Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

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Program 12: Motivation and Emotion
History of Psychology
Research Methods
The Human Brain
Human Development
Therapeutic Approaches
link to Series Glossary
link to Series Glossary
Link to Series Who's Who

Motivation and Emotion is the twelfth program in the DISCOVERING PSYCHOLOGY series. Based on the early research of Sigmund Freud and Abraham Maslow, this program explores the sources of motivation, causes of behavior, and interplay between motivation and action. It examines societal and individual motivation, sexual motivation, and cumulative effects of optimism and pessimism in human life.


Interview Excerpt: Martin Seligman on Optimism and Pessimism

 Dr. Martin Seligman describes how attitudes of optimism and pessimism influence job performance.

In our research on the roles of optimism and pessimism, we conducted studies in the workplace. We looked for a demanding field in which there were a lot of challenges, frustration, and rejection. The question was: "What type of person copes with that kind of situation best?"

We tested 15,000 applicants for life insurance sales, a difficult job with frequent rejection and a high drop-out rate. We measured, by questionnaire, the explanatory style (a metric of optimism and pessimism) of the regular qualified people who were hired. Also included was a special force of 129 people who failed the industry test — who wouldn't normally have been hired — but who tested very well on optimism.

Our research followed both groups for two years and concluded with two basic findings. First, within the regular qualified group that was hired, the optimists significantly outsold the pessimists. Second, the special force of optimists who failed the industry test outsold everyone.

Within the American workplace, optimists overall stay with difficult and challenging jobs, while pessimists seem to do worse than predicted and even give up. There is an interesting parallel in academics and athletics. When subjects were given a lower grade in a class or a slower recorded time in an athletic event, thereby stimulating defeat, the optimists rose to the occasion and did better the second time around while the pessimists did worse.

This evidence supports the theory that there are two factors in human potential. One is our ability and the other is our optimism or pessimism. We're showing that there is a science to the interplay between our attitudes and our actions.

For more about this research, visit The Martin Seligman Research Alliance Web site at the University of Pennsylvania. http://www.psych.upenn.edu/seligman/



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