Tag Archives: psychology

Reading Note — “The Optimism Bias”


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Illustration by Noma Bar for TIME

“The Optimism Bias”, Time, June 6, 2011 , is a very interesting and thought-provoking article. It solved a lot of puzzles which  haunted my mind. You can read this article on Time’s website. I promise it won’t let you down. But the other thing I want to remind you is that the reading experience is totally different between web and printed paper. Of course, printed paper is much better.

We’re born to be some optimistic creatures, we tend to believe things will turn out to be better than what they will really end up; most people suppose their driving levels are beyond the average, which is certainly a ridiculous judgement; almost no one think he/she will divorce when he/she just get  the marriage-license; we underestimate our chances of getting fired; we wear rose-colored glasses to look into the world. Yet we don’t aware of it, besides, we don’t know why our genes shape us in this way.

To figure out the why question is not an easy job.

FIRST OF ALL, do you realize that you’re optimistic? If you never read such articles  or attended some psychological curriculum, I would guess your answer to be negative. But when you finish reading the last paragraph and think through, you’ll notice how overly optimistic we are.

SECONDLY, why we become so? We, human beings, regard ourselves as a rational species. We are more likely to be objective. Optimism lure us to form some false outcomes of things, which makes us seem stupid. Worst of all, optimism exists generally in most of us. So either there are some other benefits of optimism to make its exist reasonable, or evolution made a tragic joke over our mortals. Now “The Optimism Bias” reveals that do have some critical benefits of become optimistic. Like the author of  “The Optimism Bias” said:

…the bias also protects and inspires us: it keeps us moving forward rather than to the nearest high-rise ledge. Without optimism, our ancestors might never have ventured far from their tribes and we might all be cave dwellers, still huddled together and dreaming of light and heat.

To make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities–better ones–and we need to believe that we can achieve them…

As compared with these advantages and disadvantages, we can conclude that to be positive is much more crucial to our survival. If we cannot walk out of the cave, it doesn’t matter whether we make some disastrous miscalculations under the influence of optimism , such as less likely to get health checkups or open a savings account.

THIRDLY, to understand the real function of our memory system. What the use of our memory system? To remember the past? Partly true, but not exactly. Research data shows our memories are not reliable. When the time passed by, our memories reconstruct the events happened before with lots of errors, omits and amends. If the memory system is naturally selected and designed precisely to reproduce the past, how can it be that wrong after thousands’ years of evolution? Let’s see  what the author say about it:

Scientists who study memory proposed an intriguing answer: memories are susceptible to inaccuracies partly because the neural system responsible for remembering episodes from our past might not have evolved for memory alone. Rather, the core function of  the memory system could in fact be to imagine the future–to enable us to prepare for what has yet to come. The system is not designed to perfectly replay past events, the researchers claimed. It is designed to flexibly construct future scenarios in our minds. As a result, memory also ends up being a reconstructive process, and occasionally, details are deleted and others inserted.

And what’s the relationship between memory system and optimism? To understand the mechanism of memory system help us a lot, we know this system deliberately delete something unexpected and insert something desirable. In this way, we become optimistic creatures.

FOURTHLY, to perceive the human time machine.

To think positively about our prospects, we must first be able to imagine ourselves in the future. Optimism starts with what may be the most extraordinary of human talents: mental time travel, the ability to move back and forth through time and space in one’s mind.

We may take this ability for granted, mankind make such mistakes quite often. But the truth is, we never randomly acquire any abilities without deliberately purpose. As we possess this ability, we’re able to make plans and set goals, which help us to be to cleverest primate on earth. But unfortunately, every coin has two sides,

While mental time travel has clear survival advantages, conscious foresight cane to human at an enormous price–the understanding that somewhere in the future, death awaits.

We mortals are all unwillingly to accept that, it makes us depress. Things turns out to be meaningless. No matter how hard we work, no matter how many efforts we made, one day, everyone of us will disappear from this world. This will lead our necessarily activities to survival to a dead end, that divert from the meaning of life. At least, evolution and natural selection won’t allow it to be happened in mass creatures. So optimism stands out to counter the pessimism. To irrationally picture a bright future maybe the only way to inspire us to sustain.

FIFTHLY, optimism is not just something about illusion, it has the power to change the reality. Since most of us think optimism merely formed inside our mind, how can it effect the reality? Have you ever heard the self-fulfilling prophecy? It’s a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true, by the very terms of the prophecy itself, due to positive or negative feedback between belief and behavior. When you expecting something good, your brain will get excited, usually this will improve your performance in certain aspects; on contrary, your brain will stay indifferent if you primed it with some negative messages. You see, optimism do have influence over our brain, and whether our brain behaves active or negative affects our performance, different performance lead to different results, that’s why optimism has the power to change the reality.

SIXTHLY, sliver linings. Optimism not only takes effect when we face the good and the bad, but also appears when we have to make a choice among bad things (or good things). If you must bear a malady, it’s will be painful experience to choose from a broken leg or a broken arm. But once you has slightly tilt towards one malady, optimism will immediately step in and take charge of your feelings. You’ll think positive of what you have chosen. Let’s say you painfully made the decision to have a broken leg, seconds later you may conceive some ideas in you mind: It’s not that bad, maybe I’ll stack in the room, but I could play video game all day long. Great!” We live in a rapid world, time is short for us to struggle in dilemma, we must keep moving, with the  help of optimism we can make some quick decisions.

SEVENTHLY, can we take the advantage of  optimism and remain rational? Of course we can, like the author said:

I believe knowledge is key…The good news is that awareness rarely shatters the illusion. The glass remains half full. If possible, then, to strike a balance, to believe we will stay healthy, but get medical insurance anyway; to be certain the sun will shine, but grab an umbrella on our way out — just in case.



现在的商家为了卖东西真是无所不用其极。这个元旦准备采购一些大家电,和夫人在网上逛了逛,看中了西门子的冰箱(KK25F55TI)和洗衣机(WM10S360TI)各一台,网上价格总计: 9015,赠券总计: 400。于是我们就踩着这个基准去永乐南方店讨价还价,具体过程就不说了,反而都是口舌之争,最后营业员的承诺是:发票金额 9199,实付金额7979,赠券、以旧换新等另计。我白纸黑字写在了自己的便笺本上,让营业员确认了一遍。但到实际打单的时候发票上的金额和我实付的金额却都是:8389刷卡的时候我一时糊涂,没有看具体金额就付了,回头再找营业员理论的时候,她满脸堆笑,但一口否认曾经的承诺,对我白纸黑字写下来的内容表示困惑不解,完全没有印象。对于这样赤裸裸的背心弃约,我只能表示无语。



  1. 带好水瓶
  2. 不知道为什么,很多卖场的暖气打得极热,让人面红耳赤的,严重影响讨价还价的状态。因为人一热往往比较急躁,很容易做出各种冲动的决定。喝点水,降降温,可以很好的平息心情。

  3. 做足功课
  4. 要买什么东西一定要心里有个大致范围,即使不能确定具体型号,也至少要对品牌有个圈定。在商场里听这个介绍,听那个介绍一定会迷茫的,谁都说自家的东西好。

  5. 一定要带纸笔,能带个计算器更好
  6. 这一点非常重要。营业员每天做自己的那个牌子,其实心里清楚得很,怎么做都了如指掌,不要算都知道。我们消费者就不行了,这里减钱,那里加券,还有积分,还是合买优惠,靠心算当然可以,但要买一天下来,相信你会精疲力尽,再也没有算的兴致了。有了纸笔要好的多,无论什么价钱都记清楚,无论营业员怎么忽悠,你都心里有谱。

  7. 心里素质过硬
  8. 营业员经常会冷嘲热讽,比如我买空调的时候,问她价格然后用纸笔记下,她很是不屑,说我们年轻人读书读多了。我是不在乎她说什么的,搞不清价格才是最大的傻瓜呢。后来果然发现她在忽悠我们,原来说把总价做到12000,实际上付钱13000+,以旧换新算下来只有600多,差了400多,问她怎么减的时候就她就吃开话题,跑题到不知道什么地方去了。

  9. 不吃感情牌
  10. 这点对家长们尤其管用,她上来也不是谈价格,先说和你同龄,拉近彼此的距离;然后边谈价,边说种种生活的琐事。总之和你一见如故的感觉,要你充分相信她。我们只要记住一点:我是来买东西的,除了价格和质量,我谁也不认。

  11. 不要内讧
  12. 带着家人一起买很容易出现意见不统一的情况,有了矛盾完全不必在营业员面前表现出来,他们才是我们要一致对抗的对象,我们内讧,他们往往更容易做生意。当然这种情况不是一定的,如果我们刻意营造一个唱红脸,一个唱黑脸的气氛,对还价有时还是很有帮助的。这里关键就是貌不合心要合。

  13. 斤斤计较
  14. 任何营业员对先前承诺的放弃都要追究到底,无论是什么原因造成的。我们买冰箱+洗衣机时,先前有说到直降400,但等我们买完几乎所有家电,去问店长要进一步的整体优惠时,却被告知先前的直降400做不了了,但整体优惠可以做到1300,我们也就妥协了。这里的整体优惠是我们的一个盲区,我们完全不知道店长是如何操作的,尺度如何。所以我们很容易轻易妥协。其实这一部分也应该视为我们应得的利益,不过这也是最不容易被洞悉,也是最容易被忽悠的地方。

  15. 迷茫时,及时退出
  16. 逛商场逛一天很容易出现迷茫的现象,对对方的价格全无概念,对对方的产品全无了解,这时候千万不要再呆在商场里,边犹豫边听营业员的唠叨,出去找个椅子坐坐。一个人的话就理理思路,几个人的话就各抒己见,反正排除了商家的干扰,大家还是比较可能做出理性的判断。

  17. 了解一点心理学
  18. 营业员向店长询价寻求折扣、对你感兴趣的商品刻意提示你随时可能断货、在买完大件后要你买小件都是最简单的心理学应用,可以看一下非常流行的《影响力》(英文名是”Influence”)这本书,浅显易懂,都是以案列的形式向我们展示我们是如何被微妙的心理学影响的。只需要简单的知道我们可能被这些事情影响就可以让你提高警觉,碰上这些事情的时候会多一些思考,更加理性。

  19. 学会放弃
  20. 一般来说买东西我们也需要考虑自己的时间成本,如果数额不是太大的东西,我们的确犯不着浪费一整天的时间和价格过不去,当即立断买下来可以节省我们的时间,这同样是在省钱。但大家电不一样,一买就是好一个月工资,如果一个人工资在6000左右,平均下来也就是200/天,那么如果你觉得家电的价格差价大于你心理价位200以上,其实你就可以放弃了,毕竟家电这东西多逛一天很可能给你带来远不止200的价钱差距,所以即使考虑上时间成本你还是合算的。价格不合适,耍手走人,不要犹豫。你这一天是白辛苦了,但很可能是会有回报的。

p.s: 题外话,最后表扬一下我本来非常不想表扬的工商银行,在我6笔大款消费后很贴心地有客服mm用很柔美的声音打电话过来要我确认消费情况,马上有一种很舒服、很有保障的感觉。虽然工商银行扣过我无数莫名其妙的费用,但当时对它的印象还是一下子变得无比美好了。