It is often assumed that optimism is likely to have a positive impact on performance – but have you ever wondered how much does it really help?
According to a study by Elizabeth Tenney, assistant professor of management at the David Eccles School of Business, “optimism seems to help persistence but not necessarily performance as much as people would expect,” she said.
In the study, Tenney put a group of participants through two different tests – a math test and to hunt for Waldo in “Where’s Waldo”.
She found that in the math test, making participants optimistic by telling them that they would do great did not help much with their performance.
In fact, optimistic participants did equally well as those who weren’t optimistic.
“So it seems like optimism wasn’t super helpful for performance on a math test, at least when we tried to give it to people as opposed to it occurring naturally,” Tenney concluded.
In the second test, she found that the participants who were told that they have good Waldo-finding abilities searched for Waldo longer than those who were told they were not as good.
“I think eventually they probably would have found him more, but basically what we concluded from that was that optimism seems to help persistence but not necessarily performance as much as people would expect.”
However, this does not mean that optimism is completely useless. Tenney pointed out optimism could still be helpful – especially for leaders or managers and for entrepreneurs.
“If it’s time for deliberation then the followers would really value accurate input and advice, but when they need motivation because now it’s time to move, they will value positivity and optimism from their leader.”
“But how much that optimism actually ends up helping you well that’s another question.”