Monday, 5 September 2016

Assessing the Consequences of Unrealistic Optimism

This post is by James Shepperd, Gabrielle Pogge and Jennifer Howell who recently authored a paper entitled, "Assessing the Consequences of Unrealistic Optimism: Challenges and Recommendations", to be published in a special issue of Consciousness & Cognition on unrealistic optimism, guest-edited by Anneli Jefferson, Bojana Kuzmanovic and Lisa Bortolotti. In this post, James, Gabrielle and Jennifer summarise the content of their new paper.


Researchers have argued that unrealistic optimism (UO) can have both desirable and undesirable consequences. Yet, understanding the consequences of UO is a remarkably difficult. We identified eight challenges faced by researchers wanting to understand the consequences of UO.
  • Unrealistic comparative optimism might be overstated. Recent evidence suggests that measurement decisions may exaggerate both the frequency and magnitude of UO in research—UO may neither be as common or sizable as once believed. Accordingly, the potential consequences may be relatively infrequent, and minor when they occur.

  • Separating UO from positive expectations. The most common form of UO occurs when people report they are less likely than their peers to experience undesirable events. Yet studies show that people think only about themselves and little about their peers when making these judgments. Thus, what appears to be UO may actually be a positive personal expectation that may or may not be unrealistic. Researchers wishing to understand the consequences of unrealistic optimism must, therefore, disentangle realistic and unrealistic positive expectations. 

  • Measuring UO independently from its consequences. Often, the criterion for determining whether estimates are unrealistically optimistic is the same as the outcome used to assess the consequence of UO. For example, researchers wishing to examine whether students who display UO about a classroom exam subsequently perform better (or worse) on the exam might be tempted to compare the students’ exam estimate with their exam performance. If the estimate exceeds the performance, then the student displayed UO. They might then examine whether OU predicts performance on the exam. However, because the criterion used to establish UO is the same as the measure of the consequence (exam performance), it impossible to determine whether the predictions affected the outcome. Solving this issue requires careful forethought and multiple objective criterion measures. 

Thursday, 1 September 2016

The 7th International Summer School of Affective Science

In this post, Matilde Aliffi (PhD student at the University of Birmingham) reports from the 7th International Summer School of Affective Science (ISSAS) held at Château de Bossey between the 7th and the 14th July 2016. This year ISSAS was entirely dedicated to investigating the role of emotions in fiction and virtual worlds. World leading experts in philosophy, psychology, educational science, neuroscience, affective computing and game design gave their lecture to an audience composed by an international and interdisciplinary community of about forty PhD students. 

During the school, workshops were also held on thought experiments, data-analysis, programming and text-based emotion recognition. Participants were divided in eight teams and had the opportunity to design and present a collaborative and interdisciplinary research project tied to the topics of the school. Alongside the lectures, participants also enjoyed artistic events that complemented nicely the lectures with a more direct personal experience of engagement with fiction and virtual worlds.

What follows here is a brief presentation of the key talks of the summer school.

The talks begun the second day of the school, because the first day was mainly dedicated to socialising and welcoming participants. The theme of the talks of the second day was the relation between emotions and imagination in fictional worlds, and was approached from a philosophical perspective. The speakers offered an answer to questions such as “What distinguishes fiction from non-fiction?” or “What is imagination?”, “Is imagination central to understand fiction?”. 

Aaron Meskin (University of Leeds) presented his philosophical research on imagination and videogames, a new and relatively unexplored area for philosophers. He argued that imagination is central to the understanding of fiction and videogames. He then addressed the distinction between videogames and other forms of fiction, presenting his account of videogames as self-involving and interactive fictions. 

A different stance about how we should understand fiction was offered by Derek Matravers (Open University). He argued that there is no interesting special relation between imagination and fiction, and that imagination has no explanatory role in understanding the distinction between fiction and non-fiction.