Is It Always Good to Be Optimistic?

People who are overly optimistic in the face of contrary evidence may have “faulty” function of their frontal lobes, according to new research.

Researchers at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London (UCL) found that people who are very optimistic about the outcome of events tend to learn only from information that reinforces their “rose-tinted view of the world.”

“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,” says researcher Dr. Tali 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?”

The researchers studied 19 volunteers, presenting them with 80 negative life events like disease or having a car stolen. While magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measured brain activity, they were asked to estimate the probability of that these events would happen to them.

After learning the average probability of these events happening, participants were asked to make new estimates. The volunteers did change their original estimates — but only if the information was better than they expected.

All the study participants showed increased frontal lobe activity when the news was good, processing the information that allowed them to alter their views. But when the news was worse than expected, there was less frontal lobe activity — a disregard of the contrary evidence, especially among the most optimistic subjects (according to a personality questionnaire).

“Our study suggests that we pick and choose the information that we listen to. The more optimistic we are, the less likely we are to be influenced by negative information about the future,” said Dr. Sharot in a press release. “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.”

Dr. John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, had this to say: “Being optimistic must clearly have some benefits, but is it always helpful and why do some people have a less rosy outlook on life? Understanding how some people always manage to remain optimistic could provide useful insights into happens when our brains do not function properly.”

The study was published in Nature Neuroscience. Reference: Wellcome Trust. “Blame ‘faulty’ frontal lobe function for undying optimism in face of reality.” ScienceDaily, 10 Oct. 2011. Web. 13 Oct. 2011.

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Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis.” She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo


Leena K.
Leena K6 years ago

Being happy makes you feel optimistic all the time, thanks!!!

Zee Kallah
Past Member 6 years ago

These lower worlds were set up with the intention of pleasure, fun, challenge.

The higher worlds, you can change what you will with a thought.

Try changing the restaurant table with a thought!

The higher worlds are like a mirage. No problems, no negatives, no challenge. Bor--ing!

Time, matter, energy, space were created. Both positive and negative were postulated. The law of cause and effect (karma) was put into operation. It's a bi-polar universe.

Any souls who wanted a challenge were invited. Rulers dispatched the problem souls. Good riddance! Criminals and geniuses ----- these were the ones who came to the newly
created lower worlds.

The rules were read. Such applause thundered the rules of karma into essential existence. What you do will return to you.
Do evil and live will spell backwards. Do good and you will have heaven and not descend below the astral. Mess up, you create your own turmoil. Make amends. Do good from your heart, you will bless and be blessed.

Create your own reality.

The heavens were filled with laughter and applause. Skiping and dancing we descended into the world of matter within an arena of space and time. Motion the energy of laughter or screaming!

Your choice.

Zee Kallah
Past Member 6 years ago

Reality is both positive and negative.

Optimistic should be the releasing of the negative and the visualizing of the positive.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton6 years ago

It's good to be optimistic but stop at the point where they start

Jutta Suthau
Jutta Suthau6 years ago

Interesting article

Patricia F.
Patricia F6 years ago

"Understanding how some people always manage to remain optimistic could provide useful insights into happens when our brains do not function properly.” --- ha ha ha! this is so funny. Why not study the brains of depressed people. Do their brains function properly? And then he says - “Being optimistic must clearly have some benefits" -- Duh!? No joke.

I really don't get this article. Are they talking about super "Pollyanna" types that just deny the truth or people that are just optimistic and try to make the best of most situations?

Let's be healthy and focus on the negative!

scarlett g.
.6 years ago



Lovely Devaya
Lovely Devaya6 years ago

How very true ... it is so easy to 'bury' bad news but doesn't help any!!!

Kate R.
Kate R6 years ago

this article is right on the money.

Julie van Niekerk

It is common sense - be optimistic about good thing and good future. Face reality when you see what is happening on this cruel planet.