talkRADIO: Are We Suffering Optimism Bias?

It’s been another week of grappling with the boundaries of the lockdown restrictions, as the government pleads with a weary nation to take it seriously. Most do, of course, and the flurry of stories about breaches or walks with coffee or house parties are in a minority.

Yet, it remains the case that some people just don’t get it. They seem to be blind to the severity and, seemingly, blinkered by selfishness.

One explanation could be a psychological tendency known as… optimism bias. Simply, the assumption that certain things just won’t happen to you – you won’t get COVID-19 and it just doesn’t affect you.

It could explain a huge amount about our response to the pandemic – from the Prime Minister, cheerily assuring us that we could carry on shaking hands, to that maskless guy breathing down your neck in the supermarket queue.

It could explain our response to lots of things – from climate change to the reason we elect politicians who boast about groping women. Because we just can’t process the negative consequences.

But we also know that optimism is a useful tool – it helps us put one foot in front of the other when times are tough and it in itself can breed positive results. So, how do we strike a balance – and spot when we’re doing it wrong?

Marie Helweg-Larsen – psychology professor at Dickinson College – joined me on talkRADIO to explain more.

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By Darryl Morris

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