Optimism bias

Jump to navigation Jump to search

WikiDoc Resources for Optimism bias


Most recent articles on Optimism bias

Most cited articles on Optimism bias

Review articles on Optimism bias

Articles on Optimism bias in N Eng J Med, Lancet, BMJ


Powerpoint slides on Optimism bias

Images of Optimism bias

Photos of Optimism bias

Podcasts & MP3s on Optimism bias

Videos on Optimism bias

Evidence Based Medicine

Cochrane Collaboration on Optimism bias

Bandolier on Optimism bias

TRIP on Optimism bias

Clinical Trials

Ongoing Trials on Optimism bias at Clinical Trials.gov

Trial results on Optimism bias

Clinical Trials on Optimism bias at Google

Guidelines / Policies / Govt

US National Guidelines Clearinghouse on Optimism bias

NICE Guidance on Optimism bias


FDA on Optimism bias

CDC on Optimism bias


Books on Optimism bias


Optimism bias in the news

Be alerted to news on Optimism bias

News trends on Optimism bias


Blogs on Optimism bias


Definitions of Optimism bias

Patient Resources / Community

Patient resources on Optimism bias

Discussion groups on Optimism bias

Patient Handouts on Optimism bias

Directions to Hospitals Treating Optimism bias

Risk calculators and risk factors for Optimism bias

Healthcare Provider Resources

Symptoms of Optimism bias

Causes & Risk Factors for Optimism bias

Diagnostic studies for Optimism bias

Treatment of Optimism bias

Continuing Medical Education (CME)

CME Programs on Optimism bias


Optimism bias en Espanol

Optimism bias en Francais


Optimism bias in the Marketplace

Patents on Optimism bias

Experimental / Informatics

List of terms related to Optimism bias

Optimism bias is the demonstrated systematic tendency for people to be over-optimistic about the outcome of planned actions. This includes over-estimating the likelihood of positive events and under-estimating the likelihood of negative events. It is one of several kinds of positive illusion to which people are generally susceptible.

Experimental demonstration

Armor and Taylor review a number of studies that have found optimism bias in different kinds of judgement.[1] These include:

  • Second-year MBA students overestimated the number of job offers they would receive and their starting salary.
  • Students overestimated the scores they would achieve on exams.
  • Almost all the newlyweds in a US study expected their marriage to last a lifetime, even while aware of the divorce statistics.
  • Professional financial analysts consistently overestimated corporate earnings.
  • Most smokers believe they are less at risk of developing smoking-related diseases than others who smoke.

Students in one study rated themselves as much less likely than their peers (students of the same sex at the same college) to experience negative life events such as developing a drinking problem, having a heart attack, being fired from a job or divorcing a few years after getting married.[2]

Optimism bias does not apply universally. For example, people overestimate their chances of experiencing very low-frequency events, including negative events.

Effects of overconfidence

Example: Increased risk taking and insufficient preventive care

Optimistic overconfidence bias can induce people to underinvest in primary and preventative care and other risk reducing behaviors, like abstinence from smoking.[3]

Example: Credit card borrowing and penalty rates and fees

Overconfidence causes many individuals to grossly underestimate their odds of making a payment late. Statistically, many people are quite likely to make at least one or more payments late due to the normal range of difficulties and delays in day-to-day life. Overconfidence bias causes these individuals to grossly underestimate the odds of this happening, and therefore to accept grossly punitive fees and rates (for example an interest rate of nearly 30 %) as a result of otherwise minor transgressions like a late payment. Other companies now have extended on this approach, by increasing interest rates to punitive rates for any late payment even if it is to another creditor. Overconfidence bias makes these terms more acceptable to borrowers than if they were accurately calibrated.

Overconfidence bias also causes many individuals to substantially underestimate the probability of having serious financial or liquidity problems - for example from a sudden job loss or severe illness. This can cause individuals to take on excessive debt under the expectation that they will do "better than average" in the future and be readily able to pay it off.

Overconfidence, locus of control and depression

Overconfidence bias may cause many individuals to overestimate their degree of control as well as their odds of success. This may be protective against depression - since Seligman and Maier's model of depression includes a sense of learned helplessness and loss of predictability and control. Depressives tend to be more accurate, and less overconfident in their assessments of the probabilities of good and bad events occurring to others but they tend to overestimate the probability of bad events happening to them[citation needed]. This has caused some researchers to consider that overconfidence bias may be adaptive and/or protective in some situations.

Optimism bias and planning

Optimism bias arises in relation to estimates of costs and benefits and duration of tasks. It must be accounted for explicitly in appraisals, if these are to be realistic. Optimism bias typically results in cost overruns, benefit shortfalls, and delays, when plans are implemented.

The UK government explicitly acknowledges that optimism bias is a problem in planning and budgeting and has developed measures for how to deal with optimism bias in government (HM Treasury 2003[dead link] ). The UK Department for Transport requires project planners to use so-called "optimism bias uplifts" for large transport projects in order to arrive at accurate budgets for planned ventures (Flyvbjerg and Cowi 2004).

In a debate in Harvard Business Review, between Daniel Kahneman, Dan Lovallo, and Bent Flyvbjerg, Flyvbjerg (2003) – while acknowledging the existence of optimism bias – pointed out that what appears to be optimism bias may on closer examination be strategic misrepresentation. Planners may deliberately underestimate costs and overestimate benefits in order to get their projects approved, especially when projects are large and when organizational and political pressures are high. Kahneman and Lovallo (2003) maintained that optimism bias is the main problem.


A brain-imaging study found that, when imagining negative future events, signals in the amygdala, an emotion centre of the brain, are weaker than when remembering past negative events. This weakened consideration of possible negative outcomes is one possible mechanism for optimism bias.[4]

See also




  1. Armor, David A.; Shelley E Taylor. "When Predictions Fail: The Dilemma of Unrealistic Optimism" in Gilovich, Thomas (2002). Heuristics and biases: The psychology of intuitive judgment. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-79679-2. Unknown parameter |co-authors= ignored (help)
  2. Weinstein, Neil D. (November 1980). "Unrealistic optimism about future life events". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 39 (5): 806–820. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.39.5.806. 1981-28087-001. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. Dunning, David (2004). "Flawed Self-Assessment. Implications for Health, Education, and the Workplace". Psychological Science in the Public Interest. 5 (3): 69–106. doi:10.1111/j.1529-1006.2004.00018.x. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)
  4. Sharot, Tali (2007-10-24). "Neural mechanisms mediating optimism bias". Nature. 450: 102–015. doi:10.1038/nature06280. Retrieved 2008-05-27. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)

Further reading

Template:WH Template:WS