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Heuristics and Biases 1D- Optimism


17. Resistance of Personal Risk Perceptions to Debiasing Interventions

Across a variety of risks, from obesity to heart disease to radon poisoning, people tend to be overly optimistic about their relative risk. People tend to think they are less likely than average to suffer the risks. This bias has stubbornly remained even whn debiasing attempts are made, as in the 4 studies below.

Perceived susceptibility, one’s belief about the likelihood of personal harm, is a key concept in many theories of health behavior (Cummings, Becker, & Maile, 1980; Weinstein, 1993). Such beliefs often turn out to be unrealistically optimistic: People show a consistent tendency to claim that they are less likely than their peers to suffer harm. This optimistic bias in relative risk has been demonstrated with several methods, various age groups, and a wide range of hazards (Weinstein, 1987) (7122).

Four studies testing a variety of approaches and using a variety of health hazards were unsuccessful in reducing optimistic biases about familiar health hazards. In Study 1, informing participants about relevant risk factors and requiring them to describe their standing on these factors had no overall effect on subsequent risk judgments. Studies 2 and 3 attempted to alter risk perceptions by encouraging participants to compare themselves with a low- rather than a high-risk standard. Most risk ratings were unaffected. Moreover, when effects did occur, they were stronger on ratings of personal risk than on ratings of others’ risk, even though one might think it easier to change perceptions of others’ risk. In Study 4, the well-documented technique of influencing likelihood perceptions by having participants generate factors that would make an event more or less likely (Hoch, 1984; Levi & Pryor, 1987; Sherman et al., 1981) produced weak and inconsistent effects (7328).

18. Ambiguity and Self-Evaluation: The Role of Idiosyncratic Trait Definitions in Self-Serving Assesments of Ability

People tend to evaluate themselves above average across pretty much every and any characteristics trait. The situations gets more complex when we look at the ambiguity of certain traits. The more precisely defined and measurable a trait is, the less apt a person is to be self-serving in the ability assessment.

When people are in control of how they define the attributes (good leadership) they tend to pick more self serving definitions in line with seeing themselves as good leaders, inflating the assessment.

To the extent that people fail to recognize when other definitions of ability are relevant for success and achievement, estimates of their future well-being will be exaggerated (7574).

19. When Predictions Fail: The Dilemma of Unrealistic Optimism

People tend to be overly optimistic about future events, but this effect decreases as the event becomes closer in time, even after factoring out the benefit of more information. Also, negative consequences of being wrong, and future scrutiny lessen the effect. There seems to be something of a self-fulfilling prophecy in predictions of future performance. Higher predictions correlate with higher performance, which may be the result of higher predictions being the result of an evaluation of mental plans. Lastly, decreasing the optimism bias may not be that great, since it may also decrease performance.

The overall lack of evidence documenting any of the punishing consequences of optimistic bias is nonetheless surprising given that the potential for these consequences is often cited as a reason for why the study of optimistic biases is so important. Moreover, what little evidence there is that speaks to these issues does not consistently reveal adverse effects of optimistic bias (7658).

Taken together, these results suggest that at the moment when unrealistic optimism might be especially likely to be injurious or to lead to actions that ought be avoided, optimistic biases may be at their lowest ebb; in contrast, at times when optimistic biases may provide a motivational edge, as when an already chosen course of action is being initiated, these biases may be more prevalent (7737).

A common concern among many who study optimistic biases is that these biases will have a number of costly consequences. People who are prone to excessive optimism might reasonably be expected to make poor decisions – to pursue unreasonable ambitions recklessly, to persist at fruitless endeavors, and to value prospects without fully appreciating their risks – and to suffer the consequences when reality fails to live up to their own lofty expectations. Although these concerns are certainly plausible, and although the costs of excessive optimism may be quite high at times, several lines of research reviewed here suggest that these concerns may be overstated (7850).

Evidence was reviewed that suggests that optimistic biases are reduced when people make predictions about events that will take place in the near versus distant future, or when people are deliberating between different possible goals as opposed to developing plans for one of them (7857).

The causal significance of optimistic predictions – even unrealistically optimistic ones – in determining people’s outcomes may have some important implications for interventions designed to reduce or eliminate optimistic biases. Although these interventions have been designed to enhance the accuracy of people’s predictions, the net result of these interventions may be to undermine motivation and performance without actually improving predictive accuracy (7868).

Note: Predictionbook = bad?

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