Optimism Bias: Why warnings don’t help

(Online) newspapers, Linkedin, Facebook. On every platform you will find posts about why people do not take Corona regulations into account. Staying at home appears to be very difficult. Keeping your distance from other people is just as hard. Why do we ignore these simple instructions to keep ourselves and others safe and healthy?

Optimism Bias could definitely have something to do with this. About 80% of all people are more or less ‘prone’ to be (very) optimistic about their own future. Great! Research shows that a positive state of mind helps you cope with disappointment. Also, the expectation of a sunny future works as a ‘self fulfilling prophecy’.  Having confidence means less anxiety and stress, plus increases your chance for success. Win-win. Or is it?

Optimism Bias can become unrealistic. If you never take of your rose-colored-specs you may miss those signs and warnings that help keep you save. These phenomena was probed on in an experiment. Candidates were asked about the likelihood of getting a serious disease. If the factual percentage was lower than their assumption, they immediately lowered the expectation. In case the real number was higher, candidates hardly increased their own expectancy.

A scan shed some light on what’s going on in the brain. Reason is the.. here goes ‘left inferior frontal gyrus’. This tiny part of the brain lights up when positive news is presented. His right partner, the right gyrus should do the same when negative input enters the brain. However, the more positive the person, the less the right gyrus does his job.

Basically this is why warnings such as ‘smoking kills’ has limited impact. Same goes for a corona rule ‘stay at home’.  Of course people getting sick, they might even die. Others. Not me.

If warnings don’t help how can we get through to people? Well maybe fines help to create awareness. And furthermore, repetition, repetition, repetition.