Emotional resilience: Are you a glass half full or a glass half empty person? It may make a difference to how emotionally resilient you are.




By David WilkinsonDavid Wilkinson

If the boss asks to see you, stuffstuff ampouleampoule do you automatically assume the worst?

Are you quick to see problems as opposed to opportunities?

Is your glass half empty, or half full?

The reason I ask is that your bias towards interpreting things as being negative or positive may have a bearing on your level of emotional resilience. A recent study conducted at the University of California suggests that there may be a relationship between our outlook and our level of emotional resilience.

In this study the researchers asked 65 people who were not seeking any treatment for emotional problems to look at a series of images of faces. The faces displayed a range of emotional responses across the range from extreme happiness, through neutral faces to extreme sadness and fear. They also asked the participants to rate themselves in terms of their own general level of emotional resilience.

What they found was that just about everyone accurately ascribed the correct emotions to the faces when they were presented with faces showing happiness, sadness and fear. However when the participants were shown faces that had emotionally neutral expressions most people (statistically significant) interpreted the neutral expressions as being sad or fearful as opposed to happy. Only a very small number of people consistently interpreted neutral faces as being happy.

This is interesting in itself as the population was a reasonably random sample, which suggests that most of us are glass half empty people. However the really interesting thing they found came when they ran a correlation of the self-reports of the participant's levels of emotional resilience. What they discovered was the individuals that thought an emotionally neutral face showed happiness we also those with the highest levels of self-reported emotional resilience.

This suggests that there may be a link between your level of emotional resilience and your general outlook on life. Glass half full people appear, from this study to be more emotionally resilient. Or does it?

The problem with this study is that they used self-reports of levels emotional resilience. These may or may not be accurate. There is however, a possibility that people with a negative bias in the task also have a negative bias of their own abilities and levels of resilience. Similarly the people with a positive bias in the task could also have a positive bias towards their own levels of resilience. I think I want a somewhat more objective measure or description of the participants' levels of emotional resilience before I drew the conclusion that there is actually a link between someone's outlook of bias towards negative or positive interpretations of things and their general levels of emotional resilience.

Whilst it appears to make sense that positive people would be more resilient, and indeed many writers and companies selling products or remedies claim as much there is scant evidence from this study that this is the case.  There are other research programmes however and I will report on those in due course.

The experiment conducted by Arce et al from the Department of Psychiatry was reported in a paper entitled ‘Association between individual differences in self-reported emotional resilience and the affective perception of neutral faces.' published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in April 2009 (Apr;114(1-3):286-93).

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