The bright side of life - An intergenerational study into the origins of optimism

Optimists have the general tendency to always look at the bright side of life. This attitude toward life seems quite beneficial, as optimists lead happier and physically and mentally healthier lives than pessimists. But where do individual differences in optimism come from? We know surprisingly little about the origins of optimism. Given the advantages optimists experience throughout their lives, it is crucial to investigate the extent to which optimism is transmitted from parents to offspring and through which mechanisms. In 2022, I received a Veni grant to investigate this.

In my Veni project, I investigate three plausible mechanisms of intergenerational transmission of optimism. First, parents may transmit their optimism by passing on genes that are linked to optimism. Second, I expect optimistic parents to generate more positive experiences for their children, which may promote child optimism. Third, optimistic parents may rear optimistic children by teaching them adaptive coping and emotion regulation strategies that help them encounter the world with confidence and foster optimism.

My project combines information on genetic predispositions, observations of parent-child interactions, and ecological momentary assessments. I add optimism questionnaires to existing ongoing multigenerational studies Lifelines and TRAILS (TRacking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey) and start a new data collection to collect ecological momentary assessments from parent-child duos.

Charlotte Vrijen
Charlotte Vrijen
Assistant Professor

My research interests include positive bias, mental and social functioning, and intergenerational transmission.