The quote, “optimism is the faith that leads to achievement,” coined by the late Helen Keller, truly epitomizes the American dream. Unfortunately, while this idea may work well on motivational posters, a recent study has found that, statistically speaking, it isn’t completely accurate, because in reality we’re all better off being analytical than optimistic.

Life On The Sunny Side

For the study, now published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, a team of researchers from the University of Utah investigated whether or not optimism had an actual effect on an individual’s performance through a series of experiments.

“I kept hearing about how optimistic mindset was so great, but then you think about all the times that striving for accuracy might be better for the individual.” Elizabeth Tenney, one of the researchers involved in the study, explained in a press release.

In one of the experiments, a group of participants were asked to work on a math problem after receiving either positive or negative feedback on their training for the task. For example, Smithsonian reported that some were told they would do really well at the questions, while others were told they would most likely perform poorly. A separate group was asked to predict which half of participants would perform better at the task. Although the group given the positive feedback was predicted to perform better at the math task, results showed this wasn’t the case.

Other experiments in which participants were asked to complete mental tasks showed that optimism continually revealed while optimistic participants did persist at the task for 20 percent longer, this only led to about a five percent improvement in task, which, statistically speaking, is not significant.

Why Optimism Is Still Important

The researchers concluded that the goal of their study was not to disprove the importance of optimism, but rather to warn people not to let their optimistic mentality override common sense.

“People are going to think that you need that optimism in order to perform, and they will expect your optimism and value it, but how much that optimism actually ends up helping you, well that’s another question,” Tenney added.

There are advantages to both optimistic and pessimistic mentalities. People who are constantly concerned with potential downfalls or the worst outcome tend to handle criticism best, while optimists who tend to look on the sunny side of a situation have an unmistakable persistence and are able to maintain their drive for success even in the face of extreme adversity. Individuals with optimistic personalities were found to have better cardiovascular health, but pessimists are found to have an overall longer lifespan.

Of course, a happy median between these two outlooks is most probably the healthiest way to live.

Source: Tenney ER, Logg JM, Moore DA. (Too) optimistic about optimism: The belief that optimism improves performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2015.