||This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. (October 2008)|
Positive illusions are unrealistically favorable attitudes that people have towards themselves or to people that are close to them. Positive illusions are a form of self-deception or self-enhancement that feel good, maintain self-esteem or stave off discomfort at least in the short term. There are three broad kinds: inflated assessment of one's own abilities, unrealistic optimism about the future and an illusion of control. The term "positive illusions" originates in a 1988 paper by Taylor and Brown. "Taylor and Brown's (1988) model of mental health maintains that certain positive illusions are highly prevalent in normal thought and predictive of criteria traditionally associated with mental health."
In the above-average effect, people regard themselves more positively than they regard others and less negatively than others regard them. Moreover, positive attributes are judged to be more descriptive of themselves than of an average person, whereas negative ones are judged to be less descriptive of themselves than of an average person. Despite the fact that it is statistically impossible for most people to be superior to their peers, rather than being equally aware of ones strengths and weaknesses, people are more aware of their strengths and not very aware of their weaknesses. In short, people tend to believe they are much more competent than they are. This effect has been widely recognized across traits and abilities including the realm of driving ability, parenting, leadership ability, teaching ability, ethics, and health. This effect is also evident in memory; most people also tend to perceive their ability to remember as better than it actually is.
Optimism bias is a tendency for people to overestimate their likelihood of experiencing a wide variety of pleasant events, such as enjoying their first job or having a gifted child, and somewhat underestimate their risk of succumbing to negative events, such as getting divorced or falling victim to a chronic disease. This illusory nature of optimism is also evident in peoples' under-estimation of the time taken for a variety of tasks.
Like many forms of human perception, self-perception is prone to illusion. Positive illusions have been commonly understood as one of the apparent effects of self-enhancement, a desire to maximize the positivity of one's self-views and a function of boosting self-esteem. It might be due to the desire to see oneself more favorably relative to one's peers. These kinds of self-serving attributions seemed to be displayed by positive self-viewers only. In fact, the negative-viewers were found to display the opposite pattern. Research suggests that there may be modest genetic contributions to the ability to develop positive illusions[vague] Early environment also plays an important role: people are more able to develop these positive beliefs in nurturing environments than in harsh ones.
Alternative explanations involve dimensions like the easiness and commonness of the tasks. In addition, tasks that shifted attention from the self to the comparative target would stop people overly optimising.
The cultural prevalence also has a significant role in positive illusions. Although it is easy to document positive illusions in individualistic Western cultures, people in collectivist East Asian cultures are much less likely to self-enhance and, indeed, are often self-effacing instead.
Most studies find that people tend to have inflated views of themselves. The research indicates that the relationship between people's self-evaluations and objective assessments is relatively weak. One explanation for this is that most people only have mild positive illusions.
However, according to recent studies there is evidence that there are significant individual differences between the strength of positive illusions people have. Therefore, some people may have extremely inflated self-views, some mild and some very little and when examined across a population this effect appears weak.
Benefits and liabilities
Positive illusions can have advantages and disadvantages for the individual, and there is a controversy over whether they are evolutionarily adaptive. The illusions may have direct health benefits by helping the person cope with stress, or by promoting work towards success. On the other hand, unrealistically positive expectations may prevent people from taking sensible preventative action for medical risks. Recent research in fact provides evidence that people who have positive illusions may have both short term benefits and long term costs. Specifically, self-enhancement is not correlated with academic success or graduation rates in college.
Taylor and Brown's Social Psychological Model of mental health has assumed that positive beliefs would be tied to psychological well-being, and that positive self-evaluations, even unrealistic, would promote good mental health. The reference to well-being here means the ability to feel good about oneself, to be creative and/or productive in one's work, to form satisfying relationships with other people and to effectively combat stress when necessary. Positive illusions are particularly useful for helping people to get through major stressful events or traumas, such as life-threatening illnesses or serious accidents. People who are able to develop or maintain their positive beliefs in the face of these potential setbacks tend to cope more successfully with them, and show less psychological distress than those less able. For example, psychological research shows that cancer survivors often report a higher quality of life than people who have never had cancer at all. This could be physiologically protective because they have been able to use the traumatic experience to evoke an increased sense of meaning and purpose. This relates to the concept of psychological resilience or an individual's ability to cope with challenges and stress. Self-enhancing was found to be correlated with resilience in the face of the 9/11 tragedy among participants either in or near the towers.
People also hold positive illusions because such beliefs often enhance their productivity and persistence with tasks on which they might otherwise give up. When people believe they can achieve a difficult goal, this expectation often creates a sense of energy and excitement, resulting in more progress than would otherwise have been the case.
Positive illusions can be argued to be adaptive because they enable people to feel hopeful in the face of uncontrollable risks.
In addition, there seems to be a relationship between illusions and positive mood. Studies have found that the direction of this relationship is that positive illusions cause positive mood states.
However, more recent findings found that all forms of illusion, positive or not, were associated with more depressive symptoms and various other studies reject the link between positive illusions and mental health, well-being or life satisfaction, maintaining that accurate perception of reality is compatible with happiness.
When studying the link between self-esteem and positive illusions, Compton (1992) identified a group which possessed high self-esteem without positive illusions, and that these individuals weren't depressed, neurotic, psychotic, maladjusted nor personality disordered, thus concluding that positive illusions aren't necessary for high self-esteem. Compared to the group with positive illusions and high self-esteem, the nonillusional group with high self-esteem was higher on self-criticism and personality integration and lower on psychoticism.
A meta-analysis of 118 studies including 7013 subjects found that slightly more studies supported the idea of depressive realism, but these studies were poorer in quality, used non-clinical samples, were more readily generalized, used self-reports instead of interviews and used attentional bias or judgment of contingency as a method of measuring depressive realism, as methods such as recall of feedback and evaluation of performance showed results counter to depressive realism.
Apart from having better psychological adjustment with more active coping, the ability to develop and sustain positive beliefs in the face of setbacks has its health benefits. Research with men who had the HIV virus, or already diagnosed with AIDS has shown that those who hold unrealistically positive assessments of their abilities to control their health conditions take longer to develop symptoms, experience a slower course of illness, as well as other positive cognitive outcomes, such as acceptance of the loss.
There are several potential risks that may arise if people hold positive illusions about their personal qualities and likely outcomes. First of all, they might set themselves up for unpleasant surprises for which they are ill-prepared when their overly optimistic beliefs are disconfirmed. They may also have to tackle the consequences thereafter. However, research suggests that, for the most part, these adverse outcomes do not occur. People's beliefs are more realistic at times when realism serves them particularly well: for example, when initially making plans; when accountability is likely or following negative feedback from the environment. Following a setback or failure, all is still not lost, as people's overly positive beliefs may be used again in a new undertaking.
A second risk is that people who hold positive illusions will set goals, or undertake courses of actions which are more likely to produce failure than success. This concern appears to be largely without basis. Research shows that when people are deliberating future courses of actions for themselves, such as whether to take a particular job or go to graduate school, their perceptions are fairly realistic, but they can become overly optimistic when they turn to implementing their plans. Although there is no guarantee that one's realistic prediction would turn out to be accurate, the shift from realism to optimism may provide the fuel needed to bring potentially difficult tasks from conception to fruition.
A third risk is that positive self-perceptions may have social costs. A specific source of evidence of the self-serving pattern in ability assessment examined the use of idiosyncratic definitions of traits and abilities. The authors suggested that the social costs occur when one's definition of ability is perceived to be the only one relevant to achievement outcomes. In other words, wherever people fail to recognise when other plausible definitions of ability are relevant for success, estimates of their future well-being will be overstated.
A fourth risk is that it may be harmful to realize that one's actual competence does not match up to their illusions. This can be harmful to the ego and result in actually performing worse in situations such as college.
Although positive illusions may have short-term benefits, they come with long-term costs. Positive illusions have been linked with decreasing levels of self-esteem and well-being, as well as narcissism and lower academic achievement among students.
Although more academic attention has focused on positive illusions, there are systematic negative illusions that are revealed under slightly different circumstances. For example, while college students rate themselves as more likely than average to live to 70, they believe they are less likely than average to live to 100. People regard themselves as above average on easy tasks such as riding a bicycle but below average on difficult tasks like riding a unicycle (Kruger, 1999, as cited in Sedikides and Gregg, 2008). The latter effect has been recently named the "Worse-than-average effect". In general, people overestimate their relative standing when their absolute standing is high and underestimate it when their absolute standing is low.
Depressive realism suggests that depressed people actually have a more realistic view of themselves and the world than mentally healthy people. The nature of depression seems to have its role in diminishing positive illusions. For example, individuals who are low in self-esteem, slightly depressed, or both, are more balanced in self-perceptions. Likewise, these mildly depressed individuals are found to be less vulnerable to overestimations of (their) control over events (Golin et al., 1979) and to assess future circumstances in biased fashion (Ruehlman, West, & Pasahow, 1985). However, these findings may not be because depressed people have less illusions than nondepressed. Studies such as Dykman et al. (1989) show that depressed people believe they have no control in situations where they actually do, so their perspection is not more accurate overall. It might also be that the pessimistic bias of depressives results in "depressive realism" when, for example, measuring estimation of control when there is none, as proposed by Allan et al. (2007). Also, Msetfi et al. (2005, 2007) found that when replicating Alloy and Abramson's findings the overestimation of control in nondepressed people only showed up when the interval was long enough, implying that this is because they take more aspects of a situation into account than their depressed counterparts.
Two hypotheses have been stated in the literature with regard to avoiding the drawbacks of positive illusions: firstly by minimising the illusions in order to take the full advantage of the benefits, and secondly through making important decisions (Gollwitzer & Kinney, 1989). According to Roy Baumeister, a small amount of positive distortion may be optimal. He hypothesizes that those who fall within this optimal margin of illusion may provide for the best mental health.
- Kruger, Justin; Steven Chan, Neal Roese (2009). "(Not so) positive illusions". Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Cambridge University Press) 32 (6): 526–527. doi:10.1017/S0140525X09991270.
- Taylor, S. E.; Brown, J. D. (1994). "Positive illusions and well-being revisited: Separating fact from fiction". Psychological Bulletin 116 (1): 21–27. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.116.1.21.
- McKay, Ryan T.; Daniel C. Dennett (2009). "The evolution of misbelief". Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Cambridge University Press) 32 (6): 493–561. doi:10.1017/S0140525X09990975.
- C. Randall Colvin, Jack Block (1994). "Do positive illusions foster mental health? An Examination of the Taylor and Brown Formulation" (PDF). Psychological Bulletin (American Psychological Association) 116 (1): 3–20. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.116.1.3. PMID 8078973.
- Fatih Brinci, Gülay Dirik (2010). "Depressive Realism: Happiness or Objectivity". Turkish Journal of Psychiatry (Turkish Association of Nervous and Mental Health) 21 (1): 60–67. PMID 20204905.
- Alicke 1985
- Brown 1986
- Campbell 1986
- Svenson 1981
- Wenger & Fowers 2008
- Crary, 1966
- Fleming & Darley, 1989
- Buelher et al., 1994
- e.g. Leary, 2007
- Lewinsohn et al., 1980
- e.g. Swann, Predmore, Griffin, & Gaines, 1987
- Owens et al., 2007
- Eiser, Pahl, & Prins, 2001
- Heine & Hamamura 2007
- Taylor & Armor, 1996
- Robins & Beer, 2001
- Dunning, David; Chip Heath, Jerry M. Suls (2004). "Flawed Self-Assessment. Implications for Health, Education, and the Workplace". Psychological Science in the Public Interest (Association for Psychological Science) 5 (3): 69–106. doi:10.1111/j.1529-1006.2004.00018.x. ISSN 1529-1006.
- Taylor & Brown, 1988
- Taylor 1983
- Taylor et al., 2000
- Bonnanno, Rennicke, & Dekel, 2005
- Greenwald 1980
- Janoff-Bulman & Brickman, 1982
- e.g. Macfarland & Ross, 1982
- Such as Joiner et al. (2006) or Moore et al. (2007)
- Such as Fu et al. (2003), Carsona et al. (2009) and Boyd-Wilson et al. (2000)
- Compton 1992
- Moore et al., 2007
- Taylor et al., 1992
- Bower et al., 1998
- Armor & Taylor, 1998
- Taylor & Gollwitzer, 1995
- Dunning, Meyerowitz, & Holzberg, 1989
- Robins & Beer, 2001; Yang, 2009;Robins & John 1994
- Moore 2007
- Coyne & Gotlib 1983
- Baumeister 1989
- Adelson, Rachel. Probing the puzzling workings of 'depressive realism' (2005) APA Monitor, American Psychological Association
- Alicke, M.D. (1985). "Global self-evaluation as determined by the desirability and controllability of trait adjectives". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 49 (6): 1621–1630. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1991.
- Alicke, M.D., & Govorun, O. (2005). "The better-than-average effect." In M.D. Alicke, D.A. Dunning, & J.I. Krueger (Eds.), The self in social judgment (pp. 85 –108). Hove: Psychology.
- Allan, LG; Siegel, S; Hannah, S (2007). "The sad truth about depressive realism" (PDF). The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 60 (3): 482–495. doi:10.1080/17470210601002686. PMID 17366313.
- Armor, D.A. et al. (2002). "When predictions fail: The dilemma of unrealistic optimism." In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin, & D. Kahneman (Eds.) Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment (pp. 334–347). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
- Baumeister, R.F. (1989). "The optimal margin of illusion". Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 8: 176–189. doi:10.1521/jscp.19188.8.131.52.
- Bower, J.E.; et al. (1998). "Cognitive processing, discovery of meaning, CD 4 decline, and AIDS-related mortality among bereaved HIV-seropositive men". Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 66 (6): 979–986. doi:10.1037/0022-006X.66.6.979. PMID 9874911.
- Boyd-Wilson, Belinda M.; Walkey, Frank H.; McClure, John; Green, Dianne E. (December 2000). "Do we need positive illusions to carry out plans? Illusion: and instrumental coping". Personality and Individual Differences 29 (6): 1141–1152. doi:10.1016/S0191-8869(99)00261-5. ISSN 0191-8869.
- Brown, J.D. (1986). "Evaluations of self and others: Self-enhencement biases in social judgements". Social Cognition 4 (4): 353–376. doi:10.1521/soco.19184.108.40.2063.
- Campbell, J.D. (1986). "Similarity and uniqueness: The effects of attribute type, relevance, and individual differences in self-esteem and depression". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 50 (2): 281–294. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.111. PMID 3701578.
- Carson, Richard C.; Hollon, Steven D.; Shelton, Richard C. (April 2010). "Depressive realism and clinical depression". Behaviour Research and Therapy 48 (4): 257–265. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2009.11.011.
- Compton, William C. (December 1992). "Are positive illusions necessary for self-esteem: a research note". Personality and Individual Differences 13 (12): 1343–1344. doi:10.1016/0191-8869(92)90177-Q.
- Coyne, J.C.; Gotlib, I. H. (1983). "The role of cognition in depression: A critical appraisal". Psychological Bulletin 94 (3): 472–505. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.94.3.472. PMID 6657826.
- Dunning, D., Meyerowitz, J.A., & Holzberg, A.D. (1989). "Ambiguity and self-evaluation: The role of idiosyncratic trait definitions in self-serving assessments of ability." In T. Gilovich, D. Griffin, & D. Kahneman (Eds.) Heuristics and Biases: The Psychology of Intuitive Judgment (pp. 324–333). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
- Dykman, B. M.; Abramson, L. Y.; Alloy, L. B.; Hartlage, S. (1989). "Processing of ambiguous and unambiguous feedback by depressed and nondepressed college students: Schematic biases and their implications for depressive realism". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 (3): 431–445. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1681. PMID 2926638.
- Eiser, J.R.; Pahl, S.; Prins, Y.R.A. (2001). "Optimism, pessimism, and the direction of self-other comparisons". Journal of experimental Social Psychology 37: 77–84. doi:10.1006/jesp.2000.1438.
- Fiske, S.T., & Taylor, S.E. (in press). Social cognition (3rd ed.). New York: Random House.
- Fleming, J.H.; Darley, J.M. (1989). "Perceiving choice and constraint: The effects of contextual and behavioural cues on attitude attribution". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 (1): 27–40. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.124. PMID 2926615.
- Fu, Tiffany; Koutstaal, Wilma; Fu, Cynthia H. Y.; Poon, Lucia; Cleare, Anthony J. (2003). "Depression, Confidence, and Decision: Evidence Against Depressive Realism". Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment 27 (4): 243–252. doi:10.1007/s10862-005-2404-x.
- Golin, S.; Terrell, T.; Weitz, J.; Drost, P.L. (1979). "The illusion of control among depressed patients". Journal of Abnormal Psychology 88 (4): 454–457. doi:10.1037/h0077992. PMID 479470.
- Gollwitzer, P.M.; Kinney, R.F. (1989). "Effects of deliberative and implemental mind-sets on illusion of control". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 56 (4): 531–542. doi:10.1037/0022-35126.96.36.1991.
- Greenwald, A.G. (1980). "The totalitarian ego: Fabrication and revision of personal history". American Psychologist 35 (7): 603–618. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.35.7.603.
- Heine, S.J.; Hamamura, T. (2007). "In Search of East Asian Self-Enhancement". Personality and Social Psychology Review 11 (1): 4–27. doi:10.1177/1088868306294587. PMID 18453453.
- Janoff-Bulman, R., & Brickman, P. (1982). Expectations and what people learn from failure. In N.T Feather (Ed.), Expectations and action: Expectancy-value models in psychology (pp. 207–272). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
- Thomas E. Joiner, Janet A. Kistner, Nadia E. Stellrecht, Katherine A. Merrill (2006). On Seeing Clearly and Thriving: Interpersonal Perspicacity as Adaptive (Not Depressive) Realism (Or Where Three Theories Meet). Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, Volume: 25 Issue: 5 Pages: 542-564 Abstract
- Kruger, J. (1999). "Lake Wobegon be gone! The below-average effect and the egocentric nature of comparative ability judgements". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (2): 221–232. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.52. PMID 10474208.
- Kuiper, N.A.; Derry, P.A. (1982). "Depressed and nondepressed content self-reference in mild depression". Journal of Personality 50: 67–79. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1982.tb00746.x.
- Leary, M.R. (2007). "Motivational and emotional aspects of the self". Annual Review of Psychology 58: 317–344. doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.58.110405.085658. PMID 16953794.
- Lewinsohn, P.M.; Mischel, W.; Chaplin, W.; Barton, R. (1980). "Social competence and depression: The role of illusory self-perceptions". Journal of Abnormal Psychology 89 (2): 203–212. doi:10.1037/0021-843X.89.2.203. PMID 7365132.
- Moore, D.A. (2007). "Not so above average after all: When people believe they are worse than average and its implications for theories of bias in social comparison". Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 102: 42–58. doi:10.1016/j.obhdp.2006.09.005.
- Michael Thomas Moore, David Fresco (2007). Depressive realism and attributional style: implications for individuals at risk for depression. Behavior Therapy 38 Pages: 144-154 
- Moore MT, Fresco DM (2007) Depressive realism: A meta-analytic review 
- Msetfi RM, Murphy RA, Simpson J, Kornbrot DE (2005) Depressive realism and outcome density bias in contingency judgments: the effect of the context and intertrial interval. Journal of Experimental Psychology. General, Volume: 134 Issue: 1 Pages: 10-22.
- Msetf RM, Murphy RA, Simpson J (2007). "Depressive realism and the effect of intertrial interval on judgements of zero, positive, and negative contingencies". The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 60 (3): 461–481. doi:10.1080/17470210601002595. PMID 17366312.
- Nuttin, J.M.; Jr (1987). "Affective consequences of mere ownership: The name letter effect in twelve European languages". European Journal of Social Psychology 17 (4): 381–402. doi:10.1002/ejsp.2420170402.
- John, Oliver P.; Robins, Richard W. (1994). "Accuracy and Bias in Self-Perception: Individual Differences in Self-Enhancement and the Role of Narcissism". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 66 (1): 206–219. doi:10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.206.
- Owens, J.S.; Goldfine, M.E.; Evangelista, N.M.; Hoza, B.; Kaiser, N.M. (2007). "A critical review of self-perception and the positive illusory bias I children with ADHD". Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review 10 (4): 335–351. doi:10.1007/s10567-007-0027-3. PMID 17902055.
- Richard W. Robins, Jennifer S. Beer (2001) Positive Illusions About the Self:Short-Term Benefits and Long-Term Costs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 80, No. 2, Pages: 340-352.
- Ruehlman, L.S.; West, S.G.; Kohn, M. (1985). "Depression and evaluative schemata". Journal of Personality 53 (1): 46–92. doi:10.1111/j.1467-6494.1985.tb00888.x. PMID 3889272.
- Sedikides, C.; Gregg, A.P. (2008). "Self-enhancement: Food for thought". Perspectives on Psychological Science 3 (2): 102–116. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2008.00068.x.
- Segerstrom, S.C.; et al. (1998). "Optimism is associated with mood, coping, and immune change in response to stress". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74 (6): 1646–1655. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.116. PMID 9654763.
- Svenson, O. (1981). "Are we less risky and more skilful than our fellow drivers?". Acta Psychologica 47 (2): 143–151. doi:10.1016/0001-6918(81)90005-6.
- Swann, W.B.; Predmore, S.C.; Griffin, J.J.; Gaines, B. (1987). "The cognitive-affective crossfire: When self-consistency confronts self-enhancement". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 52 (5): 881–889. doi:10.1037/0022-3518.104.22.1681. PMID 3585700.
- Taylor, S.E. (1983). "Adjustment to threatening events: A theory of cognitive adaptation". American Psychologist 38 (11): 1161–1173. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.38.11.1161.
- Taylor, S.E.; Brown, J. (1988). "Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health". Psychological Bulletin 103 (2): 193–210. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.103.2.193. PMID 3283814.
- Taylor, S.E.; Kemeny, M.E.; Aspinwall, L.G.; Schneider, S.G.; Rodriguez, R.; Herbert, M. (1992). "Optimism, coping, psychological distress, and high-risk sexual behavior among men at risk for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 63 (3): 460–473. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1240. PMID 1403625.
- Taylor, S.E.; Kemeny, M.E.; Reed, G.M.; Bower, J.E.; Gruenewald, T.L. (2000). "Psychological resources, positive illusions, and health". American Psychologist 55 (1): 99–109. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.99. PMID 11392870.
- Wenger, A.; Fowers, B.J. (2008). "Positive Illusions in Parenting: Every Child Is Above Average". Journal of Applied Social Psychology 38 (3): 611–634. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2007.00319.x.
- Mu-Li Yang, Hsueh-Hua Chuang, Wen-Bin Chiou (2009) Long-term costs of inflated self-estimate on academic performance amond adolescent students: A case of second-language achievements.Psychological Reports, Volume 105, Issue, pp. 727–737.