Do You Suffer from Optimism Bias? You Aren’t Alone

Andy DwyerThere are a number of articles about the “power of positivity” and the importance of “seeing the glass as half full.” As someone who considers himself to be fairly cynical, I am not prone to unconditional optimism. While I do not fall on the pessimistic end of the spectrum, I look for evidence before succumbing to bouts of hopefulness. Andy Dwyer does not have that problem.

Andy Dwyer is the good-natured, endlessly positive staffer on Parks and Recreation. Regardless of obstacles, criticism, or rejection, he maintains an optimistic view of life. In Park & Rec’s final season, Andy’s public access TV show, “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show,” is on the verge of not being renewed. Where some would wallow, Andy gets excited about an opportunity to work as a janitor for the same station that wants to cancel his show.

When life gives you lemons make lemonade. I read that one on a can of lemonade. I like to think it applies to life. – Andy Dwyer

Andy’s reaction to negativity may seem simple-minded, but optimism bias is worth exploring. According to a TEDTalk by cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot, optimism bias is the “tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing good events in our lives and underestimate our likelihood of experiencing bad events.” It is why newlyweds predict their likelihood of divorce at 0%, while the divorce rate is actually 40%. It is why 75% of people are optimistic about the future of their own families, but only 30% feel that families are doing better than a few generations ago. And is it why during the most recent election, Congress had only a 14% approval rating, yet the incumbent reelection rate was 95% – we were overwhelming disgusted by those in Congress, but MY Congressmen is great.

We are optimistic about ourselves, our personal futures, and the areas of our lives where we feel as though we have a direct impact. We do not feel as positively towards strangers or overall society. Basically, we feel better when we have a sense of control.

Maintaining a sense of optimism bias is not just beneficial in leading us towards happy thoughts; it also serves as a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, one study found that gamblers who believe winning streaks are real, will keep betting. You may think of this as a gambler’s fallacy, but the research shows that these same individuals have a greater chance of walking way as a winner. This does not validate the power of magic thinking; their optimism bias led to changed behaviors resulting in quantifiable success – those on a winning streaks started choosing safer odds, which led to winning more often, thus reinforcing their optimism.

If you want something badly, you just gotta believe it’s gonna work out. – Andy Dwyer

Before you decide to be optimistically biased, keep in mind that a bias, by nature, is a skewed view of reality. When you unrealistically believe everything is always great, you will miss the warning signs that are shouting “caution” or “stop.” Avoid the temptations of overconfidence that make us feel impervious to failure. Preferably, try viewing the world more optimistically, not completely optimistically. It is a “prepare for the worst, hope for the best” mindset.

What we expect out of life impacts our actions, our decisions, our health, and our views of success. This then affects how others perceive and treat us. If you approach problems with an optimistic frame of reference, you will inspire those around you. Like Andy and his loyal friends from the Parks Department, your supporters will be more likely to feel a sense of hope and work harder to reach the goal that your optimism has deemed as achievable.

Comments are closed.

Post Navigation