Optimism across cultures: In response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak

Li Jun Ji, Zhiyong Zhang, Esther Usborne, Yanjun Guan

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

103 Citations (Scopus)


Based on our early research, we predicted that the Chinese may be more optimistic and less pessimistic than North Americans in response to negative life events. A survey was conducted to investigate optimism cross culturally in the context of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreaks in Canada and China. Chinese students in Beijing and European Canadians in Toronto answered questions about their perceptions of SARS. No significant cultural difference was found on dispositional optimism, as measured by the Revised Life Orientation Test (LOT-R). Unrealistic optimism was measured in the context of SARS. Both groups demonstrated unrealistic optimism (i.e. reporting that the self was less likely than an average person to get infected with SARS). Such optimistic bias was stronger among Chinese than among Canadians. Compared to the actual infection rates in Beijing and Toronto, both Chinese and Canadian participants overestimated their own chances of getting infected, indicating that they were being pessimistic. Indeed, Chinese were less pessimistic than Canadians. In addition, even though the Chinese reported more inconvenience brought by SARS than did Canadians, they also reported more positive changes brought by SARS, reflecting the Chinese dialectical views of events. Implications for research on optimism in context are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-34
Number of pages10
JournalAsian Journal of Social Psychology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Culture
  • Optimism
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • General Social Sciences


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