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Unrealistic optimism about future life events: A cautionary note

Harris, Adam J. L. and Hahn, Ulrike 2011. Unrealistic optimism about future life events: A cautionary note. Psychological Review 118 (1) , pp. 135-154. 10.1037/a0020997

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A robust finding in social psychology is that people judge negative events as less likely to happen to themselves than to the average person, a behavior interpreted as showing that people are “unrealistically optimistic” in their judgments of risk concerning future life events. However, we demonstrate how unbiased responses can result in data patterns commonly interpreted as indicative of optimism for purely statistical reasons. Specifically, we show how extant data from unrealistic optimism studies investigating people's comparative risk judgments are plagued by the statistical consequences of sampling constraints and the response scales used, in combination with the comparative rarity of truly negative events. We conclude that the presence of such statistical artifacts raises questions over the very existence of an optimistic bias about risk and implies that to the extent that such a bias exists, we know considerably less about its magnitude, mechanisms, and moderators than previously assumed.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Publisher: American Psychological Association
ISSN: 0033-295X
Last Modified: 04 Mar 2018 21:24

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