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Positive Illusions

Shelley E. Taylor

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405161251.2009.x


Many people hold beliefs about themselves, the world, and the future that are more positive than reality can sustain. These beliefs have been called positive illusions . At least three types of positive illusions have been documented. The first is self-aggrandizing self-perceptions. People consistently regard themselves more positively and less negatively than they regard others and than others regard them. The second illusion concerns perceptions of mastery or control. Most people believe that they can exert more personal control over environmental circumstances than is actually the case. Indeed, considerable research shows that people believe they can even affect outcomes that are heavily due to chance. A third positive illusion concerns unrealistic optimism. Most people are optimistic and believe that the present is better than the past and that the future will be better as well, especially for themselves. For example, when asked what they think is possible for themselves in the future, college students report more than four times as many positive as negative possibilities. Typically, people overestimate the likelihood that they will experience a wide variety of pleasant events, such as liking their first job or having a gifted child, and somewhat underestimate their risk of succumbing to negative events, include being fired, getting divorced, or succumbing to a chronic disease. ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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