Aside from the empirical research on negative cognitive styles, a set of researchers have begun to test whether BPD is characterized by positive cognitive styles. Johnson (2005b)
suggested that two facets of positive cognitive styles may be particularly important among people with bipolar disorder: a heightened focus on goal accomplishment and elevated confidence.
People with BPD, even during remission, are more perfectionistic than others are (Lam, Wright, & Smith, 2004
). Along with this perfectionism, it also appears that bipolar disorder is related to setting higher goals. The Ambition Scale was developed to examine the range of life goals. Items were designed to cover highly improbable life goals such as making more than 10 million dollars, becoming famous, ruling a country, and having 50 or more lovers. In two initial validation studies (Johnson & Carver, 2006
), risk of hypomania was correlated with endorsing higher life ambitions, particularly for highly extrinsic goals such as wealth and popular fame. Highly ambitious life goals appeared to be present even after controlling for baseline subsyndromal mood symptoms.
This traitlike emphasis on goals appears to interact with elevations in confidence during mania. Indeed, one of the major symptoms of manic episodes is overconfidence, and in keeping with this, people with bipolar disorder report more enthusiasm about their abilities as well as more positive memories. People with BPD and those at high risk for BPD are typically more positive in expectations for the future than are control participants (for a review, see Johnson, 2005b
Even people at risk for BPD have demonstrated pronounced shifts in confidence when given success, for example, after false feedback about success on laboratory tasks. In one study, undergraduates who did and did not report hypomanic symptoms were asked to return for an experiment 6 weeks later in the semester. After sham-success feedback, undergraduates with a history of recent hypomanic symptoms reported that they were highly likely to guess the results of a coin toss (a chance task) whereas controls did not show these effects (Stern & Berrenberg, 1979
In sum, there is some evidence for positive cognitive biases in BPD, but these appear to be of a specific form. People with BPD endorse setting much higher goals for their life and express higher expectations of meeting those goals. People at high risk for bipolar disorder tend to become overly confident in the face of success. Nonetheless, it is important to acknowledge that there is almost no prospective research on the role of positive cognitions in influencing the course of BPD.