Tali Sharot: Is Optimism The Key To Survival?

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Neuroscientist Tali Sharot has a PH.D. in psychology from New York University.She is currently a research fellow at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at University College London.

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. We watch our backs, weigh the odds, pack an umbrella. But science suggests that most of us are more optimistic than realistic: people overestimate their odds of professional success, expect their children to be extraordinarily gifted, believe they will live longer than they do, and hugely underestimate their chance of divorce, cancer and unemployment. The belief that the future will likely be much better than the past and present is known as the optimism bias and, although we are unaware of it, almost 80 per cent of us hold optimistic beliefs.

What interests me is how the human brain is wired for hope and why optimism is essential for survival. Just how does the brain generate hope? How does it trick us into moving forward? What happens when it fails? Why are we terrible at predicting what will make us happy? How does our optimism affect our financial, professional, and emotional decisions?

Tali Sharot will be appearing at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival 2012 in S06 The Optimism Bias