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 ;)