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Concept: Optimism


Received academic wisdom holds that human judgment is characterized by unrealistic optimism, the tendency to underestimate the likelihood of negative events and overestimate the likelihood of positive events. With recent questions being raised over the degree to which the majority of this research genuinely demonstrates optimism, attention to possible mechanisms generating such a bias becomes ever more important. New studies have now claimed that unrealistic optimism emerges as a result of biased belief updating with distinctive neural correlates in the brain. On a behavioral level, these studies suggest that, for negative events, desirable information is incorporated into personal risk estimates to a greater degree than undesirable information (resulting in a more optimistic outlook). However, using task analyses, simulations, and experiments we demonstrate that this pattern of results is a statistical artifact. In contrast with previous work, we examined participants' use of new information with reference to the normative, Bayesian standard. Simulations reveal the fundamental difficulties that would need to be overcome by any robust test of optimistic updating. No such test presently exists, so that the best one can presently do is perform analyses with a number of techniques, all of which have important weaknesses. Applying these analyses to five experiments shows no evidence of optimistic updating. These results clarify the difficulties involved in studying human ‘bias’ and cast additional doubt over the status of optimism as a fundamental characteristic of healthy cognition.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Critical thinking, Statistics, Motivation, Philosophy of life, Optimism, Pessimism


Mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD) remains at quite notable levels. Research on the risk factors and the treatment of CHD has focused on physiological factors, but there is an increasing amount of evidence connecting mental health and personality traits to CHD, too. The data concerning the connection of CHD and dispositional optimism and pessimism as personality traits is relatively scarce. The aim of this study was to investigate the connection between optimism, pessimism, and CHD mortality.

Concepts: Psychology, Epidemiology, Death, Heart, The Canon of Medicine, Avicenna, Heart disease, Optimism


Depressive disorder is often associated with cognitive biases. In this study, we took a unique opportunity to investigate whether trait pessimism could predict vulnerability to stress-induced anhedonia in an animal model of depression. In a series of ambiguous-cue interpretation (ACI) tests, we identified animals displaying ‘pessimistic’ and ‘optimistic’ traits. Subsequently, the rats were subjected to chronic restraint, and the trait differences in response to stress were investigated using sucrose preference and ACI tests before, during and after the stress regime. Although stress resulted in anhedonia in both subgroups, it occurred faster and lasted longer in the ‘pessimistic’ compared to the ‘optimistic’ animals. Chronic stress exposure also increased the negative judgment bias in rats, although this effect was not dependent on the ‘pessimistic’ trait. For the first time, we demonstrated a link between cognitive judgment bias and vulnerability to stress-induced anhedonia in an animal model. We also introduced a cognitive biomarker, which may be of value for etiological depression studies.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article preview online, 10 May 2013; doi:10.1038/npp.2013.116.

Concepts: Cognitive bias, Motivation, Major depressive disorder, Mood disorder, Dysthymia, Bias, Optimism, Pessimism


People are optimistic about their prospects relative to others. However, existing studies can be difficult to interpret because outcomes are not zero-sum. For example, one person avoiding cancer does not necessitate that another person develops cancer. Ideally, optimism bias would be evaluated within a closed formal system to establish with certainty the extent of the bias and the associated environmental factors, such that optimism bias is demonstrated when a population is internally inconsistent. Accordingly, we asked NFL fans to predict how many games teams they liked and disliked would win in the 2015 season. Fans, like ESPN reporters assigned to cover a team, were overly optimistic about their team’s prospects. The opposite pattern was found for teams that fans disliked. Optimism may flourish because year-to-year team results are marked by auto-correlation and regression to the group mean (i.e., good teams stay good, but bad teams improve).

Concepts: Regression analysis, Metalogic, Team, Formal language, The A-Team, Bad, Optimism, Formal system


The present research examined whether the tendency to brace for the worst by becoming pessimistic as news approaches varies across people, namely people who differ in their trait-like outlooks on the future (dispositional optimism, defensive pessimism).

Concepts: Present, Time, Future, Motivation, Past, Optimism, Pessimism, Is the glass half empty or half full?


Recent advances in animal welfare science used judgement bias, a type of cognitive bias, as a means to objectively measure an animal’s affective state. It is postulated that animals showing heightened expectation of positive outcomes may be categorised optimistic, while those showing heightened expectations of negative outcomes may be considered pessimistic. This study pioneers the use of a portable, automated apparatus to train and test the judgement bias of dogs. Dogs were trained in a discrimination task in which they learned to touch a target after a tone associated with a lactose-free milk reward and abstain from touching the target after a tone associated with water. Their judgement bias was then probed by presenting tones between those learned in the discrimination task and measuring their latency to respond by touching the target. A Cox’s Proportional Hazards model was used to analyse censored response latency data. Dog and Cue both had a highly significant effect on latency and risk of touching a target. This indicates that judgement bias both exists in dogs and differs between dogs. Test number also had a significant effect, indicating that dogs were less likely to touch the target over successive tests. Detailed examination of the response latencies revealed tipping points where average latency increased by 100% or more, giving an indication of where dogs began to treat ambiguous cues as predicting more negative outcomes than positive ones. Variability scores were calculated to provide an index of optimism using average latency and standard deviation at cues after the tipping point. The use of a mathematical approach to assessing judgement bias data in animal studies offers a more detailed interpretation than traditional statistical analyses. This study provides proof of concept for the use of an automated apparatus for measuring cognitive bias in dogs.

Concepts: Critical thinking, Statistics, Cognitive psychology, Somatosensory system, Arithmetic mean, Dog, Optimism, Pessimism


BACKGROUND: Diagnostic MRI reports can be distressing for patients with limited health literacy. Humans tend to prepare for the worst particularly when we are in pain, and words like “tear” can make us feel damaged and in need of repair. Research on words used in provider-patient interactions have shown an affect on response to treatment and coping strategies, but the literature on this remains relatively sparse. QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: The aim of this observational cross-sectional study is to determine whether rewording of MRI reports in understandable, more dispassionate language will result in better patient ratings of emotional response, satisfaction, usefulness, and understanding. Furthermore, we wanted to find out which type of report patients would choose to receive. METHODS: One hundred patients visiting an orthopaedic hand and upper extremity outpatient office for reasons unrelated to the presented MRI report were enrolled. Four MRI reports, concerning upper extremity conditions, were reworded to an eighth-grade reading level and with the use of neutral descriptive words and the most optimistic interpretations based on current best evidence. After reading each report, emotional response was measured using the Self Assessment Manikin (SAM). Subjects also completed questions about satisfaction, usefulness, and understanding of the report. RESULTS: According to the results of the SAM questionnaire, the reworded MRI reports resulted in significantly higher pleasure and dominance scores and lower arousal scores. The mean satisfaction, usefulness, and understanding scores of the reworded report were significantly higher compared with the original reports. Seventy percent of the patients preferred the reworded reports over the original reports. CONCLUSIONS: Emotional response, satisfaction, usefulness, and understanding were all superior in MRI reports reworded for lower reading level and optimal emotional content and optimism. Given that patients increasingly have access to their medical records and diagnostic reports, attention to health literacy and psychologic aspects of the report may help optimize health and patient satisfaction. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level II, therapeutic study. See Guidelines for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

Concepts: Patient, Understanding, Cross-sectional study, Report, Knowledge, Emotion, Upper limb, Optimism


A series of experiments investigated why people value optimism and whether they are right to do so. In Experiments 1A and 1B, participants prescribed more optimism for someone implementing decisions than for someone deliberating, indicating that people prescribe optimism selectively, when it can affect performance. Furthermore, participants believed optimism improved outcomes when a person’s actions had considerable, rather than little, influence over the outcome (Experiment 2). Experiments 3 and 4 tested the accuracy of this belief; optimism improved persistence, but it did not improve performance as much as participants expected. Experiments 5A and 5B found that participants overestimated the relationship between optimism and performance even when their focus was not on optimism exclusively. In summary, people prescribe optimism when they believe it has the opportunity to improve the chance of success-unfortunately, people may be overly optimistic about just how much optimism can do. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2015 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Game theory, Better, Improve, Economics, Science, Experiment, All rights reserved, Optimism


Higher levels of optimism have been linked with positive health behaviors, biological processes, and health conditions that are potentially protective against cognitive impairment in older adults. However, the association between optimism and cognitive impairment has not been directly investigated. We examined whether optimism is associated with incident cognitive impairment in older adults.

Concepts: Psychology, Epidemiology, Economics, The Association, Optimism


Do optimistic expectations facilitate or hinder adaptive responses to relationship challenges? Traditionally, optimism has been characterized as a resource that encourages positive coping efforts within relationships. Yet, some work suggests optimism can be a liability, as expecting the best may prevent individuals from taking proactive steps when confronted with difficulties. To reconcile these perspectives, the current article argues that greater attention must be given to the way in which optimistic expectancies are conceptualized. Whereas generalized dispositional optimism may predict constructive responses to relationship difficulties, more focused relationship-specific forms of optimism may predict poor coping responses. A multi-method, longitudinal study of newly married couples confirmed that spouses higher in dispositional optimism (a) reported engaging in more positive problem-solving behaviors on days in which they experienced greater relationship conflict, (b) were observed to display more constructive problem-solving behaviors when discussing important marital issues with their partner in the lab, and © experienced fewer declines in marital well-being over the 1st year of marriage. Conversely, spouses higher in relationship-specific optimism (a) reported engaging in fewer constructive problem-solving behaviors on high conflict days, (b) were observed to exhibit worse problem-solving behaviors in the lab-particularly when discussing marital issues of greater importance-and © experienced steeper declines in marital well-being over time. All findings held controlling for self-esteem and neuroticism. Together, results suggest that whereas global forms of optimism may represent a relationship asset, specific forms of optimism can place couples at risk for marital deterioration. (PsycINFO Database Record © 2013 APA, all rights reserved).

Concepts: Marriage, Sexual intercourse, Longitudinal study, Economics, Motivation, All rights reserved, Spouse, Optimism