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Optimism and adaptation to chronic disease: The role of optimism in relation to self-care options of type 1 diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis

Br J Health Psychol 2002 Nov;7(Part 4):409-432
Fournier M, De Ridder D, Bensing J.
Department of Health Psychology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.


To determine the role of optimistic beliefs in adaptation processes of three chronic diseases different in controllability by self-care.

It was expected that optimism towards the future would relate to adaptation independently of the controllability of disease.

Optimism regarding one's coping ability should be beneficial in controllable diseases.

Unrealistic optimism was expected to be beneficial in uncontrollable disease.


The cross-sectional design involved 104 patients with type 1 diabetes, 95 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 98 patients with multiple sclerosis, recruited via their physician at the out-patient department of five hospitals.


Confirmatory Factor Analysis (LISREL) was employed to confirm a three-dimensional approach of optimism: outcome expectancies, efficacy expectancies and unrealistic thinking.

Multi-sample analysis by path modelling was used to examine whether the relationship of the three optimistic beliefs with coping (CISS-21), depression and anxiety (HADS), and physical functioning (SF-36) differs with the controllability based on the self-care options of chronic disease.


These show that when chronic disease must be controlled by self-care, physical health depends more strongly on positive efficacy expectancies.

In contrast, when self-care options for controlling chronic disease are limited, physical health depends more strongly on positive unrealistic thinking and relates negatively to positive efficacy expectancies.

The impact of the three optimistic beliefs on mental health is independent of the controllability by self-care.


Optimistic beliefs are differently beneficial for physical health dependent on the controllability of chronic disease.

Unrealistic beliefs are helpful when patients are confronted with moderately to largely uncontrollable disease where self-care options are limited, in contrast to positive efficacy expectancies that are helpful when patients deal with largely controllable disease where self-care is required.