BOONE, N.C. — Do you tend to see the glass as half full or half empty? Have you ever skipped a flu shot, believing the protective properties of your immune system will power you through flu season?
What do these questions have in common? Optimism biases — instances where desired outcomes are viewed as more likely than warranted, and undesired outcomes are viewed as less likely than warranted, according to Appalachian State University’s Dr. Andrew R. Smith, associate professor in Appalachian’s Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology.
Smith is the recipient of $44,524 in grant funding through the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Decision, Risk and Management Sciences (DRMS) program to perform a three-year study on optimism biases.
For the research study, which began this fall and will conclude in spring 2020, Smith is collaborating with Dr. Paul Windschitl, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in University of Iowa’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Smith expects to receive an additional $90,864 in NFS funding for the second and third years of the project.
Optimism biases can lead to what Smith calls overoptimism, which can cause people to engage in risky behaviors, such as making unwise investments, or avoid protective actions — neglecting to complete a cancer screening, for example.
“Unfortunately, there is an inadequate understanding of when different goals — such as accuracy, loyalty, self-presentation and accountability — impact optimism, including goals that have the potential to reduce optimism biases,” Smith said.
This initial grant funding supports Smith and Windschitl’s first line of research, which examines the processes responsible for optimism biases.
In year two of their research, Smith and Windschitl will address how types of available information influence overoptimism, and they will test a new de-biasing intervention for overoptimism during the third year of the study.
Participants for the study will include sports fans, owners of homes in flood plains and patients planning to undergo medical treatments — three groups known to exhibit overoptimism, Smith said.
“Ultimately, this research will help identify when and why people exhibit an optimism bias and examine methods for reducing this sometimes problematic bias,” Smith said.
Appalachian graduate and undergraduate students will be involved throughout the research project.
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About the Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology
Appalachian’s Dr. Wiley F. Smith Department of Psychology serves more than 1,000 undergraduate majors seeking the Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, as well as 80 graduate students in the master’s degree programs in clinical psychology, experimental psychology, school psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology and human resource management. Its new Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program began admitting students in fall 2019. Learn more at https://psych.appstate.edu.
About the College of Arts and Sciences
The College of Arts and Sciences is home to 16 academic departments, one stand-alone academic program, two centers and one residential college. These units span the humanities and the social, mathematical and natural sciences. The College of Arts and Sciences aims to develop a distinctive identity built upon our university's strengths, traditions and unique location. The college’s values lie not only in service to the university and local community, but through inspiring, training, educating and sustaining the development of its students as global citizens. There are approximately 6,100 student majors in the college. As the college is also largely responsible for implementing Appalachian's general education curriculum, it is heavily involved in the education of all students at the university, including those pursuing majors in other colleges. Learn more at https://cas.appstate.edu.
About Appalachian State University
As the premier public undergraduate institution in the state of North Carolina, Appalachian State University prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The Appalachian Experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and to embrace diversity and difference. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Appalachian is one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina System. Appalachian enrolls more than 19,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.