chapter  14
14 Pages

Explanatory Style and Health

ByChristopher Peterson

Among the most intriguing correlates of explanatory style is physical well-being. Individuals with an optimistic style of explaining bad events, attributing them to external, unstable, and specific causes, tend to experience better health than their pessimistic counterparts, who explain bad events with internal , stable, and global causes . This chapter describes the studies that established this correlation. More recent investigations that attempt to make sense of this link are discussed. The chapter closes with a discussion of questions that remain to be answered regarding this l ine of work. (For a more extensive discussion of explanatory style and physical health, refer to Peterson & Bossio, 1 99 1 . )


Investigators began to look at the relationship between explanatory style and physical health in the mid-l 980s, spurred by several related influences . The first was simply our desire to explore as widely as possible the potential correlates of explanatory style. As explained in chapter I of this volume, explanatory style research from the very beginning focused on depression. Once the relationship of explanatory style to depression had been established (e.g. , Peterson & Selig­ man, 1 984a; Sweeney, Anderson, & Bailey , 1 986) , we began to look elsewhere for possible correlates.