How Full Is That Glass, Really?

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In the years since Alloy and Abramson published their work, other researchers have built on their findings about how mood and outlook color all sorts of thinking tasks: making purchasing decisions, doing creative work, recognizing faces. In studies at the University of Utah, Lisa Aspinwall has found that when presented with an unsolvable problem, optimists spend less time on strategies that don't produce results. Pessimists, on the other hand, tend to ensnare themselves in one approach, sticking with it despite its futility. "Optimists didn't waste time and energy on something that couldn't be done, and these coping skills may be what helps them to handle stressful events in life situations as well," she says.

That doesn't mean that pessimists are always at a disadvantage. Their negative filter can be advantageous in situations involving risk or critical judgment, such as buying a new home or filing taxes. So if you're picking an architect, it might be a good idea to go with an optimist, but you may want a pessimist for an accountant.

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