The Optimism Bias
The talk on optimism bias was given by Tali Sharot; an associate professor of cognitive neuroscience in the department of Experimental Psychology at University College London. According to Sharot, optimism bias refers to the tendency of an individual to overestimate the likelihood of good things happening to him or her, as well as, underestimate the bad things. For instance, approximately forty percent of people divorce. However, people getting married normally assume that the probability for divorce to occur in their marriage is zero. It is human nature to be optimistic regarding their own lives and that of their families, with the instances of negative predictions usually directed to the world. Sharot proceeds to ask a very intriguing question whether having low expectations is the key to happiness. Does it mean that people are happy with success in romance and career but are not disappointed should the two prove to be a failure?
Sharot believes the contrary. In her experiment on people to determine their predictions for having cancer, Sharot found that the brain has two separate regions responsible for processing bad news and receiving good news. The region responsible for bad news did not trigger in optimistic people. In this regard, Sharot believes that the people can acquire the benefits of optimism while remaining realistic about risk through better discernment of the bias. Knowledge about bias does not in any way prevent optimism. Nonetheless, it does make individuals aware when making risky decisions. One needs to picture a better reality before confronting the existing one. Sharot’s talk is an inspiration to many as it not only explains that the pessimistic part of the brain can be switched off but also that contrary to popular belief that anything labeled bias is bad, optimism bias can in fact be beneficial.
Tali Sharot: The optimism bias. (2012). YouTube. Retrieved 27 May 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8rmi95pYL0