The Optimism Bias – Are Optimists In Danger?

The glass half-empty or glass half-full predicament continues; are people instinctively more prone to being optimistic about the future, or are they more realistic?

According to neuroscientist Tali Sharot, humans are naturally more optimistic than realistic, but are oblivious to the fact.

Within most of us is a rooted ideology called the “Optimism Bias”, a belief that the future will be better than the past or present. But while the optimistic attitude has a sugar-glazed sweetness about it, perhaps there’s some danger to leaving it switched on at all times.

Optimism Bias explains our tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing positive events while underestimating the likelihood of facing bad ones. For instance, we could overestimate the amount of profit our business would rake in, the kind of colleges our kids could get into or even the amount of sights we could cram into a short holiday itinerary. However this overestimation is not necessarily so bad; high expectations and private optimism drives home more success and well-being, as Tali explains.

But when it comes to our chances of getting cancer, getting into a road accident or even falling sick after eating expired bread (true story, this one), though presented with facts and statistics supporting such probabilities, we are almost certain that we won’t be “one of them”.

We’re optimistic about ourselves, we’re optimistic about our kids, we’re optimistic about our families, but we’re not so optimistic about the guy sitting next to us,” revealed Tali in her TED talk below.

Hope isn’t rational, so why are humans wired for it? What is it about our brains that make us overestimate the positive? These were also some of the questions based in Tali’s research and book The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, which also became a TIME magazine cover story in 2011.

Watch this interesting 15-minute video as Tali explores the fascinating science behind optimists and realists, the positive and negative effects of optimism, the secret pleasure behind anticipating an event and the importance of how an event is interpreted by our optimistic or realistic brains.

Are you an optimist or a realist? How do you maintain optimism in the face of reality? Share your thoughts with us below!