The role of positive thinking in social perceptions of cancer outcomes

Psychol Health. 2012;27(10):1244-58. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2012.666549. Epub 2012 Mar 7.


Pressure for 'positive thinking' (PT; i.e., focusing on positive thoughts/suppressing negative thoughts to 'fight' cancer) burdens cancer patients facing health deterioration. It was determined whether PT exposure enhanced effort, control and responsibility attributions assigned to an individual for his/her cancer trajectory. Within an online blog a hypothetical same-gender person describes a personal cancer experience. 482 participants were assigned to one of six experimental conditions in which we manipulated PT exposure (blogger learns about 'power of PT' but does not try it, blogger tries PT, control/no PT) and cancer outcome (successful/unsuccessful treatment). A 3 × 2 × 2 multivariate analysis of covariance (with personal cancer experience covariates) tested PT exposure × cancer outcome × gender effects on attributions for the blogger's cancer outcome. Results indicate that PT exposure enhanced effort and responsibility attributions assigned to individuals for their cancer outcomes and that responsibility attributions differed as a function of gender. Findings suggest that exposure to the idea of PT may lead to cancer patients being perceived as culpable if they do not recover from the disease.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anecdotes as Topic
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / psychology*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Perception*
  • Thinking*
  • United States
  • Young Adult