ESL Video Quiz: TOEFL Quiz 4: Optimism BiasQuiz #: 11877
This is a Ted Lecture from a renowned neuroscientist. She is delivering a lecture about a specific type of optimism that the vast majority of people have. The questions that I have created are designed to resemble those on the TOEFL.
Quiz by Danielle_BIA
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This transcript is from the Ted website. If you
click on this link and go to the transcript on the
website, you can actually click on the transcript
and it will take you to that part of the lecture.
Here is the link
I'm going to talk to you about optimism -- or more
precisely, the optimism bias. It's a cognitive
illusion that we've been studying in my lab for
the past few years, and 80 percent of us have it.
It's our tendency to overestimate our likelihood
of experiencing good events in our lives and
underestimate our likelihood of experiencing bad
events. So we underestimate our likelihood of
suffering from cancer, being in a car accident. We
overestimate our longevity, our career prospects.
In short, we're more optimistic than realistic,
but we are oblivious to the fact.
Take marriage for example. In the Western world,
divorce rates are about 40 percent. That means
that out of five married couples, two will end up
splitting their assets. But when you ask newlyweds
about their own likelihood of divorce, they
estimate it at zero percent. And even divorce
lawyers, who should really know better, hugely
underestimate their own likelihood of divorce. So
it turns out that optimists are not less likely to
divorce, but they are more likely to remarry. In
the words of Samuel Johnson, "Remarriage is the
triumph of hope over experience."
So if we're married, we're more likely to have
kids. And we all think our kids will be especially
talented. This, by the way, is my two-year-old
nephew, Guy. And I just want to make it absolutely
clear that he's a really bad example of the
optimism bias, because he is in fact uniquely
And I'm not alone. Out of four British people,
three said that they were optimistic about the
future of their own families. That's 75 percent.
But only 30 percent said that they thought
families in general are doing better than a few
And this is a really important point, because
we're optimistic about ourselves, we're optimistic
about our kids, we're optimistic about our
families, but we're not so optimistic about the
guy sitting next to us, and we're somewhat
pessimistic about the fate of our fellow citizens
and the fate of our country. But private optimism
about our own personal future remains persistent.
And it doesn't mean that we think things will
magically turn out okay, but rather that we have
the unique ability to make it so.
Now I'm a scientist, I do experiments. So to show
you what I mean, I'm going to do an experiment
here with you. So I'm going to give you a list of
abilities and characteristics, and I want you to
think for each of these abilities where you stand
relative to the rest of the population.
The first one is getting along well with others.
Who here believes they're at the bottom 25
percent? Okay, that's about 10 people out of
1,500. Who believes they're at the top 25 percent?
That's most of us here. Okay, now do the same for
your driving ability. How interesting are you? How
attractive are you? How honest are you? And
finally, how modest are you?
So most of us put ourselves above average on most
of these abilities. Now this is statistically
impossible. We can't all be better than everyone
else. (Laughter) But if we believe we're better
than the other guy, well that means that we're
more likely to get that promotion, to remain
married, because we're more social, more
And it's a global phenomenon. The optimism bias
has been observed in many different countries --
in Western cultures, in non-Western cultures, in
females and males, in kids, in the elderly. It's
But the question is, is it good for us? So some
people say no. Some people say the secret to
happiness is low expectations. I think the logic
goes something like this: If we don't expect
greatness, if we don't expect to find love and be
healthy and successful, well we're not going to be
disappointed when these things don't happen. And
if we're not disappointed when good things don't
happen, and we're pleasantly surprised when they
do, we will be happy.
So it's a very good theory, but it turns out to be
wrong for three reasons. Number one: Whatever
happens, whether you succeed or you fail, people
with high expectations always feel better. Because
how we feel when we get dumped or win employee of
the month depends on how we interpret that event.
The psychologists Margaret Marshall and John Brown
studied students with high and low expectations.
And they found that when people with high
expectations succeed, they attribute that success
to their own traits. "I'm a genius, therefore I
got an A, therefore I'll get an A again and again
in the future." When they failed, it wasn't
because they were dumb, but because the exam just
happened to be unfair. Next time they will do
better. People with low expectations do the
opposite. So when they failed it was because they
were dumb, and when they succeeded it was because
the exam just happened to be really easy. Next
time reality would catch up with them. So they
Number two: Regardless of the outcome, the pure
act of anticipation makes us happy. The behavioral
economist George Lowenstein asked students in his
university to imagine getting a passionate kiss
from a celebrity, any celebrity. Then he said,
"How much are you willing to pay to get a kiss
from a celebrity if the kiss was delivered
immediately, in three hours, in 24 hours, in three
days, in one year, in 10 years? He found that the
students were willing to pay the most not to get a
kiss immediately, but to get a kiss in three days.
They were willing to pay extra in order to wait.
Now they weren't willing to wait a year or 10
years; no one wants an aging celebrity. But three
days seemed to be the optimum amount.
So why is that? Well if you get the kiss now, it's
over and done with. But if you get the kiss in
three days, well that's three days of jittery
anticipation, the thrill of the wait. The students
wanted that time to imagine where is it going to
happen, how is it going to happen. Anticipation
made them happy.
This is, by the way, why people prefer Friday to
Sunday. It's a really curious fact, because Friday
is a day of work and Sunday is a day of pleasure,
so you'd assume that people will prefer Sunday,
but they don't. It's not because they really,
really like being in the office and they can't
stand strolling in the park or having a lazy
brunch. We know that, because when you ask people
about their ultimate favorite day of the week,
surprise, surprise, Saturday comes in at first,
then Friday, then Sunday. People prefer Friday
because Friday brings with it the anticipation of
the weekend ahead, all the plans that you have. On
Sunday, the only thing you can look forward to is
the work week.
So optimists are people who expect more kisses in
their future, more strolls in the park. And that
anticipation enhances their wellbeing. In fact,
without the optimism bias, we would all be
slightly depressed. People with mild depression,
they don't have a bias when they look into the
future. They're actually more realistic than
healthy individuals. But individuals with severe
depression, they have a pessimistic bias. So they
tend to expect the future to be worse than it ends
So optimism changes subjective reality. The way we
expect the world to be changes the way we see it.
But it also changes objective reality. It acts as
a self-fulfilling prophecy. And that is the third
reason why lowering your expectations will not
make you happy. Controlled experiments have shown
that optimism is not only related to success, it
leads to success. Optimism leads to success in
academia and sports and politics. And maybe the
most surprising benefit of optimism is health. If
we expect the future to be bright, stress and
anxiety are reduced.
So all in all, optimism has lots of benefits. But
the question that was really confusing to me was,
how do we maintain optimism in the face of
reality? As an neuroscientist, this was especially
confusing, because according to all the theories
out there, when your expectations are not met, you
should alter them. But this is not what we find.
We asked people to come into our lab in order to
try and figure out what was going on.
We asked them to estimate their likelihood of
experiencing different terrible events in their
lives. So, for example, what is your likelihood of
suffering from cancer? And then we told them the
average likelihood of someone like them to suffer
these misfortunes. So cancer, for example, is
about 30 percent. And then we asked them again,
"How likely are you to suffer from cancer?"
What we wanted to know was whether people will
take the information that we gave them to change
their beliefs. And indeed they did -- but mostly
when the information we gave them was better than
what they expected. So for example, if someone
said, "My likelihood of suffering from cancer is
about 50 percent," and we said, "Hey, good news.
The average likelihood is only 30 percent," the
next time around they would say, "Well maybe my
likelihood is about 35 percent." So they learned
quickly and efficiently. But if someone started
off saying, "My average likelihood of suffering
from cancer is about 10 percent," and we said,
"Hey, bad news. The average likelihood is about 30
percent," the next time around they would say,
"Yep. Still think it's about 11 percent."
So it's not that they didn't learn at all -- they
did -- but much, much less than when we gave them
positive information about the future. And it's
not that they didn't remember the numbers that we
gave them; everyone remembers that the average
likelihood of cancer is about 30 percent and the
average likelihood of divorce is about 40 percent.
But they didn't think that those numbers were
related to them.
What this means is that warning signs such as
these may only have limited impact. Yes, smoking
kills, but mostly it kills the other guy.
What I wanted to know was what was going on inside
the human brain that prevented us from taking
these warning signs personally. But at the same
time, when we hear that the housing market is
hopeful, we think, "Oh, my house is definitely
going to double in price." To try and figure that
out, I asked the participants in the experiment to
lie in a brain imaging scanner. It looks like
this. And using a method called functional MRI, we
were able to identify regions in the brain that
were responding to positive information.
One of these regions is called the left inferior
frontal gyrus. So if someone said, "My likelihood
of suffering from cancer is 50 percent," and we
said, "Hey, good news. Average likelihood is 30
percent," the left inferior frontal gyrus would
respond fiercely. And it didn't matter if you're
an extreme optimist, a mild optimist or slightly
pessimistic, everyone's left inferior frontal
gyrus was functioning perfectly well, whether
you're Barack Obama or Woody Allen.
On the other side of the brain, the right inferior
frontal gyrus was responding to bad news. And
here's the thing: it wasn't doing a very good job.
The more optimistic you were, the less likely this
region was to respond to unexpected negative
information. And if your brain is failing at
integrating bad news about the future, you will
constantly leave your rose-tinted spectacles on.
So we wanted to know, could we change this? Could
we alter people's optimism bias by interfering
with the brain activity in these regions? And
there's a way for us to do that.
This is my collaborator Ryota Kanai. And what he's
doing is he's passing a small magnetic pulse
through the skull of the participant in our study
into their inferior frontal gyrus. And by doing
that, he's interfering with the activity of this
brain region for about half an hour. After that
everything goes back to normal, I assure you.
So let's see what happens. First of all, I'm going
to show you the average amount of bias that we
see. So if I was to test all of you now, this is
the amount that you would learn more from good
news relative to bad news. Now we interfere with
the region that we found to integrate negative
information in this task, and the optimism bias
grew even larger. We made people more biased in
the way that they process information. Then we
interfered with the brain region that we found to
integrate good news in this task, and the optimism
bias disappeared. We were quite amazed by these
results because we were able to eliminate a deep-
rooted bias in humans.
And at this point we stopped and we asked
ourselves, would we want to shatter the optimism
illusion into tiny little bits? If we could do
that, would we want to take people's optimism bias
away? Well I've already told you about all of the
benefits of the optimism bias, which probably
makes you want to hold onto it for dear life. But
there are, of course, pitfalls, and it would be
really foolish of us to ignore them.
Take for example this email I recieved from a
firefighter here in California. He says, "Fatality
investigations for firefighters often include 'We
didn't think the fire was going to do that,' even
when all of the available information was there to
make safe decisions." This captain is going to use
our findings on the optimism bias to try to
explain to the firefighters why they think the way
they do, to make them acutely aware of this very
optimistic bias in humans.
So unrealistic optimism can lead to risky
behavior, to financial collapse, to faulty
planning. The British government, for example, has
acknowledged that the optimism bias can make
individuals more likely to underestimate the costs
and durations of projects. So they have adjusted
the 2012 Olympic budget for the optimism bias.
My friend who's getting married in a few weeks has
done the same for his wedding budget. And by the
way, when I asked him about his own likelihood of
divorce, he said he was quite sure it was zero
So what we would really like to do, is we would
like to protect ourselves from the dangers of
optimism, but at the same time remain hopeful,
benefiting from the many fruits of optimism. And I
believe there's a way for us to do that. The key
here really is knowledge. We're not born with an
innate understanding of our biases. These have to
be identified by scientific investigation. But the
good news is that becoming aware of the optimism
bias does not shatter the illusion. It's like
visual illusions, in which understanding them does
not make them go away. And this is good because it
means we should be able to strike a balance, to
come up with plans and rules to protect ourselves
from unrealistic optimism, but at the same time
I think this cartoon portrays it nicely. Because
if you're one of these pessimistic penguins up
there who just does not believe they can fly, you
certainly never will. Because to make any kind of
progress, we need to be able to imagine a
different reality, and then we need to believe
that that reality is possible. But if you are an
extreme optimistic penguin who just jumps down
blindly hoping for the best, you might find
yourself in a bit of a mess when you hit the
ground. But if you're an optimistic penguin who
believes they can fly, but then adjusts a
parachute to your back just in case things don't
work out exactly as you had planned, you will soar
like an eagle, even if you're just a penguin.
The questions have all been made from the first half
of the lecture but I would encourage you to listen
to the entire lecture. It is really quite
TOEFL Quiz 4: Optimism Bias
Quiz #: 11877
1. What is the lecture mainly about?
2. According to the lecture, the optimism bias
3. Which of the following is NOT an example of the optimism bias
4. According to the lecture, a person that is optimistic
5. Why does the lecturer say "So, why is that?"(6:37)
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