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The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain (Vintage) [Paperback]

by Tali Sharot
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 12, 2012 9780307473516 978-0307473516 Reprint

Psychologists have long been aware that most people maintain an irrationally positive outlook on life. Tali Sharot—one of the most innovative neuroscientists at work today—takes this a step further. Optimism, she shows, may in fact be crucial to our existence.
In this absorbing exploration, Sharot takes an in-depth, clarifying look at
• how the brain generates hope and what happens when it fails
• how the brains of optimists and pessimists differ
• why we are terrible at predicting what will make us happy
• how emotions strengthen our ability to recollect
• how anticipation and dread affect us
• how our optimistic illusions affect our financial, professional, and emotional decisions
With its cutting-edge science and its wide-ranging narrative, The Optimism Bias provides us with startling new insight into the workings of the brain and the major role that optimism plays in determining how we live our lives.

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The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain (Vintage) + Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths
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Editorial Reviews


“Fascinating. . . . Even if you’re a dedicated cynic, you might be surprised to learn that your brain is wearing rose-colored glasses, whether you like it or not.”

“What a treat. A charming, engaging and accessible book written by a scientist who knows how to tell a story.”
—Richard Thaler, author of Nudge

“An insightful, Oliver Sacks-y first book.”
The Village Voice

“Very enjoyable, highly original and packed with eye-opening insight, this is a beautifully written book that really brings psychology alive.”
—Simon Baron-Cohen, author of The Science of Evil
“Offers evolutionary, neurological, and even slightly philosophical reasons for optimism. . . . A book I’d suggest to anyone.”
—Terry Waghorn, Forbes 
“If you read her story, you’ll get a better grip on how we function in it. I’m optimistic about that.”
—Richard Stengel, Time
“Once I started reading The Optimism Bias, I could not put it down.”
—Louisa Jewell, Positive Psychology News Daily
“An intelligently written look into why most people take an optimistic view of life. . . . [A] fascinating trip into why we prefer to remain hopeful about our future and ourselves.”
New York Journal of Books
“With rare talent Sharot takes us on an unforgettable tour of the hopes, traps and tricks of our brains. . . . A must-read.”
—David Eagleman, author of Incognito
“A fascinating yet accessible exploration of how and why our brains construct a positive outlook on life.”
“Lively, conversational. . . . A well-told, heartening report from neuroscience’s front lines.”
Kirkus Reviews
“Most readers will turn to the last page not only buoyed by hope but also aware of the sources and benefits of that hope.”
“Fascinating and fun to read. . . . Provides lucid accounts of [Sharot’s] often ingenious experiments.”
—BBC Focus Magazine

About the Author

Tali Sharot’s research on optimism, memory, and emotion has been the subject of features in Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Time, The Wall Street Journal, New Scientist, and The Washington Post, as well as on the BBC. She has a Ph.D. in psychology and neuroscience from New York University and is currently a faculty member of the Department of Cognitive, Perceptual, and Brain Sciences at University College London. She lives in London.

Product Details

  • Series: Vintage
  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (June 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780307473516
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307473516
  • ASIN: 0307473511
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irrational Exuberance Explained June 1, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Cognitive science or psychology and neuroscience really began in earnest in the 1950's. Artificial intelligence was an early throw-off of this work. Sixty years later, the discipline and sub-disciplines have come into their own. Much of the formative work for the next half-century will come from the tremendous advances underway. Here is a book that will bring you "up close and personal" into this world. Personal meaning involving you yourself.

Tali Sharot, a cognitive neuroscientist by trade, was studying the effects of trauma on memory. Her first pronouncement is that exceptionally emotional events cause us to believe that we have flawlessly accurate recollections of them -- "flash-bulb" memories as they are termed; and they are largely a sham we foist on ourselves.

The Optimism Bias is not a self-help book. It is not "The Power of Positive Thinking". It is not Sun Zu goes to Wall Street, and not pop-psychology. It is a non-technical survey of current concepts in neuroscience. Dr. Sharot does not dumb it down, rather she seats the concepts with everyday examples to give us a solid understanding of how our neural system manifests itself in our everyday thoughts and behavior. People with a scientific/medical/technical background may miss the lack of complete technical discussion. I might have taken one star if I were concerned with only their perspective. But not two stars since the tour and terminology are still solid science that I found informative and helpful. For the general intelligent reading public, I stick with five.

This book will give you knowledge of yourself and those around you to the point of actually using this information to improve your life.
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28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This book was like a college lecture that starts out with an exciting premise and a great first 15 minutes, but pretty soon starts to get drawn out and tiring. Tali Sharot starts the book by explaining the fascinating Optimism Bias, how the human brain seems wired into optimism. She gives countless examples of how even when presented with what should be a boring proposition like "describe a haircut", people will turn it into, "I have grown my hair for weeks so I can donate it to Locks of Love." It's just our nature.

She proceeds to discuss mental time travel and whether animals can think of a past and a future. Much of the discussion is related to how optimism developped in our brains and reasons why. As the book went on, I found myself starting to skim. It was an involuntary action, but I just could not stay with the author in her writing. Another reviewer said it felt like an article blown up to book length, and I would agree. I feel she has some great points to be made in this book, but the treatment is too long and short on solid information for the length of the book.

Worth reading or skimming once for a few key pieces of information, but I likely won't return to it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Optimism is like red wine. Or vinegar November 10, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Nothing in life is as important as when we think about it. This great aphorism is a summary on what is called the `focusing illusion'.
The book gives us many more of those. It is an easy read, a popular essay on questions of psychology, involving philosophy and evolution. I like its way of giving names, like this focusing illusion, or `defensive pessimism' (holding low expectations will protect us from disappointment --- alas, not true), or the title story: `optimism bias', a cognitive malfunction.

The optimism bias stands guard. It is in charge of keeping us healthy. Where would homsap be if we would live according to our deeper insight of futility? Optimism counteracts knowledge of death. Schopenhauer and his ilk are the enemies of mankind's future. Evolution can't handle the depressed other than by sorting them out. Depression is the inability to construct a future. Religion's place in the overall scheme of evolution is reserved in the VIP sector. Optimists live longer!

Homo sapiens' outstanding skill, compared to other species, is mental time travel, the ability to remember and to look and think ahead and make plans for contingencies. Sharot tells us that the ability to do these mental travels is located in specific brain regions. It has been observed, she says, that special brain regions in London taxi drivers shrink when they retire and don't need to keep their navigational knowledge up to speed any more. Makes me wonder if it is safe to start forgetting all the football results that I remember?
Much of the argument in the book is based on practical research, such as using brain images. Luckily I gather that the time has not yet come where a brain scanner can read your thoughts accurately.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By Andrea
The Optimism Bias - A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain is a fun read about the neuroscience of optimism that is easily accessible to a popular audience, yet grounded in research across multiple disciplines in the social and hard sciences. In this book, author Tali Sharot presents her theory that (1) on average, people are more optimistic about their personal futures than they should be, based on the actual probability of future events, (2) this "optimism bias" has a physical basis rooted in the structure and function of the human brain, and (3) the brain's built-in tendency toward being overly optimistic has been evolutionarily selected for.

Sharot wisely anticipates that her audience will resist the notion that the human brain is pre-wired to have a flawed perception of the world. As a result, she introduces the book with objective evidence that, even when operating normally, people's brains sometimes play tricks on them. She cites examples including (1) the sometimes-fatal spatial disorientation that can be experienced by airplane pilots who lack normal visual environmental cues, and (2) certain optical illusions whose "brain tricks" can be made readily apparent to persons experiencing them. Tarot then describes various "cognitive illusions," of which she claims the optimism bias is one. It is on account of the optimism bias' status as a cognitive illusion that people typically remain unaware of, and will deny, their own excessive optimism, even while observing such a bias in others.

Sharot goes on to support her first proposition, regarding the general human tendency toward excessive optimism, with the results of psychological research.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good read - cute author too lol
This book belongs in the hands of every parent in the world who has a teen. What you don't know , will kill you.
Published 5 months ago by John white
2.0 out of 5 stars The political bias of the author ruins it
The writing is competent and engaging enough, even though I would have phrased certain things differently. Read more
Published 5 months ago by transponder
2.0 out of 5 stars Tired information, clumsily regurgitated
A crippled meandering of various brain and personality studies of people, dogs and mice, followed by swift leaps to conclusions of the author's own invention. Read more
Published 14 months ago by T. Blake
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST Read!
Absolutely fantastic book. Owning my own company and being in sales I always thought its best to point out the pit falls to consumers. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Mark Nosrati
4.0 out of 5 stars Good
I'm interested in positive psychology and neuroscience, so the book was interesting as a light read. Sharot focuses more on the scientific and brain aspect of positive psychology.
Published 16 months ago by Carla Sung-Ah
4.0 out of 5 stars An Opportunistic Explanatory Review
The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain by Tali Sharot

"The Optimism Bias" is the interesting book that investigates optimism bias. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Book Shark
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't you love it when a scientist can write a good book
You know how Oliver Sacks writes about medicine? Or Carl Sagan wrote about astronomy? This is that kind of book. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Dave English
4.0 out of 5 stars Written for the lay-person
I enjoyed this book because it is written with the lay-person in mind. It is informational, interesting and author Tali Sharot clearly states her thoughts. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Marilyn Dalrymple
3.0 out of 5 stars Expectations
I had something of a "wow" reaction as I read Tali Sharot's book, The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain. Read more
Published on March 19, 2012 by Stephen T. Hopkins
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Informative
Tali Sharot's "The Optimism Bias" is a competent, if not well-written, foray into the neuroscience publishing craze sweeping through America right now. Read more
Published on February 26, 2012 by Jiang Xueqin
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