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A concept perpetuated by many different motivational experts and self help experts states that if a person wishes to achieve success there are simple steps that can be taken to effect such a goal. A common one is positive visualization. A series of four experiments were conducted to test the hypothesis that positive visualization could increase the likelihood of desired outcomes in different endeavors. The results of these experiments showed the opposite effect. Positive visualization actually drew ambition away from the very activities that were required to achieve the goals being measured. Having this positive thought process mimics the reaction in the brain that comes with actually succeeding. When the brain reacts to the positive thoughts in this way is removes the drive to succeed. Those groups that were not instructed to visualize the goals being met actually achieved higher levels of success.
Fantasies about the future allow people to experience what success would be like. It is not known with certainty if this positive mental imagery is a net positive effect on the actualization of these goals. This comes from observations from people who are successful who have a generally positive outlook.
In the experiment, the working hypothesis states that the use of positive visualization will increase the levels of success with specific goals.
Groups were asked to produce positive or negative fantasies. If producing the incongruent visualizations used more energy, that difference in the positive or negative only group could be used to effect greater results. The time to create such fantasies was measured and the psychological state of the participants was self-reported. Participants believed they were working on an essay contest. Some were told to imagine they won the $200 prize, others were told it would not go well. Then the measurements were taken. Time of manipulation was measured and recorded as the control variable. Mental state of energization was rated by the participants on a 1-4 scale and recorded as the dependent variable.
Immediately following the fantasy the level of energization was lower in those who had positive only fantasy instructions. These levels were significantly lower than the control group with a confidence level of p=.04. The feeling if irritation did not have an impact on this measure and did not produce any correlation with a p value of .71. The time spent on each fantasy did not vary with these conditions.
At the conclusion of this experiment it was shown that the null hypothesis held up to statistical scrutiny. It was shown that there was a negative correlation between the variables of positive visualization and achievement. This was an unexpected result as it seemed fairly obvious that the use of positive visualization should hold some greater value in the achievement of set goals. The experiment proved that there are some other variables that in effect cancel out the positive results that were expected and created greater problems for the participants. It was shown that the participants had a greater level of satisfaction with their current position as apposed to a greater desire to reach said goals. In effect, their ambition was satisfied by the thought of success, which made actually achieving the success a diminished priority. The individuals who did not use positive visualization required more stimuli from making real progress toward the goal to achieve the same level of satisfaction.
DiSalvo, D. (2011, December 07). Ten Impressive Psychology Studies from 2011. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/neuronarrative/201112/ten-impressive-psychology-studies-2011
Kappes, H., & Oettingen, G. (2011). Positive fantasies about idealized futures sap energy. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology , 47 (4), 719-729.