Is the Glass Always Half Full? Examining the Relationship Between Dispositional Optimism and Risky Decision Making

  • Neshat Yazdani Fordham University
  • Karen L. Siedlecki Fordham University


Dispositional optimism is considered a stable personality trait and as such may influence expectations about outcomes in a variety of decision-making scenarios.  The current study assessed the relationship between dispositional optimism and decision-making behavior when risk is present.  To investigate whether optimism was associated with risky decision-making behavior, we examined the relationships between dispositional optimism and two correlates (attributional style and trait hope) and risk-taking behavior on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) for 61 participants (Mage = 19.62).  Correlational analyses between the three measures of optimism and IGT performance indicate that dispositional optimism and risky decision-making behavior are not significantly related to one another.  This study contributes to the literature examining how individual differences influence decision-making.  A broader perspective on the factors that influence decision making is necessary so that the mechanisms that predict and explain risky decision making can be better understood.


Keywords: dispositional optimism, decision making, risk, attributional style, hope, Iowa Gambling Task

Author Biographies

Neshat Yazdani, Fordham University
Graduate Student, Applied Developmental PsychologyDepartment of Psychology Fordham University
Karen L. Siedlecki, Fordham University
Karen L. Siedlecki, PhD 
Associate Professor Associate Chair of Undergraduate Studies at Lincoln Center
Department of Psychology Fordham University


Anderson, C., & Galinsky, A. D. (2006). Power, optimism, and risk-taking. European Journal of Social Psychology, 36(4), 511-536.

Aspinwall, L.G., Taylor, S.E. (1992). Modeling cognitive adaptation: A longitudinal investigation of the impact of individual differences and coping on college adjustment and performance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(6), 989-1003.

Barry, D., & Petry, N. M. (2008). Predictors of decision-making on the Iowa Gambling Task: Independent effects of lifetime history of substance use disorders and performance on the Trail Making Test. Brain and Cognition, 66(3), 243–252.

Bechara, A., Damasio, A. R., Damasio, H., & Anderson, S. W. (1994). Insensitivity to future consequences following damage to human prefrontal cortex. Cognition, 50, 7–15.

Bracha, A., & Brown, D. J. (2012). Affective decision making: A theory of optimism bias. Games and Economic Behavior, 75(1), 67-80.

Brevers, D., Bechara, A., Cleeremans, A., & Noël, X. (2013). Iowa Gambling Task (IGT): Twenty years after – gambling disorder and IGT. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(1), 1-14.

Burdick, J. D., Roy, A. L., & Raver, C. C. (2013). Evaluating the Iowa Gambling Task as a direct assessment of impulsivity with low-income children. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(7), 771–776.

Buelow, M. T., & Blaine, A. L. (2015). The assessment of risky decision making: A factor analysis of performance on the Iowa Gambling Task, Balloon Analogue Risk Task, and Columbia Card Task. Psychological Assessment, 27(3), 777-785.

Büyükaşik-Colak C., Gündoğdu-Aktürk E., Bozo O. (2012). Mediating role of coping in the dispositional optimism-posttraumatic growth relation in breast cancer patients. The Journal pf Psychology, 146(5), 471-483.

Carifio, J., & Rhodes, L. (2002). Construct validities and the empirical relationships between optimism, hope, self-efficacy, and locus of control. Work 19, 125-136.

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2014). Dispositional optimism. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18(6), 293–299.

Carver, C.S., Scheier, M.F., & Segerstrom, S.C. (2010). Optimism. Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 879-889.

Deakin, J., Aitken, M., Robbins, T., & Sahakian, B.J. (2004). Risk taking during decision-making in normal volunteers changes with age. Journal of the international Neuropsychological Society, 10, 590-598.

Dykema, J., Bergbower, K., Doctora, J., & Peterson, C. (1996). An attributional style questionnaire for general use. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 14, 100–108.

Felton, J., Gibson, B., & Sanbonmatsu, D. (2003). Preference for risk in investing as a function of trait optimism and gender. The Journal of Behavioral Finance, 4(1), 33–40.

Gardner, M., & Steinberg, L. (2005). Peer influence on risk taking, risk preference, and risky decision making in adolescence and adulthood: An experimental study. Developmental Psychology, 41(4), 625-635.

Gibson, B., & Sanbonmatsu, D.M. (2004). Optimism, pessimism, and gambling: The downside of optimism. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30(2), 149-160.

Herzberg, P. Y., Glaesmer, H., & Hoyer, J. (2006). Separating optimism and pessimism: A robust psychometric analysis of the revised Life Orientation Test (LOT-R). Psychological Assessment, 18(4), 433–438.

Lin, C.-H., Song, T.-J., Chen, Y.-Y., Lee, W.-K., & Chiu, Y.-C. (2013). Reexamining the validity and reliability of the clinical version of the Iowa Gambling Task: Evidence from a normal subject group. Frontiers in Psychology, 4(1), 1-12.

Moen, B., & Rundmo, T. (2005). Predictors of unrealistic optimism: A study of Norwegian risk takers. Journal of Risk Research, 8(5), 363-382.

Orom, H., Penner, L. A., West, B. T., Downs, T. M., Rayford, W., & Underwood, W. (2009). Personality predicts prostate cancer treatment decision-making difficulty and satisfaction. Psycho-Oncology, 18(3).

Peterson, C., Semmel, A., Von Baeyer, C., Abramson, L., Metalsky, G., & Seligman, M. (1982). The Attributional Style Questionnaire. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 6(3), 287–300.

Radcliffe, N.M., Klein, W.M., (2002). Dispositional, unrealistic, and comparative optimism: Differential relations with the knowledge and processing of risk information and beliefs about personal risk. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(6), 836-846.

Scheier, M. F., & Carver, C. S. (1985). Optimism, coping, and health: Assessment and implications of generalized outcome expectancies. Health Psychology, 4(3), 219-247.

Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S. (1993). On the power of positive thinking: The benefits of being optimistic. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2(1), 26-30.

Scheier, M. F., Carver, C. S., & Bridges, M. W. (1994). Distinguishing optimism from neuroticism (and trait anxiety, self-mastery, and self-esteem): A re-evaluation of the Life Orientation Test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67, 1063-1078.

Scheier, M. F., Matthews, K. A., Owens, J. F., Magovern, G. J., Lefebvre, R. C., Abbott, R. A., & Carver, C. S. (1989). Dispositional optimism and recovery from coronary artery bypass surgery: The beneficial effects on physical and psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 57(6), 1024-1040.

Segerstrom, S. C. (2007). Optimism and Resources: Effects on Each Other and on health over 10 years. Journal of Research in Personality, 41(4).

Sharot, T. (2011). The optimism bias. Current Biology, 21(23), R941–5.

Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L.

M., Sigmon, S. T., & ...Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality And Social Psychology, 60(4), 570-585.

Snyder, C. R. (1994). The psychology of hope: You can get there from here. New York: Free Press.

Snyder, C. R., Sympson, S. C., Ybasco, F. C., Borders, T. F., Babyak, M. A., Higgins, R. L., & Ybasco, F. (1994). Development and validations of the State of Hope Scale. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1–26.

Solberg Nes, L. , Evans, D. R., & Segerstrom, S. C. (2009), Optimism and College Retention: Mediation by Motivation, Performance, and Adjustment. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39: 1887-1912.

Steginga, S.K., Occhipinti, S. (2006). Dispositional optimism as a predictor of men’s decision-related distress after localized prostate cancer. Health Psychology 25(2), 135-143.

Sullivan, P. S., Drake, A. J., Sanchez, T. H. (2007). Prevalence of treatment optimism-related risk behavior and associated factors among men who have sex with men in 11 states, 2000-2001. AIDS and Behavior, 11(1), 123-129.

Sweitzer, M., Allen, P., & Kaut, K. P. (2008). Relation of individual differences in impulsivity to non-clinical emotional decision making. Journal of International Neuropsychological Society, 14, 1-5.

Todesco, P., & Hillman, S. B. (1999). Risk perception: Unrealistic optimism or realistic expectancy. Psychological Reports, 84(3), 731-738.

Zagorski, L. (2013). Dispositional optimism. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine, 607. Retrieved from: