Pollyanna principle

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The Pollyanna principle (also called Pollyannaism or positivity bias) is the tendency for people to remember pleasant items more accurately than unpleasant ones.[1] Research[citation needed] indicates that at the subconscious level, the mind has a tendency to focus on the optimistic; while at the conscious level, it has a tendency to focus on the negative. This subconscious bias is similar to the Forer effect.[2]


The name derives from the 1913 novel Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter describing a girl who plays the "glad game"—trying to find something to be glad about in every situation. The novel has been adapted to film several times, most famously in 1920 and 1960. An early use of the name "Pollyanna" in psychological literature was in 1969 by Boucher and Osgood who described a Pollyanna hypothesis as a universal human tendency to use positive words more frequently and diversely than negative words in communicating.[3] Empirical evidence for this tendency has been provided by computational analyses of large corpora of text.[4][5]

The Pollyanna principle was described by Margaret Matlin and David Stang in 1978 using the archetype of Pollyanna more specifically as a psychological principle which portrays the positive bias people have when thinking of the past. According to the Pollyanna Principle, the brain processes information that is pleasing and agreeable in a more precise and exact manner as compared to unpleasant information. We actually tend to remember past experiences as more rosy than they actually occurred. They found that people expose themselves to positive stimuli and avoid negative stimuli, they take longer to recognize what is unpleasant or threatening than what is pleasant and safe, and they report that they encounter positive stimuli more frequently than they actually do. Matlin and Stang also determined that selective recall was a more likely occurrence when recall was delayed: the longer the delay, the more selective recall that occurred.[6]

The Pollyanna principle has been observed on online social networks as well. For example, Twitter users preferentially share more, and are emotionally affected more frequently by, positive information.[7][8]

However, the Pollyanna principle does not always apply to individuals suffering from depression or anxiety, who tend to either have more depressive realism or a negative bias.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Matlin & Stang 1978, p. 260.
  2. ^ http://apsychoserver.psych.arizona.edu/JJBAReprints/PSYC621/Forer_The%20fallacy%20of%20personal%20validation_1949.pdf Forer BR (1949). The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration of gullibility Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 44, 118-123
  3. ^ Boucher & Osgood 1969.
  4. ^ Dodds, Peter Sheridan; Clark, Eric M.; Desu, Suma; Frank, Morgan R.; Reagan, Andrew J.; Williams, Jake Ryland; Mitchell, Lewis; Harris, Kameron Decker; Kloumann, Isabel M. (2015-02-24). "Human language reveals a universal positivity bias". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 112 (8): 2389–2394. arXiv:1406.3855. Bibcode:2015PNAS..112.2389D. doi:10.1073/pnas.1411678112. ISSN 0027-8424. PMC 4345622. PMID 25675475.
  5. ^ Holtz, Peter; Deutschmann, Emanuel; Dobewall, Henrik (2017-08-23). "Cross-Cultural Psychology and the Rise of Academic Capitalism: Linguistic Changes in CCR and JCCP Articles, 1970-2014". Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology. 48 (9): 1410–1431. doi:10.1177/0022022117724902. ISSN 0022-0221.
  6. ^ Matlin & Stang 1978.
  7. ^ Ferrara & Yang 2015a.
  8. ^ Ferrara & Yang 2015b.
  9. ^ Carr 2004.