A common claim in business and self-help seminars is that optimists are luckier.
- Is it true that optimism leads to greater success in life?
- If so, what part of the brain support this so called "higher self"? Basal ganglia?
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I'm giving this as an answer, because it is too long for a comment:
The Law of Attraction and Positive Thinking are not the same and should not be confused as they are in the question.
The Law of Attraction – as it was developed in the New Thought Movement, taken up and spread in the New Age community by Esther and Jerry Hicks, and made popular by the movie The Secret –, states that if you achieve the state of being that corresponds to being rich (or having a partner or whatever you desire that you do not have in real life), the universe will match reality with your state of being and provide the wealth (or partner or whatever you wish). The claim is that if you truly achieve the state of being of having a pocket full of money, you will have a pocket full of money.
Positive Thinking states that if you are in an optimistic frame of mind, you will overcome inner obstacles (such as limiting beliefs that keep you from trying what you actually could achieve) and recieve more support from other people (because they are not longer put off by your grumpiness).
The Law of Attraction is magical thinking and opposed to the currently dominant scientific worldview as it contradicts physical laws, while Positive Thinking is supported by it and has been generally confirmed by psychological research.
Ahh yes, The Secret. I'd recommend starting with Wikipedia for a critical view of the "law of attraction" and the book as a whole. The former page has some particularly good excerpts to offer (emphasis added; hyperlinks not preserved, though I'd appreciate help editing them back in):
To sum that up, the "law of attraction" hardly has a physical basis, and it hardly could as it's been defined, given the joint lack of measurability, testability, and falsifiability. If it has a psychological basis that might explain why you've observed multiple independent authors advocating vaguely the same idea, that basis is confirmation bias or selection bias, and the "law" is an illusory result of these biases. That is, it is not at all a law in the usual, scientific sense of a time-tested theory that explains a copious range of empirically verifiable facts; it is almost the furthest thing from a law in this sense. Advocates of the idea often borrow language from popularly recognized but poorly understood (by non-physicists) physical concepts like quantum mechanics and electromagnetism, but repurpose them to communicate metaphysical claims without clarifying whether their use is intended (a) as analogy, or (b) as literal claims for the physical mechanisms by which the metaphysical claims are proposed to operate.
I believe Alousi's criticism in the above quote was a response to the latter interpretation: I think he's arguing that thoughts are unlikely to directly cause physical effects outside the brain, presumably excluding effects on the rest of one's own body, and excluding effects that are mediated by behavior. No known process exists to affect "luck" or the realization of desires through thought alone, so it's unlikely we've overlooked some secret mechanism through which such an effect could operate. Conversely, it seems plenty likely that, for instance, thinking I deserve a cookie would result in me getting a cookie, if I don't exclude all the ordinary processes that mediate this effect (e.g., getting up, opening the cookie jar, stuffing my face)...but this is no secret.
(Full disclosure: I haven't read The Secret...and given my familiarity with its detractors, I'm not likely to.)
[Edit]: For another, broader response to the related concept of "autosuggestion," check out this question on skeptics.SE. @Articuno's answer cites some interesting studies that seem to have identified counterproductive effects of focusing on outcome goals (instead of process goals; Pham & Taylor, 1999) and positive fantasies of success before it is actually attained (Oettingen, 1996)! Maybe this is the real, dirty secret about The Secret that's most worth knowing.
Oettingen, G. (1996). Positive fantasy and motivation. In P. M. Gollwitzer & J. A. Bargh (Eds.), The psychology of action: Linking cognition and motivation to behavior, pp. 236–259. New York: Guilford Press.
Pham, L. B., & Taylor, S. E. (1999). From thought to action: Effects of process-versus outcome-based mental simulations on performance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 25(2), 250–260.
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