Neural Responses Reveal Our Optimistic Bent

April 13, 2012 • Daily Email Recap

Here is an interesting story reporting on University College London research showing that humans tend to be overly optimistic. This research seems quite salient in light of the warm-temperature record setting March in the United States.

Neural Responses Reveal Our Optimistic Bent

Why adjusting our expectations to reality is so difficult

By Andrea Anderson  | April 10, 2012 |


Most of us hold unrealistically optimistic views of the future, research shows, downplaying the likelihood that we will have bad experiences. Now a study in Nature Neuroscience last October has found clues to the brain’s predilection for the positive, identifying regions that may fuel this “optimism bias” by preferentially responding to rosier information.

Tali Sharot, a University College London neurology researcher, and her colleagues asked 19 individuals between the ages of 19 and 27 to estimate their odds of experiencing 80 unfavorable events, such as contracting various diseases or being the victim of a crime. Participants were then told the actual average probability of each before repeating the exercise.

The participants revised most of their estimates the second time around, but 79 percent of those tested paid much more attention when their actual risk was lower than what they had initially guessed. After getting the good news, these subjects rated their risk for these events as significantly lower than they did earlier. In contrast, when they had underestimated their odds of meeting with a particular misfortune, they made less drastic revisions to their guess or none at all-clinging to their earlier belief that they would probably avoid the bad luck.

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