It has been shown that people have an optimistic bias concerning personal risk; when it comes to potential harm, such as disease or catastrophe, people think that others are more likely to be affected than themselves. However, people are also optimistic concerning positive events, such as long life and success. Optimistic biases may exist for several reasons: people compare themselves with a norm that is not realistic; they interpret risk factors in a biased manner; and they tend to downplay risks. Optimism is greatest when people have little personal experience with the hazard, the chances of the hazard occurring are low, and when hazards are thought to be controllable by oneself. Several theories as to why people are so optimistic have been proposed. One is that optimism is an attempt to shield oneself from harm; another is that people want to be better than other people; a third proposal suggests that people are optimistically biased because they make errors in calculating risks. It is important to be aware of one's optimistic biases, as they can hinder actions that would lower risks. For example, if people do not think they will contract AIDS, acquired immunodeficiency disease, they will not take precautions in their behavior to lower their chances of contracting the disease. Nevertheless, there are also advantages to an optimistic attitude. For example, optimism is associated with less depression, more success, and better health. Therefore, optimism can be beneficial or harmful, depending on the nature of the illusion and the nature of the hazard. (Consumer Summary produced by Reliance Medical Information, Inc.)
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