Monday 16 November 2015

Workshop on Unrealistic Optimism

On February 25th and 26th we will be hosting an interdisciplinary workshop on optimism at Senate House, London.

The first day will be dedicated to the question what unrealistic optimism is and how it is caused. Why is it that we see such a wide-spread tendency to be unrealistically optimistic abour our own future? Are the primary factors motivational or cognitive? What processes allow us to think ‘it won’t happen to me’?

We will be hearing about the brain processes underlying optimistic belief formation patterns and from Tali Sharot; and Bojana Kuzmanovic will be speaking about evidence that optimistically biased belief updating recruits brain areas associated with motivational processes. I will be considering the question whether the wide-spread tendency to be unrealistically optimistic about one’s own future can be explained by the fact that these belief patterns were adaptive in the past. Constantine Sedikides will be discussing unrealistically optimistic beliefs as one type of motivationally driven self-enhancing belief.

On the second day, we turn to the question of what the effects of optimistically biased cognition are. Are they beneficial or do they increase the risk of bad things happening to us because they prevent us from taking precautions? James Shepperd will be reviewing findings from existing research on these questions and suggest explanations for inconsistencies in these findings. Miriam McCormick will be exploring the concept of rational hope and put forward conditions for judging hope as appropriate or inappropriate. Fernando Blanco’s talk will focus on potential health risks of unrealistic optimism and causal illusions and ways of reducing these. Finally, Lisa will be talking about engaged agency as a positive outcome of some cases of unrealistic optimism.

The conference is supported by the Templeton Foundation’s Hope and Optimism Initiative. To register, please follow this link. There is a registration fee of £30 (£20 for students and the unemployed) which covers lunch and refreshments during the day.

Below is the programme:


Day 1 - What is Unrealistic Optimism and What Causes it?

10:30 -11:30 Tali Sharot – How the Human Brain forms Optimistic Beliefs

11:30 -12:00 break

12:00 -13:00 Bojana Kuzmanovic – The Subjective Value of Optimistically Biased Belief Updating

13:00 -14:00 lunch

14:00 -15:00 Anneli Jefferson – Is the Optimism Bias an Adaptation?

15:00 -15:30 break

15:30 -16:30 Constantine Sedikides – The Unbearable Lightness of Being Wonderful

Day 2 - Effects of Unrealistic Optimism

09:30 - 10:30 James Shepperd – Consequences of Unrealistic Optimism

10:30 - 11:00 break

11:00 - 12:00 Miriam McCormick – Rational Hope

12:00 - 13:00 lunch

13:00 - 14:00 Fernando Blanco – Sadder but Safer: Optimistic Causal Illusions can Affect our Health

14:00 - 14:30 break

14:30 - 15:30 Lisa Bortolotti – Optimism Bias and Engaged Agency

Abstracts for the talks can be found here.

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