Motivation and Emotion

, Volume 43, Issue 3, pp 483–492 | Cite as

Confusing hope and optimism when prospects are good: A matter of language pragmatics or conceptual equivalence?

  • Simon M. BuryEmail author
  • Michael Wenzel
  • Lydia Woodyatt
Original Paper


In psychology, the concepts of hope and optimism are often treated interchangeably or not clearly delineated from each other. We argue that hope and optimism are conceptually different, and that empirical instances of apparent convergence are a matter of language pragmatics, not semantic equivalence. To test this, the present research used a forced choice methodology. In two studies, including 333 voters in the 2016 US presidential election and 145 Australian football supporters, independent ratings of hope and optimism were rated similarly at high levels of likelihood. However, when forced to choose, participants were more likely to select optimism rather than hope when success was likely. In contrast, when success was less than likely (yet possible) participants were more likely to indicate they felt hope rather than optimism, in particular when they were highly invested in the outcome. The findings highlight the distinctive nature of hope.


Hope Optimism Possibility Personal investment 



The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

This research received ethics approval from Flinders University Social and Behavioural Research Ethics Committee, and all procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Research involving Human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


  1. Aiken, L. S., & West, S. G. (1991). Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Newbury Park: Sage.Google Scholar
  2. Aspinwall, L. G., & Leaf, S. L. (2002). In search of the unique aspects of hope: Pinning our hopes on positive emotions, future-oriented thinking, hard times, and other people. Psychological Inquiry, 13(4), 276–288.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Averill, J. R., Catlin, G., & Chon, K. K. (1990). Rules of hope. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bruininks, P., & Malle, B. F. (2005). Distinguishing hope from optimism and related affective states. Motivation and Emotion, 29(4), 327–355.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bury, S. M., Wenzel, M., & Woodyatt, L. (2016). Giving hope a sporting chance: Hope as distinct from optimism when events are possible but not probable. Motivation and Emotion, 1–14.
  6. Bury, S. M., Wenzel, M., & Woodyatt, L. (2018). Hopeful action against the odds: Hope as a motivator of action against climate change. Manuscript submitted for publication.Google Scholar
  7. Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30(7), 879–889. Scholar
  8. Cohen-Chen, S., Crisp, R. J., & Halperin, E. (2017). A new appraisal-based framework underlying hope in conflict resolution. Emotion Review, 9, 208–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Faul, F., Erdfelder, E., Lang, A. G., & Buchner, A. (2007). G*Power 3: A flexible statistical power analysis program for the social, behavioral, and biomedical sciences. Behavior Research Methods, 39(2), 175–191. Scholar
  10. Gallagher, M. W., & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.). (2018). The Oxford handbook of hope. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Greenaway, K. H., Cichocka, A., van Veelen, R., Likki, T., & Branscombe, N. R. (2016). Feeling hopeful inspires support for social change. Political Psychology, 37(1), 89–107. Scholar
  12. Korner, I. N. (1970). Hope as a method of coping. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 34(2), 134–139. Scholar
  13. Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Lazarus, R. S. (1999). Hope: An emotion and a vital coping resource against despair. Social Research, 66(2), 653–678.Google Scholar
  15. Miceli, M., & Castelfranchi, C. (2010). Hope the power of wish and possibility. Theory & Psychology, 20(2), 251–276. Scholar
  16. Nelissen, R. M. (2017). The motivational properties of hope in goal striving. Cognition and Emotion, 31(2), 225–237. Scholar
  17. Pettit, P. (2004). Hope and its place in mind. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 592, 152–165. Scholar
  18. Smith, N., & Leiserowitz, A. (2014). The role of emotion in global warming policy support and opposition. Risk Analysis, 34(5), 937–948. Scholar
  19. Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60(4), 570–585. Scholar
  20. Wenzel, M., Anvari, F., de Vel-Palumbo, M., & Bury, S. M. (2017). Collective apology, hope, and forgiveness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 72, 75–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon M. Bury
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Michael Wenzel
    • 2
  • Lydia Woodyatt
    • 2
  1. 1.Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre, School of Psychology and Public HealthLa Trobe UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  2. 2.College of Education, Psychology and Social WorkFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations