Working title for new view is Pessimist on the Rocks with a Twist.
SYCHOLOGISTS ARE revisiting the long-held assumption that those with a "glass-half-empty" outlook on life are necessarily more depressed than "glass-half-full" people.
Dr. Josette Rollings of the National Institutes of Health said she began to question the notion when she observed a woman at a lunch party with a glass half-filled with iced tea.
"She looked rather dejected at first, and said 'I'm almost out of tea,' which is a glass-half-empty thing to say, if ever there was one. But then she discovered the ice bucket at our table and filled her glass to the top. She seemed to have completely forgotten her previous state of mind and smiled and said to me, 'Don't you just love fresh ice in your tea?' It was a revelation."
To test her new observation, Dr. Rollings had subjects identified as optimists seated in one room and those with pessimistic scores in another. Subjects in both rooms were served half-filled glasses of tea, but only the room of pessimists had access to a bucket of ice.
"All the subjects were told they were here to rate a new comedy pilot called 'Rosenfeld,' but of course that was just a pretense," explained Dr. Rollings. "We do that all the time."
When the subjects began asking when "Rosenfeld" would start, the optimists were told that the video had been misplaced. Undiscouraged, one optimist pulled out a deck of cards and started dealing to his group.
However, the pessimists were told that the video had gone down in a horrible plane crash of a Federal Express jet and that the entire crew had perished.
"Imagine their shock and horror," said Dr. Rollings.
A psychologist dressed as a waitress then entered the pessimists' room and began filling the glasses with ice from the bucket. She announced that the group would be watching "I Love Lucy" reruns instead.
"Everyone started to perk up, and soon the pessimists were as lively as the optimists," said Dr. Rollings. "The Fed Ex crew was quickly forgotten as the episode where William Holden lights Lucy's fake nose on fire with a cigarette lighter had the whole room in stitches."
The "waitress" came in over the next two hours and refilled glasses during "I Love Lucy," but only half full. The pessimists were by now using the ice bucket without prompting.
"Then we told them the restrooms were out of order, and by now they had each had about three glasses of tea, plus chewed some ice, the way people do. Imagine their anxiety and stress."
Meanwhile, Dr. Rollings concluded, "we had long since sent the optimists home. They weren't nearly as much fun from an experimental standpoint."
© 10.4.10 Kate Heidel