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Torbet, G. (2012). Sharot, T., Korn, C. W., & Dolan, R. J. (2011). How unrealistic optimism is maintained in the face of reality. Nature Neuroscience, 14: 1475-1479.. Neuropsychoanalysis, 14(1):121.

(2012). Neuropsychoanalysis, 14(1):121

Sharot, T., Korn, C. W., & Dolan, R. J. (2011). How unrealistic optimism is maintained in the face of reality. Nature Neuroscience, 14: 1475-1479.

Review by:
Georgiana Torbet

It is a striking fact that many people seem to maintain optimism about the future, despite repeated exposure to evidence that should make them reassess their beliefs. Mentally healthy people will often maintain, with delusion-like certainty, that the world is a fair place, or that things will get better, even when these statements are unlikely to be true. In a clinical setting, the lack of these optimistic beliefs is often seen in depression, suggesting that they may have a protective role for mental health. But what is the cognitive and neurobiological basis for this unrealistic optimism? A recent fMRI study by Sharot, Korn, and Dolan has investigated this.

The methodology assessed the degree to which people update their beliefs when they are provided with information that conflicts with these beliefs. The research focused on optimism as the underestimation of future negative events, rather than overestimation of future positive events. The authors give the justification for this choice as the fact that the underestimation of future negative events is linked to undesirable outcomes such as people failing to protect themselves from hazards. While this could be argued for on the basis of ethical imperative, it is a limited definition of optimism that may not be fully generalizable to other situations. However, the research is of pragmatic and academic interest in terms of the psychology of risk assessment, particularly regarding people's health decisions.

Participants were asked to estimate the likelihood of experiencing various adverse life events, and they were then given information on the average probability of them experiencing these events.

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