Annals of Behavioral Medicine

, Volume 51, Issue 3, pp 348–355 | Cite as

Linguistic Evidence for the Failure Mindset as a Predictor of Life Span Longevity

  • Ian B. Penzel
  • Michelle R. Persich
  • Ryan L. Boyd
  • Michael D. Robinson
Original Article

Abstract

Background

When people think that their efforts will fail to achieve positive outcomes, they sometimes give up their efforts after control, which can have negative health consequences.

Purpose

Problematic orientations of this type, such as pessimism, helplessness, or fatalism, seem likely to be associated with a cognitive mindset marked by higher levels of accessibility for failure words or concepts. Thus, the purpose of the present research was to determine whether there are individual differences in the frequency with which people think about failure, which in turn are likely to impact health across large spans of time.

Methods

Following self-regulatory theories of health and the learned helplessness tradition, two archival studies (total n = 197) scored texts (books or speeches) for their use of failure words, a category within the Harvard IV dictionary of the General Inquirer.

Results

People who used failure words more frequently exhibited shorter subsequent life spans, and this relationship remained significant when controlling for birth year. Furthermore, study 2 implicated behavioral factors. For example, the failure/longevity relationship was numerically stronger among people whose causes of death appeared to be preventable rather than non-preventable.

Conclusions

These results significantly extend our knowledge of the personality/longevity relationship while highlighting the value of individual differences in word usage as predictors of health and mortality.

Keywords

Word usage Accessibility Failure Health Longevity Learned helplessness 

References

  1. 1.
    Skinner EA. A guide to constructs of control. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1996; 71: 549–570.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Bandura A. Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman; 1997.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Carver CS, Scheier MF. On the self-regulation of behavior. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press; 1998.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Maier SF, Seligman M.E. Learned helplessness: Theory and evidence. J Exp Psychol Gen. 1976; 105: 3–46.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Evans GW, Stecker R. Motivational consequences of environmental stress. J Environ Psychol. 2004; 24: 143–165.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bandura A. Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health Educ Behav. 2004; 31: 143–164.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Schwarzer R. Social-cognitive factors in changing health-related behaviors. Curr Dir Psychol Sci. 2001; 10: 47–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Sniehotta FF, Scholz U, Schwarzer R. Bridging the intention-behaviour gap: Planning, self-efficacy, and action control in the adoption and maintenance of physical exercise. Psychol Health. 2005; 20: 143–160.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Rasmussen HN, Wrosch C, Scheier MF, carver CS (2006). Self-regulation processes and health: The importance of optimism and goal adjustment. J Pers. 2006; 74: 1721–1747.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Mokdad A, Marks J, Stroup D, Gerberding J. Actual causes of death in the United States, 2000. JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association. 2004; 291:1238–1245.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Jacelon CS. Theoretical perspectives of perceived control in older adults: A selective review of the literature. J Adv Nurs. 2007; 59: 1–10.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Peterson C, Seligman ME. Explanatory style and illness. J Pers. 1987; 55: 237–265.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Smith TW. Personality as risk and resilience in physical health. Curr Dir Psychol Sci 2006; 15: 227–231.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Pervin LA. A critical analysis of current trait theory. Psychol Inq. 1994; 5: 103–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Peterson C, Stunkard, AJ. Personal control and health promotion. Soc Sci Med. 1989; 28: 819–828.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Pennebaker JW, Mehl MR, Niederhoffer KG. Psychological aspects of natural language use: Our words, our selves. Annu Rev Psychol. 2003; 54: 547–577.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Tausczik YR, Pennebaker JW. The psychological meaning of words: LIWC and computerized text analysis methods. J Lang Soc Psychol. 2010; 29: 24–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Stirman SW, Pennebaker JW. Word use in the poetry of suicidal and nonsuicidal poets. Psychosom Med. 2001; 63: 517–522.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Pressman SD, Cohen S. Use of social words in autobiographies and longevity. Psychosom Med. 2007; 69: 262–269.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    Carver CS, Scheier MF. Dispositional optimism. Trends Cogn Sci. 2014; 18: 293–299.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Peterson, C. Learned helplessness and health psychology. Health Psychol. 1982; 1: 153–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Shen L, Condit CM, Wright L. The psychometric property and validation of a fatalism scale. Psychol Health. 2009; 24: 597–613.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Armor DA, Taylor SE. The effects of mindset on behavior: Self-regulation in deliberative and implemental frames of mind. Pers Soc Psychol B. 2003; 29: 86–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Heckhausen H. Fear of failure as a self-reinforcing motive system. In: Sarason I, Spielberger C, ed. Stress and anxiety. Washington, DC: Hemisphere; 1975: 117–128.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    McClelland DC. Human motivation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press; 1987.Google Scholar
  26. 26.
    Ogilvie DM, Stone PJ, Kelly EF. Computer aided content analysis. In: Smith RB, Manning PK, ed. A handbook of social science methods. Cambridge, MA: Balinger; 1982: 219–246.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Higgins ET. Knowledge activation: Accessibility, applicability, and salience. In: Higgins ET, Kruglanski AW, ed. Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles. New York: Guilford Press; 1996: 133–168.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Robinson MD, Vargas PT, Tamir M, & Solberg E. Using and being used by categories: The case of negative evaluations and daily well-being. Psychol Sci. 2004; 15: 521–526.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    Bargh JA, Chartrand TL. The mind in the middle: A practical guide to priming and automaticity research. In: Reis HT, Judd CM, ed. Handbook of research methods in social and personality psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2000: 253–285.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Williams DM. Outcome expectancy and self-efficacy: Theoretical implications and unresolved contradiction. Pers Soc Psychol Rev. 2010; 14: 417–425.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  31. 31.
    Schwarzer R. Self-regulatory processes in the adoption and maintenance of health behaviors: The role of optimism, goals, and threats. J Health Psychol. 1999; 4: 115–127.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Smith TW, MacKenzie J. Personality and risk of physical illness. Annu Rev Clin Psychol. 2006; 2: 435–467.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. 33.
    Lin EH, Peterson C. Pessimistic explanatory style and response to illness. Behav Res Ther. 1990; 28: 243–248.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  34. 34.
    Mehl MR. Quantitative text analysis. In: Eid M, Diener E, ed. Handbook of multimethod measurement in psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2006: 141–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. 35.
    Stone PJ. Thematic text analysis: New agendas for analyzing text content. In: Roberts CW, ed. Text analysis for the social sciences: Methods for drawing statistical inferences from texts and transcripts. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum; 1997: 35–54.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Stone PJ, Dunphy DC, Smith MS, Ogilvie DM. The general inquirer: A computer approach to content analysis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press; 1966.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    Kelly EF, Stone PJ. Computer recognition of English word senses. Amsterdam, Netherlands: North Holland; 1975.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Zuell C, Weber RP, Mohler PP. Computer-assisted text analysis for the social sciences: The General Inquirer III. Mannheim, Germany: Center for Surveys, Methods, and Analysis (ZUMA); 1989.Google Scholar
  39. 39.
    Rosenberg SD, Schnurr PP, & Oxman TE. Content analysis: A comparison of manual and computerized systems. J Pers Assess. 1990; 54: 298–310.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  40. 40.
    Pennebaker JW, Chung CK, Ireland M, Gonzales AL Booth RJ. The development and psychometric properties of LIWC2007. Austin, TX: www.LIWC.net; 2007.Google Scholar
  41. 41.
    Aiken LS, West SG. Multiple regression: Testing and interpreting interactions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications; 1991.Google Scholar
  42. 42.
    Hayflick L. How and why we age. New York, NY: Ballantine Books; 1996.Google Scholar
  43. 43.
    Winter DG. Measuring the motives of political actors at a distance. In: Post JM, ed. The Psychological Assessment of Political Leaders: With Profiles of Saddam Hussein and Bill Clinton (pp. 153–177). Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan Press; 2005: 153–177.Google Scholar
  44. 44.
    Livingstone RM. Models for understanding collective intelligence on Wikipedia. Soc Sci Comput Rev. 2016; 34: 497–508.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. 45.
    Messner M, DiStaso MW. Wikipedia versus encyclopedia Britannica: A longitudinal analysis to identify the impact of social media on the standards of knowledge. Mass Commun Soc. 2013; 16: 465–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 46.
    Schroeder R, Taylor L. Big data and Wikipedia research: Social science knowledge across disciplinary divides. Information, Communication & Society. 2015; 18:1039–1056.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. 47.
    Pennebaker JW. Writing about emotional experiences as a therapeutic process. Psychol Sci. 1997; 8: 162–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. 48.
    Pennebaker JW, Graybeal A. Patterns of natural language use: Disclosure, personality, and social integration. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 2001; 10: 90–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. 49.
    Robinson MD, Wilkowski BM. Personality processes and processes as personality: A cognitive perspective. In: Mikulincer M, Shaver PR, ed. APA handbook of personality and social psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association; 2015: 129–145.Google Scholar
  50. 50.
    Pennebaker JW. Listening to what people say—The value of narrative and computational linguistics in health psychology. Psychol health. 2007; 22: 631–635.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. 51.
    Cervone D. Bottom-up explanation in personality psychology: The case of cross-situational coherence. In: Cervone D, Shoda Y, ed. The coherence of personality: Social-cognitive bases of consistency, variability, and organization. New York: Guilford Press; 1999: 303–341.Google Scholar
  52. 52.
    Eysenck H. Dimensions of personality. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers; 1998.Google Scholar
  53. 53.
    Carver CS, Scheier MF, Segerstrom SC. Optimism. Clin Psychol Rev. 2010; 30: 879–889.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  54. 54.
    Kruglanski A, Shah J, Fishbach A, Friedman R, Chun W, Sleeth-Keppler D. A theory of goal systems. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 34. San Diego, CA, US: Academic Press; 2002: 331–378.Google Scholar
  55. 55.
    Weber RP. Basic content analysis (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications; 1990.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. 56.
    Fetterman AK, Boyd RL,Robinson MD. Power versus affiliation in political ideology: Robust linguistic evidence for distinct motivation-related signatures. Pers Soc Psychol Bull. 2015; 41: 1195–1206.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. 57.
    Lupien SJ, McEwen BS, Gunnar MR, Heim, C. Effects of stress throughout the lifespan on the brain, behaviour and cognition. Nature Rev Neurosci. 2009; 10: 434–445.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. 58.
    Bogg T, Roberts BW. The case for conscientiousness: Evidence and implications for a personality trait marker of health and longevity. Ann Behav Med. 2013; 45: 278–288.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Society of Behavioral Medicine 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ian B. Penzel
    • 1
  • Michelle R. Persich
    • 1
  • Ryan L. Boyd
    • 2
  • Michael D. Robinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Psychology DepartmentNorth Dakota State UniversityFargoUSA
  2. 2.Psychology DepartmentThe University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations