Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
Ben-Gurion University of the NegevIsrael news photo: BGU

A new study shows that although optimism is a positive tool for female students, for male students it is a disadvantage.

The research, conducted at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found that female students who were more optimistic achieved significantly higher grades than their less optimistic peers.

But for male students, too much optimism led to overconfidence and lower grades as a result.

The study was conducted by doctoral student Tamar Icekson in the Department of Business Administration of the Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management, together with Professor Ayala Malach-Pines and Professor Oren Kaplan of the School of Business Administration at the College of Management.

The researchers examined the attitudes and grades of 174 BGU undergraduates to determine the effect of positive emotions and thinking on behavior. Each participant completed an anonymous self-report questionnaire, for which extra course credit was awarded. Optimism was assessed using the Life Orientation Test, a one-dimensional measure consisting of 10 items. Academic performance was estimated using the student's final BA degree grade.

“Optimism in male students can lead to... an attitude of 'Things will work out for the best,'” said Icekson. “So instead of studying enough for a test, they go out and have a barbecue the night before.”

Those male students who scored the most optimistic received the lowest grades, according to the findings. Optimism tempered by conscientiousness produced the best results, the researchers said.

Interestingly, for females, “optimism alone was beneficial because they're naturally more conscientious than their male counterparts,” said Icekson. “Women have a lower self-esteem and so if they are not sure things will work out, then they study for the test.”

The findings of the study were presented at the International Conference of Positive Psychology during the summer.