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Learned Optimism (LO): What is it and why is it important?

The challenges children living in poverty face in their everyday lives can have a huge impact on the way they think about their experiences. Having encountered difficult situations at a young age, they are more likely think pessimistically and have a low self-esteem. We can use Learned Optimism to measure this and, consequently, decide on ways to help overcome these problems.

What is Learned Optimism (LO)?

LO measures the degree to which people are pessimistic or optimistic about their experiences and what impact this has on them long-term. It is typically tested by presenting people with a series of scenarios and asking them to choose the option they are most likely to think. This test is relatively complex and is therefore often only suitable for older children and adults, such as those aged 13 and above.

Why it is important?

LO can be used to predict a child’s motivation, level of self-esteem and willingness to use their abilities in good or bad situations. This has a huge impact on their likelihood of under- or over-performing, as those with an optimistic view on situations often do better than expected and those with a pessimistic view do worse. Pessimism can also have a severe effect of a person’s mental health, especially on their tendency to experience depression.

How does it affect our work?

Our programme partner Fairplay is using learned optimism as a key indicator to measure progress of the work we’re co-funding. If you would like to find out more about our partnership project ‘Helping 100 Children At-Risk in Payatas, The Philippines’, please check out our work. We hope that, through interventions that help children to think positively and build their self-esteem, we can continue to improve the quality of lives of those living in poverty across the world.


Fairplay For All Foundation (2018) Helping 100 Children At-Risk: How Much does Regular Sport, Nutrition, and Social Groups Improve the Well-being of Children in Payatas? Unpublished.