Motivation and emotion/Book/2013/Optimism/Potential benefits of unrealistic optimism

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The benefits of unrealistic optimism for success

Research indicates that unrealistic optimism may actually be beneficial when used in the service of higher efforts and standards (Peterson, 2000). According to Zhang and Fishbach (2010), some individuals engage in counteractive optimism, where they purposely make unrealistically optimistic predictions when anticipating obstacles to their goals. A counteractive-optimist will anticipate obstacles that could hinder the completion of an important task, and reason that, having identified these obstacles, they will attain their goal better or faster. Once they have identified these potential obstacles, they will impose a more challenging deadline on themselves, and expect better performance from themselves. In this way, unrealistic optimism can help people to strive for higher standards and maintain adequate levels of motivation (Zhang & Fishbach, 2010). An experimental study by Zhang & Fishbach (2010) supports the theory of counteractive optimism. Participants were required to complete anagram tasks, half of whom were asked to make predictions about their performance. Of these participants, half were also told that the task would be difficult (high-obstacle condition) and half were told it would be easy (low-obstacle condition). It was found that participants who anticipated the task to be difficult predicted that they would perform better compared to their peers, which in turn, increased their task persistence.

References: Zhang, Y., & Fishbach, A. (2010). Counteracting obstacles with optimistic predictions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 139(1), 16–31.

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