Dr. Andrew Smith was awarded a 3-year grant from the National Science Foundation focusing on optimism biases—instances where preferred outcomes are viewed as more likely than warranted and unpreferred outcomes are viewed as less likely than warranted. This research will help us better understand when and why people exhibit an optimism bias, and identify methods for reducing this sometimes problematic bias.
Optimism biases have relevance to problematic individual behaviors (e.g., unwise risk taking), societally important trends (e.g., stock market bubbles), and human tragedies (e.g., deaths from engineering failures). It is often assumed that motivational goals underlie optimism biases—i.e., the desirability of an outcome causes increased expectations the outcome will occur. Unfortunately, there is an inadequate understanding of when different goals impact optimism (e.g., accuracy, loyalty, self-presentation, accountability), including goals that have the potential to reduce optimism biases.
The research funded by the grant includes three lines of research. Their first line will examine the processes responsible for optimism biases. The second line of research will address how types of available information influence the desirability bias. And a third line will test a novel debiasing intervention for overoptimism. Participants in the studies will include sports fans, owners of homes in floodplains, and patients planning on undergoing medical treatments—three groups known to exhibit overoptimism. Ultimately, this research will help us better understand when and why people exhibit an optimism bias, and identify methods for reducing this sometimes problematic bias.