Optimism is a mental attitude tied in with the belief that all our actions will have a desirable outcome. It is a psychological capacity that affects the way we think, feel, and act.
Combined with an everlasting positive approach towards every endeavor a person makes, optimism makes life more zestful and motivating.
It is an integral part of our personality since we can acquire optimistic traits both from genetic predispositions as well as environmental or observational learning throughout our lives.
Positive psychologists believe that the presence of positive traits benefits us in several ways, for example:
- Studies have shown that optimistic individuals have better physical and mental health than others (Carver and Scheier, 2014).
- Optimism is a sure shot indicator of less anxiety, more stress resilience, better coping mechanisms, and reduced depression (Lam et al., 2016; Orom, Nelson, Underwood, Homish and Kapoor, 2015).
- Sleep studies have revealed that optimistic people have better sleep quality and are less prone to insomnia and other sleep disorders (Uchino et al., 2016).
- Mental health studies on trauma survivors showed that people who had higher levels of optimism could recuperate from the trauma and stress sooner than individuals who were pessimistic and anxious (Birkeland, Blix, Silberg, and Heir, 2016).
- Neuropsychological studies on the effects of optimism revealed its association to lower levels of cortisol in the brain, especially under stress, better antioxidant levels in the body, and well-regulated lipid profiles that guarantee optimum cardiac functioning (Boehm, Williams, Rimm, Ryff, and Kubzansky, 2013).
- Furthermore, studies also associated high optimism with reduced heart problems, lower mortality, and low suicide ideations (Kim, Smith, and Kubzansky, 2014).
Numerous pieces of evidence make it clear how optimism and positive thinking can help us reach our goals in life.
Although some psychologists differ on what factors are responsible for influencing levels of optimism in different persons at different times, they do agree on the fact that being optimistic is an essential requisite for an overall self-confident approach in life.
Determining optimism and pessimism and suggesting ways to improve it was a challenge for mental health professionals until the creation of the Life Orientation Test.
The Life Orientation Test (LOT) is a standard psychological self-help instrument that indicates the level of optimism in a person and provides meaningful insight into how he can replace harmful thought patterns with more constructive ones.
This article is a brief overview of the popular Life Orientation Test that was developed by Scheier and Carver in 1985. It includes a detailed description of what it means, how it works, what factors it measures, and how we can use it for improving our lifestyle.
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What is the Life Orientation Test?
As mentioned earlier, the Life Orientation Test (LOT) is a standard psychological tool for measuring optimism.
Initially created by Michael Scheier and Charles Carver is 1985, this test underwent a few revisions, and eventually, the improved version of the LOT, known as LOT-Revised or LOT-R gained more popularity for personal and professional purposes.
The first version of the Life Orientation Test had twelve questions, each measuring optimism and pessimism objectively. The respondents needed to answer each item on a 5-point Likert Scale where – 0 means ‘Strongly Disagree‘ and 4 implies ‘Strongly Agree.’
The LOT uses questions that are relatable to all individuals irrespective of their age or background and investigates simple elements of life that we all contemplate at some point in life.
The Life Orientation Test includes:
- Statements about how we feel about ourselves, others, and life in general.
- Statements about how we feel about ourselves, others, and life under stress.
- Statements about how we feel about ourselves, others, and life during happy times.
The questions, however simple, are deep and probe the individual to explore parts of the mind that are sometimes untouched and unheard.
The interpretation and analysis of the scores provide valuable understanding of where we are standing in life and how we can overcome pessimistic or negative contemplations to move ahead.
Besides suggesting possibilities of self-improvement, LOT and LOT-R also tap on the self-belief that good things will happen to us when we think right and do right.
A Look at the Life Orientation Test – Revised (LOT-R)
The Life Orientation Test is a highly individualized and practical measure that evaluates optimism and pessimism in real-life conditions.
The original version of the test was criticized by scientists on several grounds such as it did not cover the scope of future expectations in as much detail as was mentioned in its core theoretical base.
Due to such criticisms, a modified version of the LOT, called the LOT-R or Life Orientation Test-Revised was created by Scheier and Carver 1994.
The LOT-R is a shorter version of the LOT but is more objective and specialized than the original test. There are only six questions that are evaluated in the questionnaire with a response system that is similar to the original version of LOT (5-point Likert Scale).
The other items, as creators Scheier and Carver said, are filler items that do not directly assess the level of optimism or pessimism in a person, and therefore, are not included in the test.
The brevity and objectivity of the LOT-R make it useful for cognitive and behavioral therapies. LOT-R has been successfully implemented to a broad range of populations including adults fighting poverty, adolescents with depression, individuals suffering from social anxiety, and victims of trauma (Lynch, Kaplan, and Shema, 1997).
It is by far, one of the most accepted measures of optimism and positive thinking for adults and youngsters.
What Do They Measure Exactly?
Extensive studies on large populations showed that LOT scores are directly correlated to factors like optimism, quality of life, self-efficacy, fatigue, and mental health.
It measures optimism and pessimism on a single continuum and provides valid results irrespective of gender, social background, and other demographic variations.
In addition to indicating the level of optimism, the Life Orientation Scales measure what we call Dispositional Optimism (DO).
Dispositional optimism explores the aspects of individual difference that accounts for different levels of happiness, sadness, and anxiety among individuals in similar situations.
For example, why some people find it easier to bounce back from failures than others, or why some individuals are more self-critical than others of their age – DO gives first-hand knowledge of the underlying causes of these intricate individual differences.
In a study on patients with chronic heart disease, it was found that those who scored high on the LOT scales could cope with their condition better and showed early signs of recovery.
If we go by the definition, Dispositional Optimism is the “global expectation that more good (desirable) things than bad (undesirable) will happen to us in the future (Scheier and Carver, 1985)”.
The term ‘dispositional’ adds a personality dimension to it, meaning that its presence as a part of personality increases the likelihood of being hopeful, self-motivated, and goal-oriented (Peterson, 2000).
Optimism has several positive attributes in-built in it such as:
- Happiness – the pleasure of doing or getting something.
- Motivation – the drive to do something.
- Hopefulness – the expectation that something good is about to happen.
- Self-esteem – the power of treating ourselves with respect.
- Self-confidence – the inner belief that we can achieve what we seek.
- Gratitude – the feeling of thankfulness for people and circumstances that mean something.
- Sense of achievement – acknowledging our efforts and recognizing our accomplishments without waiting for others to do so.
- Resilience – the unbeatable inner strength to learn from mistakes and move on in life the best way we can.
By estimating optimism, the LOT scales also provide some knowledge about the presence or absence of each of these incorporated factors as well. A person who scores high on the LOT or LOT-R is more likely to have all the above qualities as well, the sum of which would definitely indicate a high quality of life.
A Closer Look at the 12 Items
The LOT Scale is a close-ended and structured test having 12 items that measure optimism and pessimism on a 5-point Likert Scale. The original version of the LOT used a one-factor model for evaluating how optimistic the respondent is.
Further studies and research on this line revealed that a two-factor model would work better for LOT assessments than a single factor structure.
As a bi-dimensional model, LOT scales now have four items that measure optimism, four independent items that measure pessimism in the respondents, and four filler items that are not scored (Chang and McBride-Chang, 1996).
Also, researchers have found that there can be a third dimension in the factor analysis of LOT Scales which overlaps with correlates of self-esteem, efficacy, and neuroticism (Scheier and Carver, 1985).
Here is a brief outline of the factor structure of the LOT Scale with indicators on what the statements measure and how they are scored:
|Item No.||Statement||What it measures||Scoring Pattern|
|1.||In uncertain times, I usually expect the best.||Optimism||Direct|
|2.||It is easy for me to relax||Filler Item||Not Scored|
|3.||If something can go wrong for me, it will||Pessimism||Reverse|
|4.||I always look on the bright side of things||Optimism||Direct|
|5.||I am always optimistic about my future||Optimism||Direct|
|6.||I enjoy my friends a lot||Filler Item||Not Scored|
|7.||It is important for me to keep busy||Filler Item||Not Scored|
|8.||I hardly ever expect things to go my way||Pessimism||Reverse|
|9.||Things never work out the way I want them to||Pessimism||Reverse|
|10.||I don’t get upset too easily||Filler Item||Not Scored|
|11.||I am a believer in the idea that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’||Optimism||Direct|
|12.||I rarely count on good things to happen to me||Pessimism||Reverse|
A Quick Look at The Factor Analysis of LOT
How Does the Scoring Work?
The LOT follows both direct and reverse scoring patterns. The responses are evaluated on a 5-point Likert Scale (0 – strongly disagree, 1 – disagree, 2 – neutral, 3 – agree, 4 – strongly agree) where each point indicates a score.
For the items that measure optimism, responding ‘0’ would denote a rating of ‘0’ and responding ‘4’ would add a score of ‘4’. Similarly, for the reverse items that measure pessimism, a score of ‘0’ would add a rating of ‘4’, a response in ‘1’ would add a score of ‘3,’ and it continues likewise.
In short, the scoring of the LOT scales have three parts:
- Items 1,4,5, and 11 are scored directly.
- Items 3,8,9, and 12 are reverse scored.
- Items 2,6,7, and 10 are fillers and not scored.
The summation of the direct and reverse scores provide an estimate of how optimistic or pessimistic the individual is. Here is a summary of what the ratings indicate.
|0-13||Low Optimism (High Pessimism)|
|19-24||High Optimism (Low Pessimism)|
How to Best Review the Results
The clear-cut formula to review the results of LOT is that the higher the score is, the more optimistic the individual is, and the more likely he is to have a happier and healthier life.
The maximum score one can get in the LOT is 24, which is a sure-shot indicator of the person being high on optimism and positivity.
Higher levels of dispositional optimism relate to greater subjective well-being of a person during times of stress and adversity. Consistent studies on self-confidence and mental health in line with the LOT test findings have shown that high scorers in the test were more socially adjusted and emotionally well-regulated than others.
They were more expressive, hardworking, and greater achievers than individuals who scored on the lower end of the scale. In addition, optimists appeared to be doing better both at personal and professional fronts than pessimists across all ages and cultural backgrounds.
One big drawback or limitation of the LOT, as was revealed in several pieces of research and reviews, is the scope for faking responses.
Studies showed that faking answers in LOT tests are a lot easier than falsifying in other positive psychology tests such as Hope Assessment or Creativity Scales (Gleser 1969). Researchers in this field believe that addressing this particular issue of LOT can increase its usefulness and applicability in a wide range of clinical settings in the future (Gottschalk, 1974).
How Valid and Reliable is the Test?
Item Response Theory has measured the accuracy and validity of the LOT test results. A study on some university graduates found that the overall scores of LOT satisfactorily measured dispositional optimism and latent traits like self-confidence and self-mastery.
Internal consistency and test-retest reliability of LOT also provided similar pictures. Studies on substance abusers and alcoholics showed identical results across genders, races, and educational backgrounds.
Strong criterion validity revealed that high scores on the Life Orientation Test are negatively correlated with depression and hopelessness (Solberg, 2009).
Where Can I Find it Online?
Life Orientation Test Scales are widely available online today. Owing to the objectivity and the easy-to-understand approach they follow, the LOT scales have found significant recognition as self-help and improvement tools for estimating where we stand on levels of optimism and pessimism.
Although the revised Life Orientation Test is more popular than the original one due to the shorter size of the questionnaire, both the tests provide an equally authentic and reliable direction about one’s positive personality traits.
A Take-Home Message
Winston Churchill said:
A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
It is a known fact that optimism changes the way our mind and body works. Be that a healthy immune system, balanced metabolic functions, or increased happiness and productivity; there is no area of well-being that optimism leaves untouched. With scales like LOT and LOT-R, we can find our way forward with more vigor and hope (Segerstrom, 2006).
When we are aware of where we stand in terms of positive thoughts and actions, self-assessment and self-improvement seem a lot more accessible to us.
The biggest reason why the LOT scales are so popular today is because of their universal implementation. They are as good as therapeutic measures as they are as daily self-help tools. It creates valuable insight and builds a strong understanding of how we can take a step forward toward a happier life, and as the saying goes, “When it rains, look for rainbows. When it is dark, look for stars” – that is where the essence of optimism lies.
It creates within us an unbeatable quest for achievement and success, and to quote Maya Angelou, the famous American poet and humanist:
Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.
- Carver and Scheier, 2014: Dispositional Optimism. Trends in Cognitive Science.
- Chiesi, Galli, Primi, Bonacchi, 2013: The accuracy of the Life Orientation Test-Revised (LOT-R) in measuring dispositional optimism.
- Boehm, Williams, Ryff, 2015: Unequally distributed psychological assets: Are there social disparities in optimism, life satisfaction, and positive affect?
- Scheier, Carver (1992): Effects of optimism on psychological well-being – Theoretical overview and empirical update.
- Solberg, Evans, Segerstrom (2009): Optimism and college retention. Meditation by motivation, performance, and adjustment.
- Wimberly, Carver,and Antoni, (2008). Effects of optimism, interpersonal relationships and distress on psychosexual well-being.