David Stuart 10 January 2012 - 12:14pm
If you think you’re going to get more work done this month than last month, you are probably suffering from the optimism bias.
Likewise, if you think that despite the bleak economic future your personal situation will improve in the next six months, the optimism bias has struck again. It refers to our 'rose-tinted glasses' tendency to overestimate the positive and underestimate the negative. You’re not alone however - the optimism bias affects most of us, and according to Tali Sharot it’s an essential part of our survival.
Generally the optimism bias works in our favour, enabling us to strive to attempt things that we may otherwise deem irrational, as well as giving us the ability to deal with the pain and suffering that we will inevitably face in life. Of course it doesn’t always work in our favour; it can also contribute to housing bubbles and to the seemingly endless number of projects that run over time and over budget.
The Optimism Bias is the latest in a number of popular science books by academics that emphasise people’s irrationality and the fact that we don’t perceive the world as it really is. Whilst they often draw on many of the same studies for support, they combine them in different ways and emphasise different aspects - in this case the insights that can be gained into our behaviour due to the developments in neuroscience and brain imaging. The result is to make some of the most interesting social science research easily accessible to the general public.