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Whistle While You Work?

At Benchfly, Alan Marnett wonders whether having a positive attitude makes a difference in one's research. Scientists are, by virtue of their jobs, critical and skeptical, he says. But are those instincts standing in the way of their research?

Marnett says that every researcher has had a "hot streak" where everything just seemed to work, adding that it can often seem as though the more things go right, the more confident one becomes. So are positive thoughts and attitudes related to positive experimental results? The connections between a positive attitude and success in life have been studied for years, Marnett says. Recently, Templeton Prize-winning researcher Barbara Fredrickson attempted to quantify the ratio of positive-to-negative thoughts required for a person to see beneficial results in life — 3 to 1, she says — and research has shown that pessimistic people show elevated stress levels which may lead to increased risk for disease. But does that translate to working at the bench? "Are we to believe that a positive attitude may actually improve our experimental outcomes?" Marnett asks. At present, 56 percent of BenchFly readers have indicated in their poll responses that attitude makes no difference because "science ... is independent of your outlook or expectations."

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