Unrealistic Optimism: blame your brain

It is official – scientists have found an explanation for why most people are over-optimistic. In a previous blog, I talked about the need to allow for optimism bias when conducting risk assessments. One quite natural response was to question if I was being fair, and to challenge whether people really are over-optimistic. However, a recent study published in Nature Neuroscience has located what happens in the brain when people are over-optimistic. As the scientists put it:

…highly optimistic individuals exhibited reduced tracking of estimation errors that called for negative update in right inferior prefrontal gyrus.

Put simply, optimists process good news about the future, and ignore bad news. Whilst optimism is good for a person’s health, Dr. Tali Sharot also pointed out the downside:

The negative aspect is that we underestimate risks.

You can read the BBC version of the story here, and the scientific paper here. However, I must admit I have not actually read the full paper. It costs money to buy, and being a pessimist, I assume it is not worth it ;)

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.