Psychology Dictionary of Arguments

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Experimental Psychology on Optimism Bias - Dictionary of Arguments

Parisi I 104
Optimism/Experimental psychology/Ryan-Wilkinson: (...) the well-known finding that humans are overly optimistic or overconfident on various dimensions (e.g., Weinstein 1980(1), 1989(2)) (...) is a true cognitive error, in the sense that we know that people are getting certain answers objectively wrong. For example, in Fischhoff, Slovic, and Lichtenstein (1977)(3), participants gave estimates and answers to difficult
Parisi I 105
questions and had to quantify their confidence; they were, objectively speaking, much too sure that they had answered correctly. What makes this an interesting question from a normative standpoint, though, is that even in the case of a clear bias, a phenomenon that results in wrong answers, there is extensive evidence that the bias is overall helpful and quite adaptive. Positive illusions are associated with better adjustment and coping skills (e.g., Taylor and Armor, 1996)(4); indeed, failure to show this bias has been associated with clinical depression (e.g., Allan, Siegel, and Hannah, 2007)(5).


1. Weinstein, Neil D. (1980). “Unrealistic Optimism About Future Life Events.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39: 806–820.
2. Weinstein, Neil D. (1989). “Optimistic Biases About Personal Risks.” Science 246: 1232–1233.
3. Fischhoff, Baruch, Paul Slovic, and Sarah Lichtenstein (1977). “Knowing with Certainty: The Appropriateness of Extreme Confidence.” Journal of Experimental Psychology 3: 552–564.
4. Taylor, Shelley E. and David A. Armor (1996). “Positive Illusions and Coping with Adversity.” Journal of Personality 64: 873–898.
5. Allan, Lorraine G., Shepard Siegel, and Samuel Hannah (2007). “The Sad Truth About Depressive Realism.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 60: 482–495.


Wilkinson-Ryan, Tess. „Experimental Psychology and the Law“. In: Parisi, Francesco (ed) (2017). The Oxford Handbook of Law and Economics. Vol 1: Methodology and Concepts. NY: Oxford University Press.


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The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Experimental Psychology
Parisi I
Francesco Parisi (Ed)
The Oxford Handbook of Law and Economics: Volume 1: Methodology and Concepts New York 2017


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