Optimism – Its Nature, Causes, and Effects

Interdisciplinary workshop organised by Anneli Jefferson and Lisa Bortolotti which took place in the Woburn Room (Room 22), Senate House, London, on 25-26th February 2016.


Here are some of the issues that were investigated during the workshop: Is the notion of optimism coherent and worthy of empirical investigation? How are its different manifestations related to one another? For instance, does the disposition to discount evidence against the success of one’s performance lead to the acquisition of positive illusions about the self? What are the benefits and costs of the optimism bias? Does it enhance wellbeing at the expense of truth? Could the optimism bias be an evolutionary adaptation?

25th February 2016 - What is Unrealistic Optimism? What Causes it?

10:30 -11:30 Tali Sharot (University College London)

How the Human Brain forms Optimistic Beliefs

11:30 -12:00 coffee break

12:00 -13:00 Ben Tappin (Royal Holloway)

We are holier than thou: Asymmetric learning about the moral behaviour of ingroups and outgroups

13:00 -14:00 lunch

14:00 -15:00 Anneli Jefferson (University of Birmingham)

Is the Optimism Bias an Adaptation?

15:00 -15:30 coffee break

15:30 -16:30 Constantine Sedikides (University of Southampton)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Wonderful

26th February 2016 - What are the Effects of Unrealistic Optimism?

10:00 - 11:00 James Shepperd (University of Florida)

Consequences of Unrealistic Optimism

11:00 - 11:30 coffee break

11:30 - 12:30 Miriam McCormick (University of Richmond)

Rational Hope

12:30 - 13:30 lunch

13:30 - 14:30 Fernando Blanco (University of Deusto)

Sadder but Safer: Optimistic Causal Illusions can Affect our Health

14:30 -15:00 coffee break

15:00 - 16:00 Lisa Bortolotti (University of Birmingham)

Optimism and Agency

Picture by Annie Morien


The abstracts for the talks can be found here.


We are very grateful to the Hope and Optimism funding initiative, the British Society for the Philosophy of Science, and the Mind Association for their generous support.

Philosophy of Hope and Optimism

British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Mind Association