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The Optimism Bias

3.65 of 5 stars 3.65  ·  rating details  ·  600 ratings  ·  58 reviews
From a leading neuroscience researcher, an exploration of the neural basis of optimism, and how the brain simulates the future. How does the brain generate hope? How does it trick us into moving forward? What happens when it fails? How do the brains of optimists differ from those of pessimists? Psychologists have long been aware that most people tend to entertain an irrati ...more
Paperback, 272 pages
Published June 5th 2012 by Vintage Canada (first published January 1st 2011)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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
...more
Stuart
Life is hard. Even if you have a good job and live in a war free country like the US, there are bills to pay, children to rear, aging parents to care for, home repairs, car repairs, and a myriad of deadlines and problems every day. To cope and feel good about ourselves we tend more often than not to irrationally assume glowing futures for us and those we love. We forget about bad events in our past and try our best to ignore ugliness and horrible things in the world around us. If you don't do th ...more
Roxanne
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.
Mani
Jun 04, 2013 Mani rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
Book
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
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Joan
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
...more
Deb
*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
...more
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
...more
Sally
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
Jeff Vankooten
A book of research findings on why we are wired to be optimistic.
Jim Johnson
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
...more
Marc Kozak
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
...more
Jaylia3
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
...more
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
...more
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
...more
Leslie
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
Rebecca
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
...more
Doreen
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
Amy
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
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.
Pia
- 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
Pete
The Optimism Bias isn't a bad book, it goes over how people's average expectations are better than that of what society as a whole will go through.

Optimism is pointed out to be a useful bias. People undertake tougher tasks and state that the tasks are less arduous when they will be because of optimism.

The book goes over how when we choose freely between two items that we have previously valued equally the one we choose we then value more highly.

It's also pointed out that pessimists are better
...more
Karen
This was slow going for me at times, but I did like reading about the various studies (and learned the exchange rate is between Cheerios and marshmallows topped with a fruit roll ups according to one group of primates). The point that stuck with me is one that wasn't explicitly made in the book: there's a biological mechanism in the brain that explains why positive affirmations can work: "Via neuronal signaling, higher layers of the brain can convey expectations to lower levels, biasing their ac ...more
Devin Partlow
Very interesting book on why we need to be optimistic and why we may have even evolved to have an optimism bias. Check it our for yourself and you may learn a few practical tips on how to use anticipation to your advantage.
Angie
E-loan from the public library. I LOVE this relatively new library service. I'm glad I didn't buy it; it was much too slow and rambling and had much too much information about peripheral or background topics. For example, the whole first chapter is about illusions of all types, with occasional mention along the way of their relationship to optimism. Chapter 2 is all about animals and their failure to perceive the future, which is something humans need to do in order to be optimistic. These chapt ...more
vgy
Mar 28, 2013 vgy marked it as abandoned  ·  review of another edition
I read half this book and then put it down, therefore I'm not officially rating it.

The book *could* be an interesting read but I personally found that for many of the topics, I have seen the material before in various psych texts or even magazine articles (e.g. self-fulling prophecies, learned helplessness, cognitive dissonance).

I think if this topic is new to you, you could enjoy this book. If you have any psych background or have read books or articles on a similar topic, you may not find th
...more
Choco-cat
A much drier, academic, book than I was expecting.
Rachel Ann
A fun review. Scientifically rigorous yet lay-appropriate.
Lisa Chaffey
Unfortunately, this read as another one of those books that explains psychological theory by using pop culture references.
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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
More about Tali Sharot...
The Science of Optimism:  Why We’re Hard-Wired for Hope Neuroscience of Preference and Choice: Cognitive and Neural Mechanisms

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