Posts Tagged ‘memory’

The Optimism Bias

Dear friends

In The Optimism Bias Dr. Tali Sharot, from University College London, discusses our natural tendency to overestimate the likelihood of experiencing positive events in our lives in the future, and to underestimate the likelihood of negative events occuring in our lives.

The book is written from her perspective as a neuroscientist’s and therefore she explores this bias as it appears in our brain function, looking at the biological aspects of our thought patters – optimism and pessimism.

Our memories are far from being accurate…

In her early studies, Sharot asked participants to recall past memories. We may be aware of the inaccuracies in our memory – and this was perhaps no surprise for Sharot to discover that our recollections are indeed inaccurate.

However, Sharot went a step further. Using brain imaging technology, she found that the areas in the brain that are engaged when we remember events from the past – are the same areas in the brain that are engaged when we think about the future. Recollection, she claims, is very much a reconstructive process, more like story telling, rather than a video-rerun of past experiences. It is thus susceptible to inaccuracies.

Sharot went on to record people’s brain activity when they imagined everyday future events. What she discovered was that the majority of people had pleasant scenarios in their minds, of rather routine and dull future events.

She then found that most people expect more positive than negative or neutral events to take place in the future. They also expected those positive events to take place sooner rather than later. This made her question whether this natural bias towards optimism is related to our brain structure.

We are biased towards optimism

She conducted her research in 3 countries – UK, USA and Israel. All of them provided similar results: it seems that hard-wired for optimism.

Building on the research of other psychologists she argues that optimism in effect serves an evolutionary purpose: those positive expectations of the future, seem to enhanced the probability of survival.

Evidently, optimism is not productive if it is overdone. It can have grave outcomes. If we cannot realistically predict what will happen in the future, and are not well prepared to the challenges of life – we may not be able to handle them when they occur.

Nevertheless, Sharot claims that optimism is functional. It can protect us from becoming depressed and hopeless about the future. It can reduce stress and fear, hightening motivation and inclination to take action.

Sharot argues that there are parts in our brain that give us the capacity to imagine ourselves in the future. This future orientation is important because it enable us to set goals, plan ahead, save and money, and maintain our diet and health. This futuristic thinking and optimism is what motivates us and drives us to develop and improve ourselves.

But, do our expectations change our reality?



Sharot claims that when we are optimistic – ie expecting good things in our future – happiness and success, indeed, that raises our chances of success and happiness. What we see at work here is the old “self fulfilling profecy”!

But what about pessimism and depression?

Sharot found, and this is very much in line with other studies, that who are depressed – tend to be negative and pessimistic. Antidepressants, Sharot argues, do not directly change people’s moods. What they change is their cognitive bias – they slowly become less pessimistic and more optimistic. This is why it takes time for antidepressants to work – they first change perceptions, attention, and memory and only then begin to affect people’s emotional state.

Dr. Sharot claims that resilience training that helps people redirect cognitive bias toward the positive optimistic view, can, in fact, protect against depression.

The Optimism Bias reveals the neuroscience behind hope and optimism and how the brains of optimists and pessimists differ. It also shows us why we are not very good at predicting what will make us happy. For those of you who want to understanding the biological processes that affect our outlook and attitudes, this is a great read.

And here is Dr Sharot herself discussing her book:





To your success!




Dr Rona Hart
Heart Enterprises Ltd
London UK
Tel 020 – 8931-3333
mob 07980-709821