Hoping for the best or preparing for the worst? Regulatory focus and preferences for optimism and pessimism in predicting personal outcomes

Abigail Hazlett*, Daniel C. Molden, Aaron M. Sackett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations

Abstract

People are rarely completely accurate in forecasting their own futures. Instead, past research has demonstrated tendencies for both optimistic and pessimistic bias in thinking about one's own outcomes. Furthermore, both biases are thought to be potentially functional. Recently, an "intuitive functionalist" account of forecasting biases has been proposed (Sackett & Armor, 2010; see also Armor, Massey, & Sackett, 2008), which posits that individuals flexibly shift between optimistic or pessimistic outlooks based on the perceived value of each outlook. The present research examines people's chronic motivational orientations as one factor that influences perceptions of the functional value of optimistic or pessimistic outlooks. Across three studies, we demonstrate that those primarily concerned with growth and advancement (i.e., promotion) prefer optimistic forecasts and perform better when adopting an optimistic outlook, whereas those primarily concerned with safety and security (i.e., prevention) prefer pessimistic forecasts and perform better when adopting a pessimistic outlook.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)74-96
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Cognition
Volume29
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology

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