The Chemistry of Optimism vs. Pessimism


Optimism and pessimism both affect similar parts of the brain, but have completely different meanings. For example, optimism is the confident feeling of hope and positivity for the future. Whereas pessimism is the lack of confidence and negative expectations for the future. I chose to research the chemical differences of optimism and pessimism because I was immensely interested in knowing how each of them affects different parts of the brain and the chemicals within each of the structures. Everyday people think about how their day will be, whether it be from a negative or positive perspective. In this way both optimism and pessimism play a major part as to what kind of outlook we have on the day.Composition of ...

Optimism: There are an immense amount of hormones called endorphins that are secreted from the brain with the feelings and emotions we feel. When you have that happy feeling, it comes from the amygdala. This part of the brain releases a hormone called serotonin (C10H12N2O), which is a neurotransmitter that helps maintain your mood and emotions. Another neurotransmitter that is released when you are optimistic is dopamine (C8H11NO2), this is the euphoria feeling you get when your body is rewarding you for doing something pleasurable or satisfying.

Pessimism: Now, pessimism causes a severe change in the balance of chemicals within the brain. Specific hormones are released from the body that can have negative and detrimental effects on the body and brain. One specific hormone released from the body when having negative thoughts is cortisol (C21H30O5) which is secreted and controlled by the hypothalamus. Serotonin (C10H12N2O) is another chemical that released from the body when negative thoughts are present.

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components


Serotonin (C10H12N2O) is monoamine neurotransmitter (an amino group connected to an aromatic ring with a two-carbon chain) that is released by the brain in order to regulate emotions. It derives from the amino acid L-tryptophan. Well, serotonin is released when there is an increased level of stress, arousal, aggression, anxiety or impulse; it tries to regulate your body back to its normal state. It regulates our emotions, and can usually be found in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, or blood platelets.


Cortisol (C21H30O5) is a neurotransmitter released and regulated from the hippocampus in a response to either stress or fear. Elevated levels of cortisol can be the cause of a decrease in memory, increase of depressive feelings/depression, lower immune function; and an increase in weight, blood pressure, heart disease, and cholesterol; potential trigger for mental illness. It is also released when in the fight or flight mode.

Chemistry's Role

Serotonin (C10H12N2O) is a chemical that can be produced both naturally from the brain and as a response to outlying factors. Serotonin helps maintain normal hormone levels. It helps balance out your emotions and keeps your emotional level steady. Serotonin can be produced in a lab by using Psilocybe coprophila and Aspergillus niger as catalysts, and adding Ethanol, HCL, NaOH, and water to create the chemical serotonin. There are two main steps that are used when creating serotonin in a lab. Step one: Add NaOH to make a pH of 13 to the catalyst Aspergillus Niger for one hour. Step 2: Synthesize tryptophan itself from the 5-hydroxytryptophan intermediate which requires adding ethanol and water, and letting sit for 30 days.

Cortisol (C21H30O5) is a hormone produced by your adrenal glands. It falls into a category of hormones known as “glucocorticoids,” which refers to their ability to increase blood glucose levels, and cortisol is the primary glucocorticoid. Cortisol is released by your glands and intestines in a response to stress.

Background Research

Optimism is the feeling of happiness and confidence for your future, and it can have a positive effect on both your mind and your body. Ever hear the saying “if you believe you will achieve?” Well, that saying does in fact stand corrected, when you think positively about upcoming occurrences, chemicals such as dopamine are released. Dopamine causes a positive response to the brain, thus causing “happiness” to run throughout your body.

Unlike optimism, pessimism can have detrimental effects on the body, because it releases toxic chemicals such as cortisol, to be released throughout the body. The way you perceive the world is the way you live your life. If you are more optimistic you are more likely to be healthier for the simple fact that healthy chemicals are being released throughout the body.

Billions upon billions of chemical reactions take place in the brain at any given moment. Chemical reactions occur because of synapses. Synapses are parts of the nervous system, and it is through these that neurons are able to transmit messages using neurotransmitters.

Optimism and pessimism both play a crucial role in your body’s response to specific events. For example, if you think negatively, you are more likely to think the worst in any given situation, whereas if you have a more positive outlook, you are more likely to deal with the situation. These facts are based upon the conclusion that the chemicals released in your body help to determine how the body reacts to certain situations.


Factual information about how having a larger orbitofrontal cortex can lead to an increase of optimism and a decrease in anxiety.

The relationship between the size of the OFC and optimism\

Psychology of the two, the specific hormones that are released with both pessimism and optimism.

Both are a ,mindset, and key components of a good life; background of pessimism and optimism.

Five major differences between optimism and pessimism and their origins.

Positives and negatives of being optimistic, and positives and negatives of being pessimistic.

Psychological differences between the two.

The chemistry within the brain pertaining to both pessimism and optimism.

Statistics and percentages of how optimistic and pessimistic people in the world.

The psychology behind both optimism and pessimism

Background information of the two and how they both play a major role in our brain chemistry and our personalities.

Cognitive responses to both optimism and pessimism.

The effects of optimism within the brain.

What pessimism does to the brain, and how it can both positively and negatively affect the ultimate outcome.

How being both optimistic and pessimistic can be a good thing.

Serotonin facts; the chemistry and molecules behind it.

Everything about serotonin: how it works, why, and where it comes from.

Dopamine, how it affects the brain, and hormone facts.

The molecular structures of specific neurotransmitters.

Everything you need to know about cortisol.

How it affects the body and why.

About the Author

Karissa Dykstra is currently a Junior at Billings Senior High. She aspires to go to Carroll College and then move on to medical school in Seattle Washington, and eventually becoming a Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgeon. She is currently involved in Speech and Debate in which she is co-captain, she is also Vice President of HOSA, involved in Interact, Senior Advocates, Youth Leadership, and Girl Scouts. She also does numerous other activities such as, nannying and volunteering at Head Start, Rez Dog Rescue, and volunteering through Girl Scouts.