Sunday, March 7, 2010

Optimism Test: Part Two

If you wonder if you have read Optimism Test: Part One, then the answer is NO! Or at least you have not yet read a blog written by me called Optimism Test: Part One. If you wonder why this blog is called Optimism Test: Part Two, then you might have the same feeling as I had last Sunday when I was discussing optimism... we never came to the starting point, or rather we never came to what I had expected to be the starting point.

The Starting Point
Every three months I meet with a group of Danish people who have two things in common:
  1. we have been to a center focused on happiness as volunteers or program participants
  2. we want to keep our learned skills alive, and we do this in discussions with other philosophy of happiness-minded people.
Last Sunday the topic was a combination of "Learned Optimism" and "Do you act as your own best expert when you think you are ill?" Before the meeting, everyone had had the possibility to take an optimism test based on Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism. With test results as a starting point, we were to discuss whether or not:
  • we saw our own health or illness as temporary,
  • our health was something we could change ourselves, and
  • issues regarding health effect other parts of our lives.
Only this discussion never took place. Instead we had a long discussion on the questions of the questionnaire.

Question the Questions or Question the Results?
I have a tendency to question a test if I do not like the result, whereas I have a tendency of not questioning the test when I get a result I like. That's why, when I program, I love to get someone else to test my program. Otherwise, I tend to know what will be tested when I'm done and I end up with a program that meets the requirements of my test, but which hasn't really been tested!

In my Happiness group, we spent two hours discussing the optimism test, but I never understood who agreed or disagreed with the results they got. If they are behaving like I often do, they did not like the results. Rather than questioning the results or the reasons for the result or exploring the results had any useful implications, everyone started to discuss the questions.

To put you in the same situation as the people in the group, I will provide you a link to the test, but not an explanation of how to interpret the results (I provided an explanation at our group meeting, and I'll provide the same explanation in Optimism Test: Part One). For now, you only have the questions and the results.

Optimism Test
Let me walk you through three of the questions which ask how you would respond to a given situation.

13. You owe the library $10 for an overdue book:
a) When I am really involved in reading I often forget when it's due
b) I was so involved in writing the report that I forgot to return the book

17. You prepared a special meal for a friend and he/she barely touched it
a) I wasn't a good cook
b) I made the meal in a rush

47. You are in the hospital and few people come to visit
a) I am irritable when I am sick
b) My friends are negligent about things like that

After reading these three questions, let me give you a little insight in me:
  • Personally, I haven't turned a book in late since I was 18.
  • I've only been at the hospital once and I didn't stay overnight. Only two people showed up, but only three people knew that I was at the hospital.
  • I rarely cook and when I do it is often done in a rush, but can you actually prepare a special meal in a rush? Would you still call it a special meal?
So, for me, all the situations are somewhat hypothetical. Does this mean that I can’t answer the questions above? If I do answer the questions, would the results be valid?

Deciding to Trust the Test

This test reminded me of the tests I've done during job interviews. When I go for a job interview and they ask me to fill out a test, I do it, and I answer all the questions. I do not intend to spend the interview time on discussing the questions, and I want to help the people by giving them an impression of who I am, so I respond to the test in the best way I can. To overcome my doubts about the questions, I come up with examples of how the results apply or do not apply to my personality.

Let me show how I responded to the hypothetical situations in the Optimism test.
  • If I had an overdue library book, there would be a specific reason for it, so I chose answer B.
  • I believe that most people can prepare a fantastic meal when they take the time to do it. I decided to answer with B.
  • If someone didn't turn up at the hospital it would be for his or her own reason, not because I was particular grumpy. Anyway, how would they know that I was grumpy not having seen me? My answer again was B.
I know that I did the test "the best I could" without expectations of the output and as a result. I hoped that the output would somehow be useful, that I would be able to recognize some areas of my life where I could become more optimistic.

Do I Trust the Results?
One of the participants with a PhD in economy decided to question the validity of the test based on "if you do not understand the question, then you do not know what will be measured." This can be true, but I believe that even though you might not know what is measured, the designer of the test knows what is measured and you can find out later what is measured! In fact, in psychological tests, the questions are often designed and organized in a way so that the participant can't anticipate what would be measured. Otherwise, people start completing answers to get a specific result, rather than to simply report on themselves.

I don't have a lot of background information about the test. I only know that it was made by a man who has dedicated most of his life to research in positive psychology and done a lot of empirical studies. And I must say, when we compared answers during our meeting, all people had chosen answers which seemed to support how they saw themselves as likely to act in general.

As mentioned previously, I tend to trust results that support what I already believe. Last week I got results for a blood test of my Vitamin D level. My doctor said it was normal, but I thought it was low. I compared it to the American Standards and those results said it was very low, and I decided to start taking Vitamin D supplements.

The first time I did the Optimism test, it showed me that I was more optimistic on negative events than on positive events, and so I chose to look into where I have a tendency to believe that positive events does not last. I found this useful, and I decided that the test did measure of how positive I saw myself on that particular day.

The Quality of the Test

Personally I do not find the discussion of the quality of the test very interesting, except from an academic viewpoint: how do we in general set up tests and validate the quality of the tests. I believe that the fact that for this test we cannot give the answers that we would intuitively write down, does not have any influence on the validity of the test.

The validity of a personality test is made by comparing the results with how a person describes himself or herself, or how a professional describes the person.

When I fill out a test, I do my best to answer. I trust the moment and I believe that the test will be somehow useful. I don't try to second guess the test or to feed the test in a way that will give me the outcome I'd like to see.

When I get the result, my first inclination is to find examples that support the results, and at the same time I will look for examples that do not support the result. Then I'll evaluate the results see what I want to keep and what I want to let go of.

Anyway, with all the discussion on the validity of the questions, we never had the discussion I wanted about how optimistic or pessimistic we are and how that plays out regarding health and illness. Still, I was happy to see how I responded to tests and test results!

To take the test, click here.

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