Children predicted and explained each character’s emotions. Results showed significant development between 5 and 10 years in children’s understanding that thinking positively improves emotions and thinking negatively makes one feel worse, with earliest knowledge demonstrated when reasoning about ambiguous and positive events. Individual differences in child and parental optimism and hope predicted children’s knowledge about thought–emotion connections on some measures, including their beliefs about the emotional benefits of thinking positively in negative situations.