Coping with stress: divergent strategies of optimists and pessimists

J Pers Soc Psychol. 1986 Dec;51(6):1257-64. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.51.6.1257.


Previous research has shown that dispositional optimism is a prospective predictor of successful adaptation to stressful encounters. In this research we attempted to identify possible mechanisms underlying these effects by examining how optimists differ from pessimists in the kinds of coping strategies that they use. The results of two separate studies revealed modest but reliable positive correlations between optimism and problem-focused coping, seeking of social support, and emphasizing positive aspects of the stressful situation. Pessimism was associated with denial and distancing (Study 1), with focusing on stressful feelings, and with disengagement from the goal with which the stressor was interfering (Study 2). Study 1 also found a positive association between optimism and acceptance/resignation, but only when the event was construed as uncontrollable. Discussion centers on the implications of these findings for understanding the meaning of people's coping efforts in stressful circumstances.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Denial, Psychological
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control
  • Male
  • Problem Solving
  • Social Support
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology*