Dr Adam Harris gives insights from his research on optimism
Dr Adam Harris from University College London presents his talk on 'How optimistic should we be about optimism research?'
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 behaviour interpreted as showing that people are ‘unrealistically optimistic’ in their judgements of risk concerning future life events.
More recently, it has been shown that when presented with new information pertaining to the likelihood of events in the world, people update their likelihood estimates of these events happening to them less when the information is undesirable than when it is desirable. Thus, participants also seem optimistically biased in their use of new information. Subsequent research has sought to identify neural correlates, individual differences, and developmental trends associated with this so-called ‘optimistic belief updating.’ Rational analyses have, however, demonstrated flaws associated with both these paradigms that render both behavioural and neuroscientific conclusions moot.
In this talk, Dr Harris will present these analyses (supplemented with experimental data), and additionally provide an evaluation of the novel methods that have subsequently been proposed in light of the original critiques. He will conclude that we are still short of identifying appropriate methodologies to address these questions, but suggest potential directions for future research.