November 11, 2007
Optimism Best In Moderation

Optimism is more adaptive than pessimism. But too much optimism is destructive.

Optimists, the Duke finance scholars discovered, worked longer hours every week, expected to retire later in life, were less likely to smoke and, when they divorced, were more likely to remarry. They also saved more, had more of their wealth in liquid assets, invested more in individual stocks and paid credit-card bills more promptly.

Yet those who saw the future too brightly -- people who in the survey overestimated their own likely lifespan by 20 years or more -- behaved in just the opposite way, the researchers discovered.

Rather than save, they squandered. They postponed bill-paying. Instead of taking the long view, they barely looked past tomorrow. Statistically, they were more likely to be day traders. "Optimism is a little like red wine," said Duke finance professor and study co-author Manju Puri. "In moderation, it is good for you; but no one would suggest you drink two bottles a day."

When people start genetically engineering their offspring I hope prospective parents don't become too optimistic about what optimism can accomplish. Sure, give your kids some leaning toward an optimistic outlook. But don't create reckless children who gamble and ring up debts.

The article also describes recent research about optimism coming from the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) of the brain. I've previously reported about that .

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 November 11 11:38 AM  Brain Economics

David Govett said at November 11, 2007 12:51 PM:

Govett's Law: Everything in moderation, including moderation.

cancer_man said at November 11, 2007 3:29 PM:

As an optimist, I think there is some truth to the study.

I have very little money and spend all day at the beach, getting my vitamin D, drinking a pina colada and every few days looking at the sky yelling, "Lift me, Singularity, lift me!"

David A. Young said at November 12, 2007 10:17 AM:

What Cancer Man said. I’ve always been very optimistic, to the point of assuming that things would just “work out” well for me in the end. This led me into many costly mistakes and missed opportunities. It wasn’t until I reached my mid-40s that I realized what I was doing to myself. For the last few years I’ve been working to modify my natural inclinations and behaviors (which is neither easy nor quick to do) to become somewhat more pragmatic. This is one reason I’m a booster of technological progress, especially as it relates to life-extension. I need the time and energy to recover from my past mistakes and work myself into the circumstances I had previously assumed would simply come to me.

Which points out what I view as one of the maximal benefits of radical life-extension. No matter how intelligent one may be, “wisdom” requires the consideration of reiterated experiences over time. Some have to bang their head against the brick wall only a few times before they “get it.” But I believe even the dimmest among us would eventually start acquiring true wisdom – given enough time. But that’s always been the rub. By the time we less-gifted started figuring things out, our best energy was spent, our time was growing short, and our ability to use that new-found wisdom to affect the world was greatly diminished. Radical life-extension would allow the Wisdom Quotient of the world to increase, and at an accelerating rate as time went on and the retainers of wisdom – people – stopped dieing. More people living longer means a wiser world. I believe this “Wiser World Effect” would more than compensate for the problems that increasing life spans would cause.

J.C. Carvill said at November 12, 2007 6:19 PM:

A good daily zip of either optimism, or red wine, has always been good boost for everyone to reach their success, but too much on one thing has never been good for anyone.

It is a simple principle that has been concluded by all society for perhaps hundreds of year, but the main excess and prove of its fatality, because of not obeying this rule, has only been shown this last couple of decades.

J.C. Carvill

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