Pervasive, persistent optimism is one of those uniquely human traits/flaws — we tend to believe things are better than they really are, or that negative consequences won't befall us, even if they befall others. It stands to reason that people would adjust their expectations when confronted with harsh reality, yet they don't. Our brains are to blame, according to a new study — we're wired to have a positive outlook.
Neuroscientists have been searching for the physiological underpinnings for this sanguineness, because there are actual harms that can come from an "it-can't-happen-to-me" or "it'll-get-better-this-year" attitude. People might make reckless decisions or have unrealistic expectations, in everything from personal health to finance. Researchers have thought this rose-colored outlook is mediated in the brain centers involved in error processing, so a team from England and Germany set about studying this using functional magnetic resonance imaging.
To study optimism, they examined how people under-estimated the impact or possibility of future negative events, because this "it-can't-happen-to-me" feeling has implications for how people protect themselves. The research team gave participants a list of 80 different negative life events, including getting Alzheimer's disease, being fired, being cheated on by a spouse, and so on. They were asked to rate how likely they were to experience these events, and then they were told their actual probability for experiencing the events. Then they were asked to estimate their own likelihoods of experience again. The scientists monitored brain activity during these tests.
People were far more likely to change their estimates when they learned they were less likely to experience these harms, according to the researchers, from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London, the Free University of Berlin and Humboldt University in Berlin. On the other hand, when things were worse than expected, the participants still gave the original, incorrect estimate.
Brain activity tracks with these findings, the researchers say. When things were better than expected, activity in the frontal cortices spiked, monitoring estimation errors. But when things were worse, the brain activity was much weaker.
"Our findings suggest that this human propensity toward optimism is facilitated by the brain's failure to code errors in estimation when those call for pessimistic updates," the authors write in the online version of Nature Neuroscience.
"Any advantage arising out of unrealistic optimism is likely to come at a cost. For example, an unrealistic assessment of financial risk is widely seen as contributing factor to the 2008 global economic collapse," they write. "Dismissing undesirable errors in estimation renders us peculiarly susceptible to view the future through rose-colored glasses."
For me, it seems all teenage boys go through a period of life believing at times “unrealistic invulnerability". Yes it seems hormonal driven in ways, but I also wonder what else may bring this about?
well, I think the term "defect" is more debatable.
pessimism? now that's a defect.
why learn from your own mistakes, when you could learn from the mistakes of others?
i know i was that same way when i was a teen an to make it whores i have i mental disabletie .i never amounted to any thing sucks ah.
If it's a defect, then we should always be depressed and expecting the worst?
They are confusing wishful thinking with optimism. Wishful thinkers simply refuse to think about the odds, and ignore or override normal, reasonably concerns about failure because they are obsessed with having their way. Like Han Solo they say, "never tell me the odds, kid". They don't want to know how grim things might be.
I would say that most optimists are not like this at all. They don't believe that nothing bad can ever happen to them or that they will always be the exception to the rule. They try to make the best of a bad situation and don't let negativity consume them. They recognize that, most of the time, the situation will not be 100% bad or 100% good, but somewhere in between. Therefore, they are more likely to persist until they do succeed.
Of course, sometimes pessimism is the most reasonable attitude to take. However, a lot of the time, pessimism is an easy cop out for people who are too lazy, fearful, or ignorant to every try something new. That is why pessimism and fatalism is also quite popular. We've all failed from time to time and it's easy to over generalize the trauma and believe that one will always be victimized by cruel fate.
I can be optimistic even if I were to die tomorrow, it's always better and healthier to be an optimist that a pessimist and that's why the results. What are press releases like this suppose to show? Ah yeah, be realistic, the world is shit so be sad because whatever you do you make no difference :D
I would say aarontco that you have no basis to believe anything you wrote.
I find it oddly strange to begin an article with "...Pervasive, persistent optimism is one of those uniquely human traits/flaws..." It is said as if a statement of fact?
Says who and with what supportive facts to support this statement?
I find the statement from the writer dogie do. How’s that for ya!
I think being optimistic a wonderful healthy way of being for the human condition. Drop me off an alien space alien ship in the middle of the ocean with an automatic parachute opining device and splash down in the water in the dark and I will tell you, I WILL SWIM MY WAY TO SHORE, not knowing what the hell happen or where I am at!
Anyone see the movie ' Preditors '? Such a cool movie! I know I be a survivor in that movie or anywhere in life! ;)
What is wrong with what aarontco said? I fully agree!
"They try to make the best of a bad situation and don't let negativity consume them." well said, that's how I see it too
Contrary to your claim, I would say that I have considerable scientific and logical basis to believe everything that I wrote. All of it is based on evidence. I didn't cite every piece of it in my original comment because I was trying to avoid being long-winded and pedantic. Most of what I am talking about is the basis of the field called Positive Psychology, which emerged from humanistic and cognitive psychological research. Look it up. I didn't just invent it out of whole cloth. See, there is a whole field of psychology, contrary to what these researchers are telling you, that looks at how people manage their happiness, fulfillment, and motivations. However, as you research it, you will find that none of these things are attainable through a pessimistic outlook. There are disciplines like Rational Emotive Therapy that encourage people to assess their lives realistically and logically, but that does not necessarily entail adopting pessimism. As I said, statistically speaking, the worst case scenario does not always happen. If you don't believe that then you need to do some more research. Pessimists often think they are being realistic, but often the evidence does not support their pessimism.
There is also an anatomical basis for unreasonable pessimism. The amygdala is a part of the limbic region of the brain that helps encode traumatic memory in vivid detail, so that we remember our mistakes and hopefully avoid them. However, some people have overactive amygdalas and they become emotionally scarred by thing that would only be minor for other people. Psychologists have long studied phenomena like this in terms of why some people develop anxiety disorders and phobias. It is well established by many psychological studies that pessimistic people are more like to develop anxiety disorders, depression, and even avoid things like going to the dentist. Since normal people can cope with things like going to the dentist, it's reasonable to conclude that pessimism is partially attributable to neurologically defective emotional processing. BTW, an "optimist" doesn't think that going to the dentist is super fun or that nothing bad could possibly happen. That's why I'm critical of they way they are defining optimism in this article.
And before you tell me I don't know what I'm talking about in psychology, it's one of several areas where I hold professional credentials. Another area where I am a professional is in education and training. Talk to experts in motivation and ask them how many of them are able to use pessimism as a motivational tool.
See, you made me be long-winded.
The name, the commentary (ultrahumanite) is not above. Who in the hell are you talking too? You just being vocalizing you own bla bla towards someone that does not exist, so you can spout off... what a puny little weak coward.
Knock! Knock! Hello! We are intellgent and yes we pay attention and you are full of junk!
I find it competely amazing that BubbaGump got band to all this s##t...
I seriously have to ask, to you dance, do the hoki poki, make jokes, sing in front of the mirror, really come on, you give really a wonderful show, but come back to reality and so on. How many are in the room with you, just one right and you are like what hearing say 3 or 4 voices. Did you forget to take your medicine for say a week or 2. Dear friend pick up the little bottle of pills, call you local doctor and feel free to vent your feelings.
Wow! What a coo-koo! Say aarontco, how is Tweetie bird?
Try not to post when you're drunk. Ultra-Humanite is the seventh post down. Mpeniak responded also to his comment, which was the following: "(10/10/11 at 6:52 pm) I would say aarontco that you have no basis to believe anything you wrote." As far as your accusations that I am the one with mental issues, as I indicated, I am the one with professional credentials in mental health so I am not the slightest bit concerned about your bizarre accusation or even your attempt to practice unlicensed medical diagnosis. BTW, I am sorry that your alter ego bubbagump got banned. She was certainly dumb enough to pass for forrest gump, but generally was a waste of time for the serious individuals here.
It is amusing you find you own words of importance. Well yes they are important, I find myself sleepy now, why thank you.
Oh yes, Ultra-Humanite, 7 down. your right. While BubbaGump was band, have you seen or notice all the other crap posted here and there with no appreciation. It is of great appreciation that a name like BubbaGump lives so long. Exactly of fact, what wrong thing did this person do, per say? Now be factual in your repsonse and compare it to all the crap you see every day too, here and there and oh, look, more crap there too.
Good night. .......
@mp...do you play in a band? bubba was banned
I miss bubba....now I have to find someone else to ignore.....looks like it is gonna be MP
I think people should be optimistic when it's appropriate, and pessimistic when it's appropriate. Eternal optimism results in constant let downs. Eternal pessimism results in a depressing world outlook.
Personally though, I lean towards pessimistic most of the time. This means I'm either always right, or pleasantly surprised. I'm never disappointed.
@aarontco Agree. Def a difference between wishful thinking and optimism.
You are taking an obscene amount of "offense" from this article. They clearly defined what they ment by optimism/wishful thinking, and you came here to post because you felt insulted that they dare say anything bad about an outlook you identify with.
Because they clearly defined their meaning, you're arguing semantics here. And I think you'e the one with a skewed definition. What you're describing is a positive attitude; being hopeful, and being positive in a situation where it won't hurt. That's not optimism. Optimism is expecting (I'll say it again; EXPECTING) things to turn out better than they do on average. Whereas a positive attitude is a good, healthy reaction to when things turn out poorly, optimism is a prediction skewed by wishful thinking; a prediction that is likely more favorable than the result, compounded with a refusal to adjust future predictions after consistantly overestimating. A refusal to learn from experience.
Now, since you claim to be a member of the psychiatric community (not doubing you; just healthy skepticism of someone with eloquence on the internet), then I would hope you understand that psychology is not an exact science (correlations, very few things are cut and dry). And while there may be finer definitions, the overall gist of a "mental disorder" is a mental state different from the norm that "interferes with normal life". That's paraphrased, but it basically says that most mental diseases are graded, and often emergent from slightly exagerated parts of a normal mind. For instance, most people are ADD sometimes; we all have trouble paying attention at some time or another. People diagnoses with ADD are ones who have trouble far more often, to the point that it intereferes with their lives. Depression can be treated the same way.
So can Optimism. Optimism is EXPECTATION, meaning you make PREDICTIONS and CHOICES with an honest-to-God feeling that things will turn out better for you. That can be dangerous, and easily classified as a disorder. Arguably anyone with a Gambling addiction has such a disorder, but it ranges from finance to romance and everything in-between.
And before you call me a pessimist, or continue to insult pessimists, I'd like to point out that your operating definition for them also seems faulty. You and others have dismissed pessimism as "maybe logical or smart, but not healthy" [paraphasing]. Pessimism, like Optimism, is a prediction; a state of mind where things turn out better than you predict. It's different from a bad attitude, which is negativity where negativity won't help in response to a bad situation.
But why do people associate pessimism with intelligence (to some degree) and why is it not considered a disorder? Because pessimism doesn't normally interfere with someone's life the way optimism does. Predicting things to turn out less well isn't only pessimism; it's conservative thinking. It's prudence; preparing for more than expected, and that pays off more often than not. There are certainly extreme cases, which probably present as depression as an individual has no hope in any future success. But on the small scale, or even the moderate scale, optimism can be detrimental to your life (as you make consistantly risky choices) whereas pessimism may only prevent you from taking risks (conservative choice-making). Not taking risks isn't always a good thing, but if your behavior is chronic, its typically the better of the two.
Again, I don't disagree with you, but what you're describing is attitude, whereas this article is addressing [what they call] optimism, and have defined it clearly. Good attitude is helpful. Optimism isnt. The term "Hope for the Best, Prepare for the worst" is a pessimist with a good attitude. Someone who is relastic, and safe with bets, but not depressed or unhopful.
I will say overall I'm less than impressed with this article, regarding the methodology of the study. I havn't seen the details, but questions like "do you think you'll get a divorce" and then writing it down as optimism when you predict under 50% (the divorce rate) is stupid. Things like marriages go beyond statistics. I'm not talking about the power of love; I'm talking about the idea of plenty of people getting married that shouldn't, and then divorcing, and applying their screw-up to people in healthy, happy marriages with compatable interests, respect, and perhaps children. They should limit their questions to hypotheticals--gambling problems. Things like "oh, he doesn't think he'll be fired, when 20% of people are" when the guy knows he's a top performer at the company, is a poor way to judge how someone's predictions coencide with reality.
It seems like the "optimism" is at least partially, if not mostly the result of a distrust in the statistics being applicable, which is not optimistic, but a fair assesment in the case of the example questions. The reversal of pessimism (being told statistics arn't as bad as the subjects originally predicted) also seems to be more of a result of "I don't know, I've got nothing to go on. Oh, thats the statistic? Hmm, wasn't as bad as I thought". Overall I'm not impressed with the study's quantification of optimism and pessimism, but their definitons at least are accurate.
In 1975 Major Nory Laderoute, former Athletic Director of Canadian Armed Forces Combat training Center and I created a Visualization, with Deep Relaxation Program called Mind Over Muscle. Seeing yourself doing a sport that you have never tried, for example emulating the serve of a world class tennis player, can have profound effects on your serve. 36 years later, over ten thousand Olympic Athletes have used Mind Over Muscle and the GSR2.
For over two decades Thought Technology Biofeedback System have been used to Support NASA Missions. The NEEMO-9 project involved under water research since the environment provides some useful similarities to working in space. It included the use of biofeedback to monitor physiological changes in the astronauts.
They seem to be confusing optimism with OCPD, which has been considered a very bad thing for a very long time now. Don't you love it when science reiterates?
On the flip side, if optimism is really considered an evolutionary defect then I'm glad God created the universe and not emos in lab coats. I love this joke:
Scientist: We have finally unlocked the secret to creating life!
God: Oh really? (scoops up some dirt and creates a chicken)
Scientist: Yes really! (Picks up some dirt and puts it in a beaker)
God: Hey, get your own dirt!
The healthy balance between optimism or wishful thinking and pessimism is realism. Hope for the best and plan for the worse. To do otherwise would be, illogical.
I should have read brian144's comment before posting mine.
Too much of anything is bad for you, optimism or pessimism. There's a upside and downside to everything.
The photo used to represent the article is such a great one. Thank you for the laugh.
There's no way I can reply to everything you're saying. You definitely misinterpreted me if you think that I took "offense" at the article. Remember, I'm an over-positive type, so I wouldn't do that. I think the article was trying to have a bit of a go at optimists and I think that they were trying to appeal to pessimists who generally like to see optimists taken down a notch or too. I am also not generally insulting pessimists. I said that sometimes pessimism is justified. If all five of your cards are crummy then even an optimist isn't going to predict victory, but rather fold. Sometimes there just is no way to save a situation. As far as definitions, there are all kinds of different definitions of optimism and pessimism that vary from the very general disposition toward positivity/negativity, to alway/never believing things will turn out well. I'm just saying that, in practice, most real optimists (or pessimists) are not this extreme.
Another person said that pessimists hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I don't think so. I think this is closer to what most practical optimists do. Actually, in real life we might hope from something better than average and prepare for something less than average. The margin of safety might reflect your outlook. The funny thing is that this study talked about telling people the actual odds and how they reacted. If I know the odds then I play them, so optimism or pessimism wouldn't be required. However, I'm the kind of person who will quite if I'm $50 up in blackjack because I figure that I've already done better than the odds suggest I should do. The way that some people define optimists one would think that we would all be gambling addicts. Again, you claimed that pessimists are more careful and conservative, but I have found that most optimists are not extreme daredevils or risk takers. If that were true then optimists would have died out a long time ago. We dont' always think things will turn out bad, but that doesn't mean that we will take unnecessary risks.
Consider the picture selected. They call cubs fans optimists because they say "It's gonna happen" (eventually). Cubs fans do not believe that their team will win every game. They think that eventually they will win one, which is probably a statistical certainty. Few, if any cubs fans, would bet large sums of money on their team winning a given game. They *want* their team to win, but that is not the same as believing that it will absolutely happen. That's why I was critical of the article in the first place, because wishing something would happen is not the same as believing that it will always happen. Anyway, I think we've beaten these extreme cases to death.
might this perhaps explain "irrational exuberance" and too risky speculations in financial markets which caused today's global economic crisis?
Brain defect.. i always considered it to just someone being dumb.
of course isn't it the same thing? .. or would a brain defect in fact be classes as retarded? .. i don't know.
my wife, bless her heart, i love her and our kids but, she's not the smartest and she's full of both wishful thinking and optimism, not ever considering the downside or other sometimes messy effects to almost all of her ideas and decisions.
scientifically I'd label it "fing up royal with a smile on your face"