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Happiness, depression, and the Pollyanna principle


People give precedence to pleasant over unpleasant events, a ubiquitous tendency called the Pollyanna principle. Thus, pleasant items are “spewed” early in list-generating tasks, and the more positive member of an antonym pair is uttered first. Not everyone does this. We have demonstrated modest correlations between the Pollyanna tendency on an antonym pair generation task and two happiness measures; a list-generation task yielded Pollyanna prin ciple results, but the two tasks were uncorrelated, and the list task was not correlated with happiness. Scores on the Beck Depression Inventory correlated negatively with happiness but not with either Pollyanna measure.


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Correspondence to William N. Dember.

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Dember, W.N., Penwell, L. Happiness, depression, and the Pollyanna principle. Bull. Psychon. Soc. 15, 321–323 (1980).

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  • Beck Depression Inventory
  • Generation Task
  • Verbal Task
  • List Task
  • Modest Correlation