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The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain | [Tali Sharot]

The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain

One of the most innovative neuroscientists at work today investigates the bias toward optimism that exists on a neural level in our brains and plays a major part in determining how we live our lives.
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Publisher's Summary

One of the most innovative neuroscientists at work today investigates the bias toward optimism that exists on a neural level in our brains and plays a major part in determining how we live our lives.

Psychologists have long been aware that most people tend to maintain an often irrationally positive outlook on life. In fact, optimism may be crucial to our existence. Tali Sharot's experiments, research, and findings in cognitive science are at the center of an emerging technology that has lead to increased understanding of the biological basis of optimism. In this fascinating exploration, she takes an in-depth, clarifying look at how the brain generates hope and what happens when it fails; how the brains of optimists and pessimists differ; how the expectation of pleasure is formed; how anticipation and dread affect us; and how our optimistic illusions influence our financial, professional, and emotional decisions.

With its cutting-edge science and its wide-ranging and accessible narrative, The Optimism Bias provides us with startling new insight into the workings of the brain.

Download the accompanying reference guide.

©2011 Tali Sharot (P)2011 Random House

What the Critics Say

"Lively, conversational.... A well-told, heartening report from neuroscience's front lines." (Kirkus )

What Members Say

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  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2005

    mostly nonfiction listener

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Story
    "In Support of 'The Optimism Bias'"

    If you have made a career in educational technology then you must spend your days fighting against the "optimism bias." Work in technology long enough and you know that it is normal for our technology to fail. Projects take longer to complete than scheduled.

    Vendors don't deliver products, updates, or patches when promised. Software is overly complex, and all too often poorly designed. Disks crash. Databases degrade. Data will be lost. We will fail to backup. The network will go down.
    Why is it that all of us persist in believing in a higher ed that is transformed by technology?

    Why do we see a bright future for technology enabled learning when the present is often so challenging? Tali Sharot tells us that our brains are hard wired for optimism, and that this evolved adaptation is a net positive for the success of our species. A brain that is designed to see a positive future is a helpful tool for motivating us to work harder today.
    The ground that Sharot covers in The Optimism Bias is familiar to readers of popular nonfiction in fields ranging from brain science to social psychology to behavioral economics to evolutionary biology. One hopes that Kahneman and Tversky get a royalty for every time they are mentioned in one of these books.

    At this point, there should be no doubt that we are "predictably irrational", why we "blunder", that the "gorilla is indeed invisible", that "choosing is an art", that we are very good at "being wrong", that we enjoy an "upside of irrationality", and that there is a "genius in all of us". And despite what Sharot argues, we are indeed "rational optimists", that our best behaviors (our "drive") comes from internal motivations, and that in the end we are nothing more than "well-dressed apes". Sharot does a great job of covering "how we decide", and that our optimistic brains are susceptible to "nudges", although she doesn't spend much time considering how the "male brain" differs from the "female brain". Our optimism bias helps explain "why we make mistakes", and why it is necessary to "outsmart our mind's hard-wired habits." We "stumble on happiness", as we are poor predictors of what will make us happy and how events in our lives (from winning the lottery to cancer to divorce) will change our outlook on life. Our brains are indeed a "kluge", but if we keep our "minds wide open" we might just outsmart "the ape in the corner office" down the hall, as long as we understand the "brain rules" that govern our behavior.

    There seems to be a limited set of social psychological and behavior economics experiments that everyone draws upon to write these popular academic nonfiction books. Sharot adds to this bookshelf, with fluid writing and a good description of her own research (mostly in imaging and behavior). She is a good synthesizer, a decent storyteller, and an able guide to this (well-trod) literature.

    I'll keep reading these books because I find them particularly applicable to my role at the intersection of technology and education. From this book, I learned the power of setting optimistic goals for my team ("we will knock this program out of the park!"), while always being aware that optimistic predictions about our future are often the product of our imperfectly evolved brains.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jeremiah Salt Lake City, UT, United States 07-15-11
    Jeremiah Salt Lake City, UT, United States 07-15-11
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    "Classic case of researcher reporting subjectively."

    %5-10 of the book is data and research.
    the remaining %90-95 is speculation presented as data and research (above).

    E.G. 1
    Loose quote from mid book,
    "Did Obama's speech trigger increased levels of oxytocin in the brains of the crowd? We would not be surprised to find that this is true. "
    E.G. 2
    Bobby (white) and Bill (black) play basketball.
    Bobby and Bill are equally good at the game. (This is an impossibility of course)
    a bunch more fallacious representations and impossibilities later later......
    The author offers up the carefully woven speculation as fact.

    Meh.
    I became ill of having to pay attention to what was assumption and what was upheld factual data. thus I stopped half way through to prevent myself from taking in the remainder of the mis represented data, and accidentally informing myself incorrectly.

    3 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Gregory EL CERRITO, CA, United States 02-18-13
    Gregory EL CERRITO, CA, United States 02-18-13 Member Since 2013

    interested in medicine, fitness, and economics.

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    "Great narration and thought-provoking book"

    Yes, the book was filled with insights into how the mind works, and why it works the way it does. It also provides some useful tips about how to influence people including the idea that by giving someone a choice, they'll become committed to whatever they end up choosing.
    And the narrator was great! She had the perfect British teacher tone that was perfect for the book.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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