Self-Perception

Taylor and Brown defend their position that


…self-aggrandizing self-perceptions, an illusion of control, and unrealistic optimism are widespread in normal human thought … … maintain that these “illusions” foster the criteria normally associated with mental health…

and conclude that


…work on illusions and mental health has gone beyond the simple questions of “Do illusions exist and are they associated with mental health?” The questions we should be asking now are, “When are positive illusions most in evidence?”, “Do they ever compromise mental health, and if so, when?”, “Are there conditions when they damp down or disappear altogether?”, and “Do such conditions address the paradox of how people can hold positive illusions about themselves, their world, and their future while still coping successfully with an environment that would seem to demand accurate appreciation of its feedback?” On these questions, recent research suggests that progress is being made.

Interesting questions all; I look forward to unearthing more findings.

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7 comments
  1. Carpe Diem said:

    Por Favor – Requesting an interim synthesis on “Optimism Bias”. In 3-5 bullets, what are your conclusions, thence recommendations on what we should think/do, and questions open to further investigation?

    Hey, I want to engage on this, but keep the politics out of it, because I think you and I are about as far apart on this issue as a rigorous republican from a devout democrat (and since I believe that each person is entitled to their own truth, and whether or not they can impose it on others is based on how hard they believe and apply themselves to it – of course, I mean this outside the realm of natural science – I think we may forever stay on opposite sides of the chasm)

    The non-zero-sum view on it (an optimist’s bias) is that there is common ground to explore, and things to learn on both sides. This would include
    1) Getting realists to accept that the human condition is imperfect, and that the use/leverage of optimism bias to harness human energy and commitment against causes rife with uncertainty is net-beneficial to humankind (all endeavours that organize large groups of people to be consistent and coherent towards a goal, say the Appolo space program, or Project Tiger, or the WTO, are grounded in getting counterparties and followership to play ball, and take some steps with uncertain outcomes, by enticing them to see the inspirational side of positive outcomes, that are quite uncertain in reality as acknowledged privately by all involved). Of course, while the harnessing of optimism bias is “net-beneficial”, a disproportionate share of the benefit (so disproportionate sometimes, that it makes the counterparty’s share negative even) will likely accrue to those “driving” the optimism bias, since the others are (admittedly) being “gamed”
    2) Getting optimists to become more tempered, and see things less in absolutes and more in probability-weighed scenarios, and alter the mix of bets as life goes along towards its logical conclusion (pushing up daisies from beneath a grave), so as to reduce risk taking and become more moderated with age
    3) Getting everyone involved to rise above the drive of their ego

    The zero-sum view of it (possibly more realistic) is that we can trade all the “peer review blessed” facts, and “personal experience fuelled” opinion we may possibly want to, but continue to stay on opposite sides of the divide, and that one side is actually more right than the other (hence the pissing contest, which is itself, if you were to step back and look at it objectively, fuelled by a kind of optimism-bias filled status seeking that strives to eradicate imperfections in cognition, a tall order, for a class of organisms that have a very flawed CPU and firmware to start with). In this case (which is also good, and means that the dissonance will rise on one side until it overthrows the held belief), we need more interim synthesis, so we can even track the debate, and keep it on paper, and out of our “imperfect storage”. Note that the human storage is so imperfect, it stores concepts alongside the emotions they generate, instead of as black and white facts.

    One post please, from where we can dive in. I am very scattered. I hope its not toomuch to ask for. I will respond to Mr. A post separately of this.

    This paper is very cool, but from my read of it, it takes a more “balanced” stance on the optimism bias, than you do in general. Not sure if that is because I don’t hear you clearly, or because these guys are writing more holistically whereas we occasionally trade views. I’ll read in detail, and use in responses.

    Cheers.

    • “1) Getting realists to accept that the human condition is imperfect, and that the use/leverage of optimism bias to harness human energy and commitment against causes rife with uncertainty is net-beneficial to humankind ”

      — agree to this, there is nothing more to be done to get this realist to accept that.

      “The zero-sum view of it (possibly more realistic) is that we can trade all the “peer review blessed” facts, and “personal experience fuelled” opinion we may possibly want to, but continue to stay on opposite sides of the divide, and that one side is actually more right than the other (hence the pissing contest, which is itself, if you were to step back and look at it objectively, fuelled by a kind of optimism-bias filled status seeking”

      — I do not think of this as a pissing contest, because I do not think of this as a debate to be won or lost, or get you or me to convert. I see this as a process of discovery, period. You do not have to agree with me, and I do not have to agree with you as far as I am concerned. However, whatever our motivations are, we progress by trying to understanding issues better. Why is this status-seeking, and why is this a pissing contest?

      “that strives to eradicate imperfections in cognition, a tall order, for a class of organisms that have a very flawed CPU and firmware to start with”

      — right. I agree that they may be impossible to eradicate, but I maintain that we can understand them make allowances for them instead of throwing our arms up in the air saying “this is how people are!”

      “Note that the human storage is so imperfect, it stores concepts alongside the emotions they generate, instead of as black and white facts.”

      — absolutely so!

      “This paper is very cool, but from my read of it, it takes a more “balanced” stance on the optimism bias, than you do in general. ”

      — Carpe Diem, I do take the same balanced view. I am not sure why you view me as a bleak, black eyed pessimist.

      Ok let me try to summarise my current positions simply

      – Optimism bias exists, and exists because there are benefits to especially in a society that is full of other humans with similar psychologies. These benefits may be psychological, or they may be due to status, or may be due to the impact it has on shaping the actions of other humans,

      – In general, I need to understand the ways in which the human mind works. You may call this “imperfection seeking”, I prefer to call it “understanding how human mind works”. This leads me to a whole dictionary of patterns, of which optimism bias is one example.

      – The default ways of going with the quick-gut-feel understanding of the mind is unsatisfactory to me. Also it is unsatisfactory to me to solely execute based on the “nonreflective” ways of thought. I prefer to close this feedback loop, and include the reflection of the understanding of the mind back into the thought process of going about doing what we do.

      – Given the above, I like to understand all that I can about optimism bias, and loop that back into my own mind to allow for and consider my optimism biases in my thought processes for the future.

  2. Here is an addendum to this post, another paperm, and an additional thesis:
    http://www.emotionalcompetency.com/papers/baumeistersmartboden1996%5B1%5D.pdf

    “Taylor and Brown (1988) amassed
    considerable evidence that positive illusions (i.e., favorable and
    possibly distorted views of self) are correlated with mental
    health and good adjustment. Others have suggested that this evidence
    is limited to fairly small distortions and that such illusions
    may chiefly be beneficial when kept within narrow limits
    (Baumeister, 1989b) or when confined to certain circumstances
    (Gollwitzer & Kinney, 1989). Colvin and Block (1994) disputed
    the entire argument and suggested that positive illusions
    are not adaptive. Although a full consideration of all the costs
    and benefits of positive illusions is beyond the scope of this article,
    we do note that positive illusions may be costly in terms of
    increasing vulnerability to external disconfirmation and hence
    resulting in violence. We concur with Taylor and Brown to the
    effect that high self-esteem does have important benefits, but
    to the extent that inflated self-appraisals lead one into violent
    encounters (with risks of injury, death, and imprisonment),
    they cannot be assumed to be an unmitigated good.”

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