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Rose-Colored Glasses? Maybe Not Wear Them

You'd think being an optimist was a good thing. It's certainly better than stewing in anxiety and panic, as many of us have done, during this difficult time. But now a new study says that wearing rose-colored glasses can actually hurt us, according to newswise.com


This study casts doubt over claims that people are ‘optimistically biased’ about the future, a tendency that is thought to contribute to financial crises, people’s failure to look after their health, or inaction over climate change, the web site.


"For decades scientists have believed that people have an ‘irrational optimism bias’ — they look too much to the bright side and underestimate their chances of negative experiences," the web site points out, while overestimating their chances of positive events. I've written a book and though I've gotten some very positive feedback, I haven't been able to sell it. I know the competition is fierce but I thought somehow, my book will make it through.


However, a new study by researchers at the University of Bath, UCL, and Birkbeck, University of London, says there are drawbacks to living this way. According to the authors, prior studies have generated "false positives’"- data patterns that look like people are being over-optimistic, where no such bias exists.


Using widely accepted methodology, known as "the update method," had participants estimate their chance of experiencing a life event and then re-estimate it after being provided with the average person’s actual chance of experiencing the event.


Typically, this has been done with negative life events, like contracting a disease or getting a divorce - bad news cases that would elicit a strong emotional response.


Removing the emotional element, researchers used the same "update method" but removed the emotional element, focusing instead on neutral examples such as participants estimating the chances of the next passing car being the color black.


Despite changing the examples and removing the emotional elements, the same optimistic pattern was observed, leading researchers to challenge the validity of the methods using in research claiming to prove optimism bias.


“Our experiments show that the method commonly used to evidence such optimism is flawed, giving rise to ‘optimistic’ belief updating where optimism is not possible," lead researcher, Jason Burton, from Birkbeck, tells newswise. This is not to say that optimism bias cannot exist in the real world, but that new improved methods are needed. Essentially, current methods return false positives.”


Adds co-researcher Punit Shah, Associate Professor from Bath’s department of Psychology, “There is of course evidence for optimism in certain situations, but that is not to say that humans are generally optimistic. Researchers and policy makers have made careers based on the idea of optimism bias, but it is time to reconsider evidence for this psychological phenomenon.”


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