BOOK: THE OPTIMISM BIAS


PQ1: Older people are just as optimistic as younger ones.
PQ2: Analytical people are just as optimistic as individuals who are less analytical.
PQ3: Optimists are more likely to take vitamins, eat low-fat diets and exercise, thereby reducing their overall coronary risk.

Neuroscientist Tali Sharot has found through her research that when it comes to optimism, the way our mind approaches—and even tricks—us is a function of survival. In her new book, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain (Random House), she outlines how we humans tend to overestimate the likelihood of positive events in the future while at the same time downplaying the likelihood of negative ones. This “optimism bias” is essentially the result of the brain distorting reality, which can have both positive and negative outcomes, Sharot says.

Brain World: How much of optimism can be attributed to one’s biological makeup, and how much is external factors?
Tali Sharot: This is unclear. There is evidence suggesting that specific genes are related to optimism—the same genes that have been associated with depression. Indeed, while healthy people expect the future to be slightly better than it ends up being, people with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased; they expect things to be worse than they end up being. People with mild depression are relatively accurate when predicting future events. They see the world as it is.

BW: If optimism is biological, can it be learned?
TS: There is some evidence suggesting it can. Martin Seligman, the founder of the positive psychology movement, suggests that optimism can be learned by changing the way we interpret events. In one study, Seligman identified a group of college students with a pessimistic way of thinking. He then trained half of the students on techniques for adapting an optimistic way of thinking, the other students—the control group—were not given training. Months later, students who received training had fewer self-reported symptoms of physical illness and fewer doctors’ visits than students in the control group.

BW: How does being an optimist affect one’s health?
TS: Optimism keeps our minds at ease, lowers stress and improves physical health. For example, a study of cancer patients revealed that pessimistic patients under the age of 60 were more likely to die within eight months than non-pessimistic patients of the same initial health, status and age. Optimists are also more likely to take actions that promote health. Researchers studying heart attack patients found that optimists were more likely to take vitamins, eat low-fat diets and exercise, thereby reducing their overall coronary risk. >>Please Subscribe for Full Article text<<





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