As People Age, Optimism Bias Increases

Increasing age usually heralds an array of negative life events including bereavement, reduced social networks, a decline in physical health and cognitive function, together with an inevitable time horizon foreshortening (Rowe & Kahn, 1987; Hedden & Gabrieli, 2004). Viewed from the perspective of young adulthood, a reasonable inference might be that this should portend an increasing pessimism. Yet older adults have higher levels of emotional well-being than their younger counterparts, including a decline in their experience of negative emotions (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2008; Carstensen et al. 2011; Stone et al. 2010).

In general, many studies show an age-related ‘positivity effect’ on cognitive processing (for reviews, see Mather & Carstensen, 2005; Isaacowitz & Blanchard- Fields, 2012). For example, in comparison to their younger counterparts, older adults remember faces displaying positive emotions more than those displaying negative emotions (Charles et al. 2003), have less rich autobiographical memory for negative events (Comblain et al. 2005) and experience less negative arousal when anticipating monetary loss (Samanez- Larkin et al. 2007). Such findings have been interpreted within the framework of socio-emotional selectivity theory, whereby changing time horizons may lead to modification and prioritization of emotionally relevant goals (Carstensen et al. 1999; Charles & Carstensen, 2010). An alternative account suggests that positivity may arise serendipitously as a consequence of selective age-related neurodegeneration (Cacioppo et al. 2011).

Few studies have addressed the effect of age on optimism and the results are inconsistent. Optimism has been defined as the tendency to overestimate future positive events and underestimate future negative events (Weinstein, 1980). One such study showed that older adults had a more optimistic style when explaining life events (Isaacowitz, 2005) whereas another found that younger, rather than older, adults had a more optimistic outlook about the future (Lachman et al. 2008). A series of studies have investigated optimism in young individuals, identifying an asymmetry whereby beliefs about future negative events are updated more in response to better than expected (‘desirable’) information than to worse than expected (‘undesirable’) information (Sharot et al. 2011, 2012a,b).

See Full PDF here: Optimistic update bias increases in older age


Saved Articles

The Life and Career of Charlie Munger

Charlie is more than just Warren Buffett’s friend and Berkshire Hathaway’s Vice Chairman – Buffett has actually credited him with redefining how he looks at investing. Now you can learn from Charlie firsthand via this incredible ebook and over a dozen other famous investor studies by signing up below:

  • Learn from the best and forever change your investing perspective
  • One incredible tidbit of knowledge after another in the page-turning masterpiece of a book
  • Discover the secrets to Charlie’s success and how to apply it to your investing
Never Miss A Story!
Subscribe to ValueWalk Newsletter. We respect your privacy.

Congrats! Are you a smart person?

We have an exclusive targeted for being a sophisticated and loyal reader.

Welcome in the new year by signing up up for ValueWalkPremium today and get our exclusive content for 40% off. This is our second biggest discount ever!!

Use coupon code VIP20 or click on the button below

Limited time offer only ENDS 1/31/2019 or after next 30 23 subscribers take advantage whichever comes first – please do not share this discount with others