Wishful Thinking Is Rewarded

We might like to think we are unbiased when making a decision, but we’re really not. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne finds the reward system in the brain conveys judgments affected by one’s own desires. For the study, participants were asked to estimate the average and personal risk of different negative events. Afterwards, they learned the actual average risk and were able to adjust their own risk estimates accordingly. If the actual average risks were desirable (i.e. lower than initially estimated by participants), they were considered more than undesirable statistics. Researcher Bojana Kusmanovic explains, “By ignoring unpleasant information, we avoid drawing threatening conclusions. For example, we could neglect federal statistics, which indicate a higher risk of heart attack, because we think we have a particularly healthy lifestyle.” Study leader Marc Tittgemeyer adds, “The influence of preferences is independent of expertise. We can benefit from this pleasant self-strengthening effect as long as our judgments do not have serious consequences. However, when making important decisions, we should be aware of our tendency to distort judgment and apply strategies to increase objectivity.”