The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain


Psychologists have long been aware that most people maintain an irrationally positive outlook on life. Tali Sharot—one of the most innovative neuroscientists at work ...

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The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain

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Psychologists have long been aware that most people maintain an irrationally positive outlook on life. Tali Sharot—one of the most innovative neuroscientists at work today—takes this a step further. Optimism, she shows, may in fact be crucial to our existence.
In this absorbing exploration, Sharot takes an in-depth, clarifying look at
• how the brain generates hope and what happens when it fails
• how the brains of optimists and pessimists differ
• why we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy
• how emotions strengthen our ability to recollect
• how anticipation and dread affect us
• how our optimistic illusions affect our financial, professional, and emotional decisions
With its cutting-edge science and its wide-ranging narrative, The Optimism Bias provides us with startling new insight into the workings of the brain and the major role that optimism plays in determining how we live our lives.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Our culture bleeds affirmation from every core. We keep gratitude journals, enthusiastically exchange stories of healing, align ourselves with candidates of hope, and search for life's silver linings in even the most unlikely places. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot notes that most homo sapiens are irrationally positive; that is, we overestimate the likelihood of positive events and underestimate the probability of negative ones. In The Optimism Bias, she explains how our minds transform predictions into reality and exposes the dreaded dark side of positive thinking. Editor's recommendation.

From the Publisher

“Fascinating. . . . Even if you’re a dedicated cynic, you might be surprised to learn that your brain is wearing rose-colored glasses, whether you like it or not.”

“What a treat. A charming, engaging and accessible book written by a scientist who knows how to tell a story.”
—Richard Thaler, author of Nudge

“An insightful, Oliver Sacks-y first book.”
The Village Voice

“Very enjoyable, highly original and packed with eye-opening insight, this is a beautifully written book that really brings psychology alive.”
—Simon Baron-Cohen, author of The Science of Evil
“Offers evolutionary, neurological, and even slightly philosophical reasons for optimism. . . . A book I’d suggest to anyone.”
—Terry Waghorn, Forbes 
“If you read her story, you’ll get a better grip on how we function in it. I’m optimistic about that.”
—Richard Stengel, Time
“Once I started reading The Optimism Bias, I could not put it down.”
—Louisa Jewell, Positive Psychology News Daily
“An intelligently written look into why most people take an optimistic view of life. . . . [A] fascinating trip into why we prefer to remain hopeful about our future and ourselves.”
New York Journal of Books
“With rare talent Sharot takes us on an unforgettable tour of the hopes, traps and tricks of our brains. . . . A must-read.”
—David Eagleman, author of Incognito
“A fascinating yet accessible exploration of how and why our brains construct a positive outlook on life.”
“Lively, conversational. . . . A well-told, heartening report from neuroscience’s front lines.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Most readers will turn to the last page not only buoyed by hope but also aware of the sources and benefits of that hope.”
“Fascinating and fun to read. . . . Provides lucid accounts of [Sharot’s] often ingenious experiments.”
—BBC Focus Magazine

Kirkus Reviews

Our mind deceives us by parking rose-colored glasses on our nose, writes neuroscientist Sharot, but only with the best of intentions.

In this lively, conversational book, the author puts on firm footing what many of us have sensed all along—that we are, by and large, a pretty optimistic bunch. Indeed, "optimism may be so essential to our survival that it is hardwired into our most complex organ, the brain." So prevalent are these optimistic tendencies that they compose a bias, a steady inclination to overestimate the likelihood of encountering more positive events in the future than negative ones. The optimism bias protects us from being stymied by the inevitable tribulations of everyday life, or to perceive that our options are limited in some manner; it helps us relax, improves our health and motivates us to act. Sharot is a friendly writer—her book brims with anecdotes and scientific studies that attest to optimism's gentling hand—though no empty smiley face: There is plenty in these pages about how we cope with root canals and chemotherapy, disappointment and dread. Sharot presents this evolutionary scenario: "an ability to imagine the future had to develop side by side with positive biases. The knowledge of death had to emerge at the same time as its irrational denial...It is this coupling—conscious prospection and optimism—that underlies the extraordinary achievements of the human species." Otherwise, considering the future would be paralyzing. The author circulates through much of the optimism/pessimism map, touching down on the importance of control, relativity and anticipation. What is most stunning, however, are the ways in which optimism not only evokes new behavior in the individual (optimistic heart-attack victim modeling healthy new behavior), but helps deliver the irrationally expected goods (Joe Namath guaranteeing victory in Super Bowl III).

A well-told, heartening report from neuroscience's front lines.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307473516
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/12/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 284,303
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 7.80 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Tali Sharot’s research on optimism, memory, and emotion has been the subject of features in Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Time, The Wall Street Journal, New Scientist, and The Washington Post, as well as on the BBC. She has a Ph.D. in psychology and neuroscience from New York University and is currently a faculty member of the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual, and Brain Sciences at University College London. She lives in London.

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Read an Excerpt

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Glass Forever Half Full?
1. Which Way Is Up? Illusions of the Human Brain
2. Are Animals Stuck in Time? The Evolution of Prospection
3. Is Optimism a Self- Fulfi lling Prophecy? How the Mind Transforms Predictions into Reality
4. What Do Barack Obama and Shirley Temple Have in Common? When Private Optimism Meets Public Despair
5. Can You Predict What Will Make You Happy? The Unexpected Ingredient for Well- being
6. Crocuses Popping Up Through the Snow? When Things Go Wrong: Depression, Interpretation,
and Genes
7. Why Is Friday Better Than Sunday? The Value of Anticipation and the Cost of Dread
8. Why Do Things Seem Better After We Choose Them? The Mind’s Journey from Expectation to Choice and Back
9. Are Memories of 9/11 as Accurate as They Seem? How Emotion Changes Our Past
10. Why Is Being a Cancer Survivor Better Than Winning the Tour de France? How the Brain Turns Lead into Gold
11. A Dark Side to Optimism? From World War II to the Credit Crunch—Underestimating Risk Is Like Drinking Red Wine
Epilogue: A Beautiful Mademoiselle or a Sad Old Lady? From Prediction to Perception to Action

From the Hardcover edition.

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 18, 2011

    I Also Recommend:

    Removing the rose-colored glasses

    I appreciate Tali Sharot's book very much. Yes, it can be a little dry here and there, but it was a fascinating look into the "science" of optimism - it's good, bad and ugly. Though I find it is usually best to be a positive thinker rather than a negative one, I also know I need to be mindful of being a realist as well. What has helped me to avoid the trappings of positive thinking is the book "Optimal Thinking: How to Be Your Best Self". In it you find definitions and explanations of the thinking process and tools on how to maximize your thinking. A great companion piece to Ms. Sharot's treatise.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2012

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