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The Bias of Optimism

If given a choice of moods, people want to be happy. There are books lining the bookstore shelves about ways to increase your happiness. However, the optimism that goes with happiness skews your beliefs and judgments. Optimistic people believe that they are less likely than average to experience disease, divorce, or crime victimization. This belief can cause the optimist to take unnecessary risks.

Consider your average cigarette smoker. Smoking is a hazard to your health. This comes as no surprise to smokers. There are warnings on every pack and on TV commercials. Everyone knows smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. A smoker optimistically believes that he or she has low risk for the disease. After all, you would not be very intelligent if you thought you were at high risk and smoked anyway. To help preserve ones self-image of being intelligent, the smoker is optimistic about his or her chance of getting lung cancer.


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