Human brains are hardwired to be optimistic, even in the face of evidence to suggest the opposite, scientists have discovered.
In a study published this week, neuroimaging experts from England’s University College London found that people with an “optimism bias” can ignore any potential negative news and information.
“Optimists are very selective in how they process information,” says Dr. Tali Sharot, who conducted the study.
Nineteen individuals were asked to estimate the probability of 80 negative events such as divorce or cancer happening to them in the future. Scientists measured their brain activity while volunteers were lying in a MRI scanner.
The individuals were then told the average probability of the different events occurring, and asked to do new estimations.
Researchers found the volunteers did large updates if the information was better than expected. If the data was negative however, it was almost ignored.
Sharot says: “Our study suggests that we pick and choose the information that we listen to. The more optimistic we are, the less likely we are to be influenced by negative information about the future.”
According to her, this bias has a natural explanation: “Eighty percent of the population are optimists because of evolution. People with an optimist bias tended to survive and procreate.”
Sharot continues: “This study gives us clues about the unhealthy brain and what is wrong in depressed individuals.”
‘Link between high IQ and optimism’
Dr. Tali Sharot, faculty of brain sciences at University College London and lead
researcher of the study
Does this mean optimists are less intelligent?
No, not at all. Actually studies have shown there is a correlation between high IQ and optimism. Optimists usually get better outcomes, achieve more, and are more successful in the army, sports, academia.
Is there anything negative about being positive?
Yes, there are negative consequences, such as not buying a medical insurance, for example. But the benefits of being an optimist outweigh the negatives.
Are certain nationalities more optimistic than others?
No there’s no differences between nationalities. In Britain people have an idea of themselves as being realistic and pessimistic, but this is not true. In America, it’s seen as a good thing being optimistic, but at the end of the day we’re all human and very similar.