The overarching statement of the article I chose, Comparative Risk and Perceived Control: Implications for Psychological and Physical Well-being among Older Adults, is that optimism is of no use, both physically and psychologically, without a strong sense of perceived control (Ruthig, Chipperfield, Perry, Newall, & Swift, 2007). Without high levels of perceived control optimism has little effect on psychological or physical well-being. However, with people who have a high level of perceived control, optimism was able to positively affect both psychological and physical well-being.
According to the peer-reviewed article, pessimism can hamper the auto-immune functions in the body, which can weaken the body before anything has even happened. The specific type of pessimism that the authors are referring to is a future perceived injury. The authors chose this type of pessimism because their area of emphasis is older adults. During the older years of a person’s life, the chances of life-changing accidents increase dramatically. Undoubtedly many older adults witness accidents, such as broken hips, ankles, etc… from many of their older friends and family during this part of their life. However, we choose how to encode these events, and we also choose how much perceived control we have over these types of events occurring in our own life. That is really where the subject of optimism vs. pessimism comes into play. Is there really a link between perceived control, optimism, and pessimism when it comes to physical and psychological health?
The plain truth of the matter is that injuries, such as hip fractures, do increase with age. That is not a disputed fact; however, it is debatable as to whether optimism and pessimism can affect those numbers in a significant manner. One of the main benefits of optimism is that it helps regulate anxiety, which can help people feel less vulnerable. During the study, the authors realized that dispositional optimism had little effect on perceived control over life-altering injuries during old age. Comparative optimism, applied to this situation, is the belief that we are less likely to incur such injuries than others. Whereas, dispositional optimism is the belief that in general good things will happen to us. Lastly, strategic optimism entails the belief that we have control of possible future negative events in our life. This study specifically focuses on comparative optimism because the authors feel that this type of optimism is the one that has a far-reaching impact on psychological and physical well-being. The article is clear though that comparative optimism coupled with avoidance tendencies can actually hamper a person’s collective well-being. When avoidance strategies are implemented alongside comparative optimism a person is inclined to possess a false sense of security, which can lead to a higher health risk.
The study also concludes that a high level of perceived control, even in the absence of comparative optimism, can have a positive effect on future well-being. This is in part because perceived control leads to higher levels of preventative care. However, if a person exhibits high comparative pessimism, then even a high level of perceived control will not lead to positively adaptive behavior. In this circumstance, a person is much more likely to engage in self-blame rather than preventative care (Ruthig, Chipperfield, Perry, Newall, & Swift, 2007). On the other hand, the study also concludes that actual positive physical well-being compared to others also affected perceived control positively. This implies that actual comparative well-being and perceived control work in a cyclical manner. In the same way, actual comparative pessimism and perceived control work to reinforce each other towards self-blame. Since low perceived control is associated with feelings of vulnerability and comparative pessimism is associated with a low auto-immune response, both should be avoided and alternatives be actively reinforced. The optimum positions would be to exhibit high levels of perceived control and high levels of comparative optimism. In this situation perceived control reinforces comparative optimism in order to bring about greater future psychological and physical well-being.
In conclusion, a person is much more likely to correlate optimism with actual physical and psychological well-being if they believe the outcome is perceived controllable.
Ruthig, J., Chipperfield, J., Perry, R., Newall, N., & Swift, A. (2007, August). Comparative risk and perceived control: Implications for psychological and physical well-being among older adults. Journal of Social Psychology, 147(4), 345-370. Retrieved May 4, 2008, from Academic Search Premier database.