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The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain

3.70  ·  Rating Details  ·  944 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
From one of the most innovative neuroscientists at work today, an investigation into the bias toward optimism that exists on a neural level in our brains and plays a major part in determining how we live our lives.

Psychologists have long been aware that most people maintain an often irrationally positive outlook on life. In fact, optimism may be crucial to our existence.
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published June 14th 2011 by Pantheon (first published January 1st 2011)
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Clark Hays
Note: this review also appears on Amazon.

Interesting topic, somewhat flat treatment

The Optimism Bias is a not-to-deep look into why the human brain remains optimistic despite reams of experiential evidence suggesting it is unfounded. The author is clearly knowledgeable about the subject area, but I would have loved to read more hard science and less needlessly detailed personal narratives and anecdotal stories. Delving into how and why monkeys overcome cognitive dissonance after making a choice
Jul 19, 2011 Roxanne rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-in-2011
One of my favorite books of the year. I love books that connect neuroscience with behavior and social norms. Sharot writes convincingly, engagingly and integrates humor into the discussion of scientific concepts. A must-read for optimists, pessimists, and everyone in between. Also a good book if you are interested in understanding bias or the forces that shape our views.
Ypatios Varelas
The idea of a cognitive "optimism bias" is surely backed up by good evidence and Tali Sharot goes well in presenting both the evidence and how the optimism bias works.

However, it seems that the author falls victim of her own optimism bias, adopting statements such as "people who react to illness with passive acceptance of their own impending death, such as James, die prematurely", "optimists live longer" and "pessimists die younger". Such statements seem to be supported by research, but if you
Linda  Branham Greenwell
I am interested in the optimism bias because I teach psychology...I like to find new ways to present material to students. Many of the examples in the book are ones that I already use in class
The main premise of the book is the phenomenon that most people believe that they are better than average, when, in reality, it is impossible for most people to be so. I have found that most students in my classes believe that they will live longer than the average lifespan, that they will live
Tali Sharot
Jun 04, 2013 Mani rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in behaviour
A truly fascinating book to read for anyone who ever wanted to know about the brains functionality, it's sense of optimism and how it almost carries a survival mechanism to help us reach our goals. This is a cognitive neuro-scientific approach to Abraham Maslow's work on behaviour. I love the way Tali Sharot uses everyday examples to put her point across, I read a friends copy, just ended up reading the whole book and could not help myself wanting to highlight various parts for my own reference, ...more
May 03, 2011 Jaylia3 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A tendency that predates humanity--

Author Tali Sharot didn’t expect to stumble on something like the optimism bias while she was researching how traumatic events create “flashbulb memories”, which are unusually vivid memories that as it turns out are often not as accurate as they feel. Why would our brains construct intensely striking memories of harrowing events--like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001--that are not completely true accounts of what happened?

While trying to answer that
Aug 29, 2012 Book rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neuroscience
The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot

"The Optimism Bias" is the interesting book that investigates optimism bias. It explores when the bias is adaptive and when it is destructive, and it provides evidence that moderately optimistic illusions can promote well-being. It goes over the inner-workings of the brain that allows unrealistic optimism to alter our perceptions and actions. Neuroscientist Tali Sharot provides the reader with an engaging look at the opti
Jul 03, 2012 Joan rated it liked it
This book caught my eye at the local library during a time when I had been reading some dark books and I was looking for a lift. I'm not quite sure what I expected, but this is actually quite a scholarly book, with lots of references in the bibliography, although the writing is clear and not overwhelming in technical details.

The book reviews experiments (many of this conducted by the author) conducted to understand why/how people are optimistic even in the presence of evidence against it. It wou
Mar 08, 2012 Deb rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
*The rationale for the brain's irrationality*

If you're feeling pessimistic about the point of optimism, this book will likely soften your doubt. (And, I don't feel I'm being overly optimistic with that hope.)

This fascinating book explores the optimism bias--the tendency to overestimate the probability of positive events and underestimate the probability of negative ones. Without such a biologically built-in optimism bias, it would be difficult to generate hope and become motivated to do the thi
Nov 23, 2011 Sally rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thought this book would be about why optimists live longer but it was actually about how humans tend to see upcoming events through rose colored lenses, and have difficulty accurately predicting future outcomes. Mildly depressed people actually have more realistic future-predictor ability! We are terrible predictors of what will actually make us happy. She talks about how anticipation for events is sometimes more fun than events themselves, etc. – how our brains are wired to reinforce unconsci ...more
Aug 14, 2016 Rachel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I gathered all this craziness after only reading about 20 pages (6% on my Kindle):

I stopped reading this book right away because the author seemed to get excessively political, incoherent, and use stories/examples that had nothing to do with the topic or title of the book. No, you are not the neuroscientist-equivalent of Jon Stewart, even though you say the rest of the world views Americans as being optimistic because of Barack Obama (pretty sure this has been the perception for a few centuries
Michal Leah
I found the topic interesting and the author's hypothesis is certainly worth consideration. However, it seems to be more of a philosophy than a given (much as logotherapy is a philosophy). My biggest issue with the research used by the author to demonstrate the theory is her sample populations for her studies. She asserts, as least with regard to her own research, that she conducted studies across continents. However, she also states that her subjects were US, Israeli and English. Sorry, but tha ...more
How are prophesies self-fulfilling? How can dogs learn helplessness? Can non-human primates also find M&Ms find a single colour tastier than the others? Why do people feel and behave differently based on their distance from the location of an incident? Can people selecting diseases cause them to feel different about the same disease? How was a horse trained to understand human language and perform basic mathematical operations? Why does the manner of serving Guinnessmake us feel more attract ...more
Jan 02, 2015 Maurya rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: growth
This is really a 3.5 star book. - So do I rate it 4 or 3? (I just picked this one up in the library as it was near a book I was looking for!)

There were a few highlights in this book for me.

1) anticipation - why buying a planning a holiday can be so much fun.

2) people will have a better time doing a task if they choose (I thought of this with the kids - would you prefer to unload the dishwasher or take out the garbage) - they will grumble less if you give them the option versus just 'unload the
On her book sharot gives her readers a brief cover of optimism. She says optimism is crucial for existence. Sometimes people all think in a pessimist way. everyone gets to a point that we feel that is it, there is nowhere and we give it up. But on her book sharot gives her readers a lesson how to be an optimist. On her book, she did a scientific research of how a brain generates hope. On her opinion, hope gets people through difficult time .she compares between optimistic minds and pessimist min ...more
Apr 26, 2016 Aleboat rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: llibres-serios
If you enjoy learning about cognitive psychology, this book will give you a great insight. The cases and experiments are very interesting, and I learned a lot about the neurological part that explains all that is going on in our mind. It also reminded of the psychology classes in uni, which were the ones I loved the most, so it made me smile a lot.

Jeff Vankooten
A book of research findings on why we are wired to be optimistic.
Jim Johnson
Apr 21, 2014 Jim Johnson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The author covered a wide array of topics and research that demonstrated various facets of optimism. I found it fascinating that I did not fit the mold of most of her subject matter. That is not to say that I am a pessimist but that I have a very different value system altogether.

This point has encouraged me to seek out literature that explains how I can not be optimistic and yet maintain a high level of self-esteem and happiness. I suspect this is because unlike the polarized optimism and pess
Marta Borowska
Oct 10, 2015 Marta Borowska rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Essentially, "An optimism bias simply means that more often than not our expectations are slightly better than what the future holds. Overall, this is beneficial. Data shows ... optimists live longer, are healthier and happier, make better financial plans, and are more successful."

"Most of us are optimistic. Although good things may transpire, on average our expectations exceed future outcomes. We are not necessarily aware of our bias. Like other illusions of the human brain, the optimism bias i
Marc Kozak
Mar 06, 2013 Marc Kozak rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bill-nye
I am generally a very optimistic person. You'll typically find me in a good mood, and I will generally express hope for the future. And now this book has the gall to come along and tell me that this is all because of some evolutionary mechanism in some substructure of my brain that unbeknownst to me, is trying to prevent me from totally losing my shit. I feel duped. Life is pain, people.

This science book really suffers from a lack of science. A lot of the studies that come up seem to precariousl
Anthony Berger
Sharot's interesting attempt to break down the naturally-selected tendency of mentally projecting an overly optimistic future falls short. While there are definitely some insightful theories, the "science" she believes she has explored is nothing more than a few shoddy observational experiments.

It's not all that bad, though. I think every human can agree that when we project the future, we prefer optimism to pessimism for the sole reason that it makes us eager to achieve the best possible outcom
Todd Martin
Most people are innately optimistic about the future. When envisioning how life will be in the time ahead people envision themselves as wealthier, happier, and more fulfilled than their present circumstances. This is weird on its face since the future brings with it old age and death, which isn’t something to look forward to with anticipation, so perhaps there’s another reason for this psychological disposition.

In The Optimism Bias, Tali Sharot argues that there is. If humans can visualize a br
Jul 22, 2011 Leslie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a very clearly written back-translation of why we (humans) tend to be habitually optimistic. (Here, "overoptimistic" would be redundant.) Basically, it starts with a bunch of interesting questions: why do people most often analyze ambiguous data and predict that good things will happen? Or, what happens when that optimistic function goes awry? Then, it analyzes a lot of research to understand tiny pieces of human perception and motivation. Then, it integrates it, and uses understand ...more
Jun 07, 2014 Rebecca rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This may seem an odd thing to say, but I love biases.
I think I even love the fact that you can't account for them in yourself, even if you know what they all are and can recite their effects by heart.
If you love biases too (or would like to get acquainted with more of them), I can heartily recommend "The Believing Brain" by Michael Shermer, in which vast numbers of biases are covered in varying levels of detail.
This book examines just one, and I reached the end feeling comforted that - as irrat
Craig Fiebig
Mar 08, 2015 Craig Fiebig rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This work earned the fourth star for importance rather than quality. Understanding the manner in which we induce bias born of a predisposition to optimism into our analysis is critical. Knowing that we shed negative variables and over-weight information that supports our current view should fundamentally shift and help both our self-awareness and the decision-making practices of co-workers, audiences and even opponents.
Ahmed Sharf Al-Din
A very informative book a huge psychological and neuroscientific knowledge that is simplified for everyone. It discusses a very interesting topic.

In brief, your life, especially your mind, will be never as it used to be. A prestigious systematic approach to help in achieving your goals and destroy everyone's flaccid dreams. A mind flow state comes with the orders of illusion, perception, prospection and actions.
Aug 21, 2012 Doreen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A few points I hadn't met before though essentially a tour round various well-known psychological biases while running folk through an fMRI scanner. Her thesis seems to be that it's down to evolution. Parts of the brain that can anticipate and plan for the future evolved as this gives us a survival advantage but it also gives us foreknowledge of our own death. Since this foreknowledge would lead us into apathy and despair (nothing much offered as evidence here), which would be bad for our surviv ...more
Mar 27, 2014 Amy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I thoroughly enjoyed those sections of the book that discussed depression and anxiety; in other words, the lack of optimism. She discussed the brain nd how it functions in optimistic people and in pessimistic, and depressed people. Very interesting read. But the sections toward the end oft he book about how we perceive reality were boring ands seemed like a never ending summary of her own personal research.
Rob Healey
May 10, 2014 Rob Healey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book explains a lot. Why we are on target instantly about others abilities but have glaring blind spots when it come to our own.

A great book if your if you are evaluating talent or interviewing especially if you manage people for a living.
Jun 21, 2014 Pia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
- Liked it, would re-read but probably not buy
- Interesting to learn how we're wired to be optimistic
- Writer has a good sense of humour
- Fairly good balance between technical explanations and keeping it digestible
- Some of the sections were a bit repetitive/not as well structured
- Diagrams might have helped
- Key takeaway summaries would have been nice to drive home important points/their general explanation
- Overall theme comes through but hard to retain all of the science/nuances
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Tali Sharot is a Wellcome Trust fellow and principle investigator at the Cognitive Perceptual and Brain Science Division at University College London. Her research on the neuroscience of optimism, emotion, memory and decision making has been published in top scientific journals including Nature and Nature Neuroscience, and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Bost ...more
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