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Optimism-Pessimism assessed in the 1960's and self-reported health status 30 years later

Toshihiko Maruta, Robert C. Colligan, Michael Malinchoc, and Kenneth P. Offord
Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota

Published in 'Mayo Clinic Proceedings', 77, 748-753, 2002

The objective of this study was to examine the association between explanatory style, using scores from the Optimism-Pessimism (PSM) scale of the Minnesota Personality Inventory (MMPI), and self-reported health status.  The researchers used information collected from 447 outpatients who completed the MMPI while attending the Mayo Clinic between 1962 and 1965.  Each participant then completed a health survey 30 years later, which assessed physical functioning, role limitations due to physical problems, bodily pain, general health perception, vitality, social functioning, role limitations due to emotional problems, and mental health.  The scores were then analysed to determine whether or not optimistic or pessimistic explanatory styles gathered in the 1960?s predicted self-reported health scores later in life.

The average age of participants when they completed the MMPI in the 1960's was 30 years of age and was approximately 60 years when they completed the health questionnaire.  101 participants were classified as 'optimistic', 74 were 'pessimistic', and 272 had a combination of optimistic and pessimistic explanatory styles.  

Explanatory style, as measured by the MMPI, appears to be a personality trait that correlates significantly with self-reported physical and mental health status 30 years later. High optimism scores were associated with a 50% decrease in the risk of early death, which indicated that optimists lived longer than pessimists and a pessimistic explanatory style was significantly associated with poorer physical and mental health.  More specifically, optimism was associated with self-reported fewer limitations due to health; fewer problems with work or other daily activities as a result of physical health; less pain and fewer limitations due to pain.  Conversely, optimism was also associated with better personal health; feeling more energetic; performing social activities with less interference from physical or emotional problems; fewer problems with work or other daily activities as a result of emotional state; and feeling more peaceful, happier, and calmer most of the time.  Overall, those with an optimistic explanatory style reported their life to be healthier, both physically and mentally, than those with a pessimistic explanatory style.

The researchers of this study suggest that these findings emphasise the importance of optimistic and pessimistic attitudes for health care settings, as explanatory style may have implications for prevention, intervention, health care utilisation, and compliance with treatment programmes.

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