Hope And Hopelessness Research Paper

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According to mythology, only hope remained in Pandora’s jar after envy, spite, and revenge had been unleashed. But, how are we to interpret this ending? Was hope to be the antidote for these evils, or a counterproductive force? Although Judeo-Christian writers espoused the virtues of hope, Plato, Sophocles, Nietzche, and others have criticized it for prolonging suffering. Even more problematic, however, are the prevalent historical views of hope and hopelessness as being vague and useless concepts. Contrary to these traditional perspectives, however, hope and hopelessness have emerged in recent decades as having clearly articulated definitions, reliable and valid instruments for their measurement, and relationships with crucial life outcomes.

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1. Definitions And Measures Of Hope

In the 1950s and 1960s, psychologists (e.g., Stotland 1969) and psychiatrists (e.g., Menninger 1959) de-scribed hope in terms of positive expectations for goal attainment. In the 1970s and 1980s, researchers used experiential, spiritual, cognitive, and interpersonal frameworks for their positive expectancy hope models (Farran et al. 1995).

Three approaches to hope have received the most attention. First, Stotland (1969) hypothesized that hope reflected a greater than zero expectation of attaining important goals, and that it helps in under-standing how antecedent events lead to subsequent outcomes. To measure hope, people are queried about their goal attainment expectations, or observed by raters. Although Stotland allowed for the possibility of trait propensities, he focused upon hope in particular situations.

Second, Averill et al. (1990) used a semistructured questionnaire approach, and found that people view hope as being appropriate when it is: (a) a short-term response to specific environmental conditions, and (b) tapping important, societally endorsed goals with 50 percent attainment probabilities.

Third, Snyder (2000) and colleagues, in what is called ‘hope theory,’ have posited that goal-directed expectancies involve two separable cognitive components—agency, or the person’s perceived capability to initiate and sustain movement toward a goal, and pathways, or the perceived capability to produce effective routes to goals. Using this model, trait and state measures of hope in children and adults have been developed and validated (e.g., the 12-item dispositional Hope Scale for adults, Snyder et al. 1991).

2. Similarities And Differences Of Hope Relative To Other Constructs

Because of its increasing scholarly attention since the early 1990s, hope theory will be used in order to explore the similarities and differences of hope to other theories. Viewing hope as agentic and pathways, goaldirected thinking provides an overlap with the Scheier and Carver (1985) generalized positive outcome expectancies model of optimism (indeed, this latter model is similar to the definitions of hope in the 1950s through 1980s); however, the pathways component of hope theory adds an explicit recognition of mental ‘routing’ capabilities in goal-directed thought.

In contrast to the Seligman (1991) model, in which learned optimism is viewed as an attributional process for distancing oneself from undesired outcomes, hope theory emphasizes a person’s self-referential thoughts about reaching desired goals.

What about hope and self-esteem? It is posited (and supported in research) that perceptions of successful goal-directed activities (i.e., hope) drive a person’s self-esteem. Thus, hope is a causal determinant of self-esteem.

Hope also resembles the self-efficacy model, with the pathways component being similar to what Bandura (1997) has called outcome expectancies, and agency being similar to his efficacy expectancies. A fundamental difference in the two models, however, is that the self-efficacy thoughts are given the pivotal driving role in Bandura’s theory, whereas the agency and pathways goal-directed thoughts of hope theory are given equal weight as they iterate throughout the thinking process toward the attainment of goals.

3. Definitions And Measures Of Hopelessness

Beck et al. (1974) defined hopelessness as a lack of enthusiasm, a motivational tendency to give up, and a dearth of positive expectancies. Using this definition, they developed the Beck Hopelessness Scale. Patterned theoretically after the Beck Hopelessness Scale, Kazdin et al. (1983) developed and validated the Hopelessness Scale for Children (ages seven and older).

Reasoning that elderly persons often perceive pessimism and futility about their futures, Fry (1984) conceptualized this perspective as hopelessness; moreover, he developed the Geriatric Hopelessness Scale to measure diminished abilities, lost interpersonal worth, and difficulty in recovering spiritual faith.

4. Hope And Hopelessness As Related To Other Variables

Dispositionally high-hope, as compared to low-hope, persons appraise their goals more in terms of successes than failures, they have higher perceived probabilities of attaining goals, and are more likely to experience positive emotions. Also, the positive appraisals of high-hope relative to low-hope people become especially advantageous when coping with stressors. Likewise, higher hope correlates positively with subsequent successful academic outcomes throughout the range of grades (elementary school through college), and better athletic performances (Snyder 2000).

Turning to the antithesis of hope, elevated hopelessness has correlated significantly with higher depression, as well as to more suicidal intentions and suicide completions in adults (Beck et al. 1990); moreover, greater hopelessness in children has related to more depression and suicidal ideation (Asarnow and Guthrie 1989).

5. Developmental Processes

5.1 Building Hope In Children

Newborns supplant raw sensations with perceptual representations. This learning of ‘What’s out there’ leads to the selection of important objects (e.g., mother’s face), thereby reflecting the emergence of desired goals. Infants also learn to recognize co-occurrence in events, and babies can anticipate events and act with intention (Schulman 1991). Also, babies learn ‘what goes with what’ survival skills by attending to those persons and things that fulfill their needs. Additionally, by age three, children can articulate their expectations about desired outcomes.

From ages three to six, hopeful thinking is enhanced as the child’s vocabulary grows from approximately 50 to 10,000 words. By providing the means for describing goals and communicating with others, words and language help to frame hopeful thinking.

Through their reading or physical exploration, 7 to 12-year-old children expand their knowledge for use in goal pursuits; moreover, they increase their memory storehouses. These children also realize that their hopeful thoughts must be negotiated in the contexts of other persons (Flapan 1968).

Spanning the years 13 to 18, adolescents test their hopeful thoughts by gaining more understanding and experiences with interpersonal relationships.

5.2 Undermining Hope In Children

The events that diminish hope typically are more damaging when encountered earlier in the child’s life, or when they continue for longer periods of time over childhood. Neglectful caregiving interferes with hopeful thinking because children in such circumstances do not have anyone educating them about goal-directed thinking. Likewise, abuse is particularly damaging because children fear the very caregivers who are supposed to instruct them in hopeful thinking. Also, parental loss by divorce or death can diminish hopeful thinking because children come to doubt the stability of relationships, as well as the fact that one can meet goals in the contexts of such relationships. Lastly, caregiving in which children’s efforts are not supported lessens hope (Dweck 1999).

6. Increasing Hope

6.1 Children

In regard to goals, babies are aided by caregivers in identifying, naming, and using specific words for desired objects. The caregiver’s interest and conversations about the child’s goals are productive, as are reinforcements of goal-making.

To increase agentic thinking, children profit by being reminded that they are responsible for making things happen. Praise when children show determination to reach their goals solidifies their subsequent agentic thoughts. Similarly, helping children to practice positive self-referential talk (e.g., ‘I can do this’) enhances agency (Kanfer et al. 1975).

Pathways thinking can be promoted by showing babies how causality works (e.g., using drums). Songs, stories, and rhymes illustrate how words are sequenced, and how one thing leads to another. Teaching mental scripts about what children are to do in given situations is helpful, as are instructions about how to break routes into smaller, more easily attained steps.

For all of the aforementioned hope lessons, it should be emphasized that close attachments with caregivers are essential for fostering children’s hopes.

6.2 Adults

It is important in producing hope that adults set goals based on their desires rather than what other people want for them. Additional helpful strategies include producing an array of goals, setting goals that stretch one’s talents, and clearly articulating and setting concrete goal markers so as to facilitate the noticing of progress (Nezu and D’Zurilla 1981).

To enhance agentic thinking, particularly during difficult times, positive self-talk is useful. By learning to anticipate blockages, and to think of these impediments as challenges, people can enhance their determination (especially for when they encounter problems). People also gain mental lifts by remembering previously successful experiences. Furthermore, switching from truly blocked goals to more reachable ones increases agency.

To enhance one’s pathways thinking, breaking a long-range goal into smaller subgoals is helpful. Other productive strategies include developing mental maps to goals, planning alternative routes, and rehearsing mentally. Friendships also provide powerful guidance for pathways-related thinking.

7. Future Directions

Research is needed into parental and school environments that are maximally conducive to hope, as well as the environments that must be avoided so as to lessen hopelessness. Also, additional hope and hopelessness research is warranted in regard to health, psychotherapy, interpersonal relationships, worker satisfaction and performance, stress and coping, and aging.


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