Even after a soccer team loses 10 consecutive matches, a fan might persist in the belief that his team can reverse its bad luck. A new research says a 'faulty' function of the brain's frontal lobe is the reason for such optimism.
Why is human optimism so pervasive when reality continuously challenges these biased beliefs, asks Tali Sharot of the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London), who conducted the study with others.
"Seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty can be a positive thing - it can lower stress and anxiety and be good for our health and well-being," explains Sharot.
"But it can also mean that we are less likely to take precautionary action, such as practicing safe sex or saving for retirement. So why don't we learn from cautionary information," he asks, the journal Nature Neuroscience reports.
Sharot and Ray Dolan, professor at the Wellcome Trust, with Christoph Korn from the Berlin School of Mind and Brain have shown that our persistent optimism is due to 'faulty' function of the brain's frontal lobes, in processing information, according to an UCL statement.
Volunteers were presented with a series of negative life events, such as car theft or Parkinson's disease, whilst lying in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which measures activity in the brain.
They were asked to estimate the probability that this event would happen to them in the future. They saw 80 such events.
Researchers found that people did, in fact, update their estimates based on the information given, but only if the information was better than expected.
Sharot adds: "The more optimistic we are, the less likely we are to be influenced by negative information about the future. This can have benefits for our mental health, but there are obvious downsides.
"Many experts believe the financial crisis in 2008 was precipitated by analysts overestimating the performance of their assets even in the face of clear evidence to the contrary," said Sharot.