Positive Thinking; Harmful for Some?

Jeremy Dean’s (PsyBlog) recent nuance-light headline caught my attention: Why Positive Thinking May Be Harmful for Some

A recently published study1 by researchers at Michigan State University revealed that habitual worriers’ (Dean calls them “natural worriers”, a specious phrase) brains ‘backfire’ when trying to put a positive spin on a scenario that seems negative. Lead study author Jason Moser:

“The worriers actually showed a paradoxical backfiring effect in their brains when asked to decrease their negative emotions.

This suggests they have a really hard time putting a positive spin on difficult situations and actually make their negative emotions worse even when they are asked to think positively.”

Leading Moser to conclude:

“You can’t just tell your friend to think positively or to not worry — that’s probably not going to help them.

So you need to take another tack and perhaps ask them to think about the problem in a different way, to use different strategies.”

Returning to PsyBlog’s headline, it would be accurate to say positive thinking may be harmful to some if Moser’s alternate strategies are not also ‘positive thinking’. I’m not sure that considering other ways of thinking about a situation in order to reduce worry is not positive thinking.


  1. Neural markers of positive reappraisal and their associations with trait reappraisal and worry., Moser, Jason S.; Hartwig, Rachel; Moran, Tim P.; Jendrusina, Alexander A.; Kross, Ethan, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol 123(1), Feb 2014, 91-105. []
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