by Mark Robert Waldman & Andrew Newberg, MD from skeptic.com
As skeptical researchers with a penchant for thorough and accurate assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of positive thinking and optimism, we are dismayed by Salerno’s apparent lack of comprehension (and exclusion of references to back up his claims) when it comes to the hundreds of studies relating to this important psychological and neurological topic. A brief analysis of the 97 abstracts that are cited if you enter “positive thinking” (let alone the 3553 references to its companion term, optimism) as a key word in the databases of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (www.pubmed.gov) will demonstrate that Salerno has not done his homework.
Hope, optimism, and the belief in a positive future (i.e., faith) is essential for human psychological and neurological functioning, a concept that was first addressed in the 1950s by the psychiatrist Vicktor Frankl, who was imprisoned in a Nazi death camp until the end of World War II. In his famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he said that the single most important thing that kept a survivor alive was faith. If a prisoner lost faith in the future, he was doomed, because the will to live seldom returned. For Frankl, faith was essential for dealing with all aspects of life: “A weak faith is weakened by predicament and catastrophes whereas a strong faith is strengthened by them.”1