A new measure of children?s optimism and pessimism: The Youth Life Orientation Test

S. Ey & J. Thomas, W. Hadley, D. Nuttbrock Allen, S. Palmer, J. Klosky, D. Deptula, & R. Cohen
University of Memphis & Pacific University, USA

Published in ?Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry?, 46(5), 548-558, 2005
The authors of this study suggest that optimism may serve as an important source of resiliency among healthy and ill children.  Using the Youth Life Orientation Test (YLOT), which was adapted from a similar measure designed for use with adults, they investigated children?s positive and negative expectations about the future.  In an attempt to assess the reliability and validity of the YLOT, the researchers used data collected from 204 school children (109 girls, 95 boys), between 3rd and 6th grade.  With guidance from research assistants, they were required to complete the new measurement of optimism and pessimism at the beginning of the school year and again seven months later.  They were also required to complete measures of self-competence, hope, attributional style, and social desirability.  Three months into the school year, parents of 36 children (19 girls, 17 boys) also completed an additional questionnaire pack relating to their children?s psychological adjustment, including any emotional and behavioural problems, and social and academic competency.  50% of participants were Caucasian and 50% were African-American.

Children?s optimism at the beginning of the school year predicted fewer child-reported depressive symptoms and less externally visible emotional and behavioural problems, as reported by parents, three months later.  Children?s pessimism, on the other hand, predicted later anxiety symptoms and parents rated their child as less academically and socially competent.  Overall, children with optimistic expectations for the future rated themselves as more competent and hopeful compared to those with more pessimistic expectations, and this did not appear to be caused by social desirability.

The study also found unexpected racial and gender differences, namely that African-American children reported higher levels of optimism than their Caucasian counterparts and boys were more pessimistic than girls.  The researchers suggest that cultural differences, such as religiosity, may explain why African-American youth describe their expectations for the future in a more optimistic light.  However, more research is required to understand the unexpected finding that boys were less optimistic than girls, as both genders share an equal risk for developing depressive symptoms and girls often report more distress when assessed.  

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