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Social Perception: Unrealistic Optimism

Ronald E. Ostman


Unrealistic optimism, suggested by LeJeune and Alex in 1973, was described as the “illusion of unique invulnerability.” It was further developed by Weinstein (1980) in an article on individual perceptions of future life events. This illusion refers to an individual's tendency to believe oneself invulnerable or at very low risk of suffering misfortune and victimization. It does not refer to the perceptions of individuals who have been victims of a particular misfortune (→  Victimization, Secondary ). However, victim experience with one misfortune does not negate unrealistic optimism regarding other misfortunes. Unrealistically optimistic persons believe others may be more susceptible to such victimization (a pessimistic bias regarding others). The optimism is considered “unrealistic” because, except in extremely skewed distributions, a vast majority of a population cannot be less vulnerable than average. Most unrealistic optimism research has focused on health risk perceptions . Other risk topics have explored the potential of being an earthquake victim or suffering a divorce. Weinstein argued that unrealistically optimistic judgments regarding one's future life could be risky, dangerous, and potentially harmful ( Weinstein et al. 2005 ; →  Risk Perceptions ; Health Communication ). The unrealistic optimism bias also applies to positive events; for example, that one is more ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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