Can Positive Thinking Affect Your Experiments?

Scientists are a notoriously critical bunch.  We have to be, it’s part of our job.  Yet, our dependence on “seeing the data” often makes us among the more skeptical members of society, as we have a tendency to dismiss that which cannot be explained through a logical mechanism.  But are these instincts actually preventing us from becoming better scientists?

We’ve all had hot streaks in lab where seemingly everything we touch works.  Regardless of whether it’s a two-week, two-month or two-year stretch, it feels good.  Once we’re on a roll, we start expecting experiments to work and that confidence and positivity is evident to those around us.

So are the positive thoughts and positive experimental results more related than we thought?  Is it possible that by maintaining a positive attitude we’re actually manifesting our success in lab?  Sounds hokey perhaps, but correlations between positive attitudes and positive outcomes have been studied for years.

In his classic book, The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale provides a roadmap for eliminating the negative thoughts he claims hold us back from achieving happiness and success.  He argues that by incorporating a more positive outlook, opportunities will present themselves to us.

More recently, Ron Gutman gave a TED talk on the hidden power of smiling.  Taking it a step further, Dr. Barabara Fredrickson has attempted to quantify the relative positive-to-negative thought ratio required to see beneficial results in our lives.  As she explains, the tipping point to achieve such an effect is seen at a “positivity ratio” of 3-to-1.  In other words, we must have three positive emotions for every negative one in order to harness the power of positive thinking.

In proposing a mechanism of how pessimism might cause, say, disease, we may anticipate that pessimists show higher stress levels, resulting in prolonged release of stress hormones, which may eventually lead to disease.  But at the bench, is it possible that pessimism actually negatively affects our experiments?  Are we to believe that a positive attitude may actually improve our experimental outcomes?  Maybe our energy affects it, or maybe we’re in a better state of mind to creatively solve little problems as they arise.

Apparently, we’re not too concerned with mechanisms.  In a prior poll asking whether optimists or pessimists make better scientists, researchers overwhelmingly voted for the optimists.  Maybe they’re more pleasant to be around.  Or maybe they’re the key to fostering great experimental results.
What do you think?

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Do you think a positive attitude can manifest positive experimental results?

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Have you ever seen the power of positive thinking affect your experiments?

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1 comment so far. Join The Discussion

  1. @OmicsScience

    wrote on June 13, 2011 at 5:18 pm

    I 'd say that optimism brings confidence and clearer thinking. And these are important characteristics for a successful experiment.

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