October 12, 2011
Extreme Optimists Only Learn From Good News

The most optimistic have frontal lobes that want nothing to do with bad news.

For some people, the glass is always half full. Even when a football fan's team has lost ten matches in a row, he might still be convinced his team can reverse its run of bad luck. So why, in the face of clear evidence to suggest to the contrary, do some people remain so optimistic about the future?

In a study published today in Nature Neuroscience, researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London) show that people who are very optimistic about the outcome of events tend to learn only from information that reinforces their rose-tinted view of the world. This is related to 'faulty' function of their frontal lobes.

People's predictions of the future are often unrealistically optimistic. A problem that has puzzled scientists for decades is why human optimism is so pervasive, when reality continuously confronts us with information that challenges these biased beliefs.

"Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty can be a positive thing it can lower stress and anxiety and be good for our health and well-being," explains Dr Tali Sharot. "But it can also mean that we are less likely to take precautionary action, such as practising safe sex or saving for retirement. So why don't we learn from cautionary information?"

I hear Eric Idle singing "always look on the bright side of life".

Human brains have assorted biases built into how they work that limit their ability to understand the world accurately. This is about more than just intelligence. However, I suspect genetic outliers exist who have fewer biases. If the outliers also have sufficient intelligence they make good stock market traders and good scientists.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 October 12 06:59 AM  Brain Cognitive Flaws


Comments
George said at October 12, 2011 8:01 AM:

Delusional thinking is delusional. This is why we have economic bubbles... and liberalism.

Brett Bellmore said at October 13, 2011 4:02 AM:

I'm reminded of research indicating that depressed people are much more objective than normal people. (And maybe they're your outliers.) Objectively, we're all going to die. All our plans are eventually going to fall to ruin. Objectivity is not evolutionarily favored, because genuinely objective people would curl up and die. Because everything, for the individual, is eventually futile. (For the species, too, the time frame is just a lot longer.)

There's a sweet spot where you can selectively be objective about means, while still remaining irrational about ends, I suppose. I personally found that to be the case, when, while clinically depressed, and temporarily trapped at a Landmark Forum event. (No, my boss booked it and paid for it, I'm not that stupid.) I actually spent some time considering what I really wanted from life, and what, objectively, was necessary to achieve it.

The result was that I'm happy today, having actually achieved what I wanted. Even though along the way I contracted two cases of cancer, cataracts, and am currently contending with "epiretinal membrane". Still happy, because I identified what was most important to me, and did what I needed to do to get it.

Mind, I'd be happier if medical progress catches up with my rapidly deteriorating health, but I could have had all these problems, and NOT fulfilled my personal goals, if I hadn't managed that moment of selective objectivity.

Smith said at October 13, 2011 6:51 AM:

Great post. Delusion cannot be described as anything but delusion!

Jony said at November 7, 2014 8:10 AM:

The frontal lobes are large and used a ton in every day life and cognition. Just to limit the frontal lobes to "processing errors" is not science. The confirmatory bias was researched by Hopper three decades ago. Sadly, brain science and psychology do a really poor job of communicating with the public. acne no more book review

Jony said at November 7, 2014 8:10 AM:

The frontal lobes are large and used a ton in every day life and cognition. Just to limit the frontal lobes to "processing errors" is not science. The confirmatory bias was researched by Hopper three decades ago. Sadly, brain science and psychology do a really poor job of communicating with the public. acne no more book review

Jony said at November 7, 2014 8:12 AM:

The frontal lobes are large and used a ton in every day life and cognition. Just to limit the frontal lobes to "processing errors" is not science. The confirmatory bias was researched by Hopper three decades ago. Sadly, brain science and psychology do a really poor job of communicating with the public. acne no more book review

Jony said at November 7, 2014 8:13 AM:

The frontal lobes are large and used a ton in every day life and cognition. Just to limit the frontal lobes to "processing errors" is not science. The confirmatory bias was researched by Hopper three decades ago. Sadly, brain science and psychology do a really poor job of communicating with the public. acne no more book review

Jony said at November 7, 2014 8:15 AM:

The frontal lobes are large and used a ton in every day life and cognition. Just to limit the frontal lobes to "processing errors" is not science. The confirmatory bias was researched by Hopper three decades ago. Sadly, brain science and psychology do a really poor job of communicating with the public. Jony acne no more book review

Jony said at November 7, 2014 8:15 AM:

The frontal lobes are large and used a ton in every day life and cognition. Just to limit the frontal lobes to "processing errors" is not science. The confirmatory bias was researched by Hopper three decades ago. Sadly, brain science and psychology do a really poor job of communicating with the public. Jony acne no more book review

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