Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Correlation, Causation, Little Room for Optimism

So I ran across this article the other day. Apparently, the Dutch did some study and found that the most optimistic people out of some group of old men had a 50% lower risk of cardiovascular death over 15 years of follow-up.

Somewhat inevitably, the article (entitled: "Want to live longer? Think positive thoughts") spins this as evidence that being optimistic causes better health results. I can only speak for myself, but my first thought was, 'All those old guys heading for heart failure had good reason to be pessimistic!'

(Second thought: "I'm Screwed!")


But seriously, what is it about people that drives them to automatically attribute this type of result to some mystical, unprovable, power of positive thinking - as opposed to assuming that people have some idea where their life is headed and adjust their outlook accordingly? On the face of it, it seems as though Occam's Razor leaves a little less stubble on my side of the argument, yet people instinctively hew to the more optimistic, less fatalistic viewpoint. Oh well.


  • Classical case of getting correlation and causation mixed up.

    If people are healthier, they're more naturally prone to be optimistic.

    The best way to promote optimistic thoughts is through good health, especially if you're of older age. If you're sitting in a hospital bed dying of pancreatic cancer, I'd hardly consider this subtype of people to be optimistic about life. Just suddenly thinking happy thoughts isn't going to help the situation even if you can force your brain to do so.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:47 PM  

  • Exactly! Reminds me of a doctor's appointment I had a few months ago, when I was suffering some symptoms that were not easily classifiable. "Are they worse when you're under stress?" asked the doctor.

    "Yes," I said, "Because when I'm feeling these symptoms, it really stresses me out!"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:05 PM  

  • There is, of course, conflicting research suggesting that some people actually are healthier if they maintain a pessimistic outlook. The constant pressure from the feel-good weenie brigade places them under undue stress to be something they are not.

    This reminds me of my parents, who criticized my consistently negative outlook. "If you keep letting the world get to you," they said, "you'll drop dead of a heart attack."

    "Nonsense," said I. "My heart is used to the daily exercise. It's the stupid bastards who are habitually happy who have to worry. The first time they get pissed off, their hearts stop from sheer surprise and they drop dead. Which serves them right -- they really piss me off."

    By Blogger AJSomerset, at 9:44 AM  

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