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What is Optimism Bias – Causes & Examples

Published by at July 12th, 2023 , Revised On October 5, 2023

Have you ever noticed that we often tend to overestimate ourselves? We think we are more skilled than others in performing a certain task, ignoring the complexity of the project. You must have heard, “Don’t worry, I have got this.’’ This overestimation may have severe negative consequences on our lives. Let’s understand what optimism bias is in this blog. 

What is Optimism Bias?

The term “optimism bias” refers to a cognitive bias in which people overestimate the likelihood of positive outcomes and underestimate the likelihood of bad outcomes. It is also called the “optimistic bias” or the “positive illusion.” 

That’s how one can define optimism bias. In other words, people frequently think that they are more likely than others to experience positive and less likely to experience negative events.

It can have beneficial and detrimental effects on us. You can consult any optimism bias book to understand it better. The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain offers fascinating insights into how our brains are wired to embrace positivity even in the face of difficulties. A few other causes of optimism bias are discussed below.

How does Optimism Bias Happen?

Combinations of psychological and cognitive factors can lead to optimism bias. Here are a few suggestions as to why it occurs:


People naturally have a tendency to see themselves favourably. They overestimate their skills, talents, and the likelihood of success due to this self-enhancement desire.

Unrealistic Optimism

Optimism bias may also emerge from people’s tendency to overestimate the likelihood and significance of unfavourable events. Personal experiences, cultural and societal pressures, and exposure to media that frequently depicts successful outcomes could all impact this.

Biased Information Processing

Optimism bias can be caused by how our brains process and retain information. Positive incidents typically stick out more and are easier to remember than negative ones. Therefore, while thinking back on the past or imagining the future, people may emphasise the positive results more, leading to overestimating the likelihood of favourable events.

What are the Causes of Optimism Bias?

Various things can cause optimism bias, and it is thought that psychological, cognitive, and social variables all play a role in its development. The following are some causes of  optimism bias:

Self-Enhancement Motive

People naturally strive to improve their self-worth by upholding favourable self-perceptions. The desire to view oneself favourably and to think that one’s skills and prospects are above average can lead to optimism bias. 

Personal Experiences

Optimism bias is influenced by personal experiences. People tend to depend more on good events when forecasting future results since they tend to have a bigger impact and stick out more in our memories. Additionally, people might remember certain past victories and minimise or forget unpleasant experiences.

Social and Cultural Influences

Social and cultural norms have an impact on optimism bias. There is a general emphasis on success, achievement, and positivity in many countries. This cultural expectation can influence people’s beliefs and foster optimism. 

Exposure to Media and Information Sources

This factor exacerbates optimism bias. Positive stories and accomplishments are frequently highlighted in the media, whereas unpleasant events are frequently downplayed. This misrepresentation of reality can affect perceptions and foster an optimistic bias.

How to Avoid Optimism Bias?

Various things can cause optimism bias, and it is thought that psychological, cognitive, and social variables all play a role in its development. Here are a few ways to avoid optimism bias:

It is difficult to avoid optimism bias. However, the following techniques can help to lessen its impact:

  • Recognise and accept the optimism bias’s presence.
  • Look for different viewpoints and data that contradict your positive assumptions.
  • Use critical thinking and take into account possible dangers and bad outcomes.
  • Instead of depending exclusively on intuition or optimistic expectations, use data and evidence-based reasoning.
  • Conduct unbiased self-reflection and self-evaluation to discover and correct personal biases.
  • Get input from others to get a more well-rounded viewpoint.
  • Think about alternate possibilities and actively challenge your presumptions.
  • By mixing optimism with a healthy dosage of scepticism, keep your outlook grounded in reality.
  • Create backup plans in case of unforeseen obstacles or difficulties.
  • Review and update your expectations and presumptions frequently in light of fresh knowledge.

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Examples of Optimism Bias from Daily Life

Optimism Bias in Behavioural Finance

The optimism bias, which affects behavioural finance, can cause investors to overestimate the prospective profits of their investments while underestimating the hazards involved. 

An investor, for instance, displays optimism bias by significantly investing in a single stock because they are confident in its future success and disregard any potential drawbacks. 

Due to this bias, there may need to be more diversification and more risk exposure. Investors risk suffering substantial losses if the stock doesn’t perform as predicted. Optimism bias reminds us of the significance of balancing optimism with a realistic assessment of risks, doing extensive research, and keeping a diverse financial portfolio.

Optimism Bias Psychology

A student’s perception of their academic performance is an example of an optimism bias study. 

Let’s imagine students always get mediocre marks on their homework and tests. Despite this, individuals have an optimism bias and think they will perform particularly well on future tests. As a result, they need to set aside more time for studying or looking for further assistance since they believe their inherent qualities would ensure success.

Optimism Bias in Project Management

Optimism bias construction is a common concern that we all have faced at some time in our lives. For example, during the planning phase, project managers and stakeholders may exhibit optimism bias by underestimating the time and resources.

Optimism bias can cause project timelines to be underestimated in project management. Here is an example of optimism bias in project management.

Someone has an optimistic opinion of the productivity and capabilities of the team, which leads to an ambitious project timetable. This bias may result in an inadequate allocation of resources and a failure to take potential delays or impediments into consideration. 

Optimism Bias in Estimating

An example of optimism bias in estimating can be seen when a person is asked to estimate the time it will take to complete a task. Let’s say a software developer is given a new programming assignment. 

Due to optimism bias, the developer may have a positive outlook and believe that they can complete the task much faster than it actually takes. They may underestimate the complexity of the project and overlook potential challenges. As a result, their estimated completion time may be significantly shorter than the actual time required, leading to delays and potential frustration. You can consult the optimism bias green book to estimate any project’s cost.

Optimism Bias in Behavioural Finance

Optimism bias can affect financial behaviour and investment choices in behavioural finance. Let’s understand optimism bias in behavioural finance with an example. 

An investor with an optimism bias can underestimate the hazards involved. They may have a bullish outlook on a certain stock or market, emphasising good news and predictions while downplaying bad news. 

This bias will result in an excessive concentration of investments in risky assets, a lack of diversification, or an exaggerated perception of risk. 

Optimism Bias Economics

An example of optimism bias in economics can be observed in economic forecasting. 

For example, during an economic upswing, there could be an unduly pessimistic view that the growth would go forever without taking into account potential constraints or cyclical tendencies. 

This bias might be a factor in asset bubbles, speculative behaviour and resource misallocation by causing erroneous projections.

Frequently Asked Questions

Optimism bias is a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their chances of experiencing positive events and underestimate their chances of experiencing negative events. It is also known as unrealistic optimism or comparative optimism.

The causes of optimism bias include selective attention and interpretation, the self-enhancement motive, personal experiences that prioritise positive events, social and cultural influences, and biased information processing that favours positive outcomes.

To control optimism bias, one can seek a balanced perspective, use probabilistic thinking, seek feedback and second opinions, and monitor and challenge one’s thoughts to maintain a realistic outlook based on evidence and analysis.

It offers fascinating insights into how our brains are wired to embrace positivity despite difficulties.

About Owen Ingram

Avatar for Owen IngramIngram is a dissertation specialist. He has a master's degree in data sciences. His research work aims to compare the various types of research methods used among academicians and researchers.