The Psychology of Hope

Author: Simon Bury

Bury, Simon, 2017 The Psychology of Hope, Flinders University, School of Psychology

Terms of Use: This electronic version is (or will be) made publicly available by Flinders University in accordance with its open access policy for student theses. Copyright in this thesis remains with the author. You may use this material for uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968. If you are the owner of any included third party copyright material and/or you believe that any material has been made available without permission of the copyright owner please contact with the details.


Hope is often argued to be a shield from despair and depression (Korner, 1970; Lazarus, 1999), a source of comfort in times of great uncertainty; a view shared by qualitative research (e.g., Bruininks & Malle, 2005), and colloquial language (e.g., “hold on to hope”). Despite the focus on hope’s benefits in times of uncertainty, in psychological literature hope’s most predominant research has been conceptualised as an expectancy measure, with hope more prominent with greater agentic beliefs about achieving success (Snyder et al., 1991). Conceptualised in this way, hope has produced results similar to other expectancy based measures (e.g., optimism, control beliefs, Aspinwall & Leaf, 2002), and consequently the unique nature of hope is not clear. I posit that hope must involve more than expectation, for if one expects to obtain a desired goal, what need is there to hope?

In this thesis I argue that hope is grounded in uncertainty; it is precisely the uncertainty of reaching a desired goal that engenders hope. The primary focus of the thesis is to investigate an alternative conceptualisation of hope that focuses on the unique role of hope under conditions of greater uncertainty, that is, when individuals perceive low levels of likelihood in obtaining their hoped-for goal. I propose that the unique nature of hope emerges when a desired goal has personal significance and the realisation of that goal is possible (but not necessarily expected). To highlight the uniqueness of hope, my secondary aim is to differentiate hope from expectancy-based concepts, with particular focus on hope’s oft-purported synonym: optimism. And finally, my tertiary aim is to investigate whether a hope conceptualised in possibility has any motivational benefits.

Overall, the findings in this thesis support this new conceptualisation of hope. When perceptions of likelihood were low, hope was rated significantly higher than optimism. However, the distinction between the constructs was not just in overall ratings, but also in their relationships with likelihood. While optimism shared a linear relationship with likelihood or probability, for those more personally invested in the outcome hope shared a cubic relationship, with hope arising sharply in lower likelihood. Hope in lower likelihood was also positively associated with behaviour. For those more invested in the outcome, hope in possibility was associated with goal-consistent behaviour, greater persistence towards a goal despite negative feedback, and maintaining behaviour over time.

Together these findings provide important evidence in support of a hope conceptualisation not constrained by positive expectations. Rather than arising with the expectation of success, hope’s unique nature is in lower likelihood for outcomes of personal significance.

Keywords: Hope, Optimism, Positive expectation, Possibility, Personal investment

Subject: Psychology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2017
School: School of Psychology
Supervisor: Michael Wenzel