Do People Prescribe Optimism, Overoptimism, or Neither?
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Description: Past work has suggested that people prescribe optimism—believing it is better to be optimistic, instead of accurate or pessimistic, about uncertain future events. Here, we identified and addressed an important ambiguity about whether those findings reflect an endorsement of biased beliefs—i.e., whether people prescribe likelihood estimates that reflect overoptimism. In three studies, participants (total N = 663 U.S. university students) read scenarios about protagonists facing uncertain events with a desired outcome. Results replicated prescriptions of optimism when using the same solicitations as in past work. However, we found quite different prescriptions when using alternative solicitations that asked about potential bias in likelihood estimations and that did not involve vague terms like “optimistic.” Participants generally prescribed being optimistic, feeling optimistic, and even thinking optimistically about the events, but they did not prescribe overestimating the likelihood of those events.