Distinguishing Hope from Optimism and Related Affective States

Three studies examined the conceptual and psychological differences between hope and related mental states. In Study 1, participants provided definitions of hope as well as optimism, want, desire, wish, and the non-anticipatory state of joy; in Study 2, participants wrote about a time when they had experienced each of these states. These definitions and stories were coded for a number of psychological features that were then used to distinguish the different states. Study 3 mapped the differences among the six mental states into a multidimensional conceptual space. Overall, hope is most closely related to wishing but distinct from it. Most important, hope is distinct from optimism by being an emotion, representing more important but less likely outcomes, and by affording less personal control. The importance of combining a folk-conceptual perspective with a more traditional analysis of appraisal for understanding differences among psychological constructs is discussed.

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This research was supported in part by a training grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. Thanks to Robert Mauro, Gerard Saucier, Marian Friestad, Stacey Pederson, and Gian Gonzaga for their helpful comments on this article. The data for this article were collected at the University of Oregon.

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Correspondence to Patricia Bruininks.

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Bruininks, P., Malle, B.F. Distinguishing Hope from Optimism and Related Affective States. Motiv Emot 29, 324–352 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11031-006-9010-4

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  • hope
  • optimism
  • positive psychology
  • emotion
  • multi-dimensional scaling
  • future-oriented thinking
  • appraisal
  • folk psychology