Employees who are more likely to imagine positive co-workers contribute more in the actual work place, both in performance and going above their job descriptions, according to researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Study results released Thursday show that your perceptions of others, even imaginary ones, associates with what kind of person you are, and imagining coworkers instead of reporting on how you perceive your actual coworkers produces more accurate ratings of having a positive world view because it eliminates any relational baggage that you may have with the people you are acquainted with, said Peter Harms, UNL assistant professor of management and the study's lead author.

"When you make up imaginary peers, they are completely a product of how you see the world," Harms said. "Because of that we can gain better insight into your perceptual biases. That tells us a lot about how you see the world, how you interpret events and what your expectations of others are."

Researchers assessed hundreds of working adults in a variety of fields and targeted their “psychological capital,” a group of personality characteristics associated with the potential to overcome obstacles and the tendency to actively pursue one’s goals.

After participants conjured up imaginary workers in a series of hypothetical situations, researchers asked them to make ratings on the individuals they imagined on a wide range of characteristics.

Researchers found that those who made-up workers as engaging in proactive behaviors or readily rebounding from failures were actually happier and more productive in their actual work life.

Psychology experts have always acknowledged the benefits of having a positive mindset, but getting an accurate assessment was always difficult because people are generally unable to make accurate self-appraisals, Harms said.

Researchers said they were able to predict real-life work outcomes beyond other established measures, like self-ratings, through the use of projective storytelling.

"We've known that workplace relations are a self-fulfilling prophecy for some time," Harms said. "If a manager believes that their workers are lazy and incompetent, they will elicit those patterns in their employees.

"It's hard to be motivated and enthusiastic for someone you know doesn't think of you very highly. But most people don't want to disappoint someone who sincerely believes in them," he added.