The Optimism Bias

I had an idea to write an article based on some smart, sciency research paper I read today about this one nutrition theory. But then I read another article that contradicted the first article. I also read that article’s comments.

Not a good idea.

Have you ever noticed that if you read almost ANY article’s comment section you’ll find about a 50/50 split of respondents? Half confirm the author’s premise or research saying why the article is great/correct/sound advice.

The other half will shoot holes in the research, find reasons why it’s wrong, point out that they used the wrong xyz, or just resort to calling the author an idiot.

Basically, people read articles to either confirm or deny their original idea. Psychologists call this psychological bias.

Do you think eating red meat is going to kill you?

Do you think that the world revolves around your t-bone steak and potatoes?

Either way you’ll find articles that support both of the above sentences. It is usually pretty easy to find the answer that you’re looking to find.

Neither opinion is necessarily right or wrong (hint, just focus on the best practice regardless of either approach). But are you getting all the information you need?

Are you downplaying the possible negative effects of your actions and assuming that only the good things will happen to you. The studies that link red meat to higher levels of cardiovascular disease and higher incidence of death are results that will only happen to other people. You are somehow protected from that.

That’s called optimism bias.

Optimism bias can have a negative impact on our lives, especially our health, if left unchecked.

(Check out the Tedtalk video for more info on optimism bias

And that’s an important takeaway here. Get knowledgeable about what and why you do the things you do. Maybe take 5-20 minutes today to research something that’s important to you? Pretend you had no prior knowledge of this topic but were just an interested observer. See what information you find. What hit home and resonated with you the most?

If this research project helps confirm a prior core belief then awesome. You’re now even more knowledgeable about that topic.

If this research project opened your eyes to the opportunity to change something that you’ve been doing (possibly incorrectly) then that’s even more awesome!

Hopefully you’re not biased against improvement.

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